Diastasis Recti describes the separation of the Rectus Abdominis muscle (your 6-pack!) from the mid-line connective tissue that runs down the centre of your abdomen. It is estimated that a third of first time mothers and around 70% of mothers with 2 or more babies will have some degree of diastasis, causing instability of the core and a protruding tummy.
'Why does it happen?'
Diastasis Recti is a symptom of excessive intra-abdominal pressure - that means pressure inside your abdomen and pelvis pushing outwards, forwards and downwards. Not the direction you want anything pushing unless you're actually giving birth at the time...
This pressure can be the cause of a 'mummy tummy' that sticks out, pelvic floor weakness, stress incontinence or back pain. When your body really can't contain the pressure, hernia or prolapse can be the result.
Your core isn't aligned and working correctly and that means your post-baby stomach can't lie fat.
'How do I know if I have a diastasis?'
You may see a doming of your lower abdomen, or a ridge-shaped protrusion from breastbone to belly button when you roll up from your back or attempt a crunch movement.
'Will it close?'
Don't panic if your hand appears to sink into your stomach at first! The separation will narrow by itself in the days and weeks following childbirth, but a gap often remains. You can re-build stability and strength in your core, even with a small gap remaining. Restoring the strength of the mid-line is more important, and correcting your alignment and training your core muscles will do that. Not all gaps will 'close' completely with exercise, and that's okay.
But you can make a huge improvement to the look and function of your stomach.
'Can I prevent a diastasis?'
Diastasis recti, whilst not desirable, is very common. It usually occurs in the third trimester of pregnancy when your body literally needs to make room for your growing baby - and because your core isn't quite containing everything, its got nowhere else to go.
You won't feel it happen and it won't hurt, but you may notice that you don't feel you can 'hold everything in' at the front.
Avoid any crunch or sit-up exercises throughout pregnancy and afterwards, even a long time afterwards. These movements will serve only to widen the gap!
'How do I correct a diastasis?'
You can start gently correcting your alignment and intra-abdominal pressure at any stage postpartum and even whilst you're pregnant. Try these simple adjustments that will start to put your midsection back in the right place:
• Standing posture: Stand with your weight through your heels, not the balls of your feet, and don't tuck your tailbone underneath you. Butts are supposed to stick out. 'Tucking your tailbone' puts your whole pelvis on a tilt which does your core and pelvic floor no favours at all.
• Find your deep core muscles: Your most important core muscle is called the Transverse Abdominis & it wraps around your midsection like a girdle. You can do this exercise lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat, or sitting on an exercise ball or just standing. Exhale through pursed lips as you draw your belly button back towards your spine but without tucking your backside under as you do it. There should be a subtle movement of the lower abdomen - no chest thrusting, shoulder tensing or tail-tucking.
• Re-connect your core and your pelvic floor. These muscles are all part of the same system; so as you exhale and draw in your Transverse muscle, lift your pelvic floor. Not a little squeeze at the front (baby doesn't come out of that one...), but a LIFT high up inside in the middle. Relax fully, but don't push away, as you inhale.
These techniques, practised daily and consistently and applied to everyday movement, will start to help shift the pressure inside your abdomen and pelvis right away. You need an exercise programme that understands the underlying causes of the problem and works very specifically to correct them.
And as your core starts to work right, then your deep core muscles will draw your stomach flatter, bringing the two sides of the split muscles towards each other and strengthening the connective mid-line.
'Do I need to 'splint' or bind my stomach to correct a diastasis?'
Holding your stomach in by binding it tightly has been traditional in many parts of the world for generations. If your gap is very wide, if you have lost sensitivity though abdominal surgery or a severely weakened core, then some form of splint may help you to 'reconnect' as you re-train your muscles, and to support you. But the act of wrapping your middle will not fix your middle per se.
Unless you are also learning how to restore your core muscles to optimum functionality, then all you'll be doing is shifting mass and pressure to above and below the wrap. It's the same as sucking in your stomach - this not 'engaging your core', it's just shifting everything upwards for a moment.
Remember that the gap is a symptom of a mal-aligned core that is not working right. The horse has already bolted, so to speak. You have to address the root cause if you want a result that will last.
Now of course, if you have a few extra pounds fat sitting on top of those muscles, you're not going to see the difference even though you will be able to feel it! But that's a different article ;)
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