Diastasis Recti is one of the reasons your abs look and feel so 'lived in' after childbirth. Also known as abdominal separation, or 'The Gap', it is the weakening and stretching of the linea alba connective tissue in the centre-line of the rectus abdominal muscle, giving the muscle the appearance of being split into two separate halves.
A diastasis gap is measured in finger widths, so it's not an exact science as of course we all have different size fingers... but a guide is all you need. A gap of more than 2-3 finger widths means your core is in need of some TLC to strengthen and firm the midline and restore stability.
Diastasis Recti occurs when intra abdominal pressure, raised during pregnancy, doesn't return to normal afterwards. The pressure inside the abdominal cavity pushes outwards (leading to diastasis recti or even hernia) and downwards (resulting in a weakened pelvic floor, or at worse, pelvic organ prolapse).
The pressure often remains off-the-scale long after your baby has been born because of a number of factors: your alignment may be out of kilter, your breathing too shallow, or not optimal or you could be moving in a way that repeatedly raises pressure. Any movement that jack-knifes the body, such as a crunch, raises intra abdominal pressure, as does any intensive or high impact exercise performed with a core that is not functioning correctly. Wearing high heeled shoes even contributes to the problem, forcing your body into a position and pattern of movement that increases pressure within your abdomen and pelvis! It is your core's 'job' to withstand intra abdominal pressure, but it can't do that when it is unstable, compromised by a gap or weakness.
If you have diastasis recti, there's a strong chance you may also have a weak pelvic floor, which is struggling to do its job of supporting your internal organs and holding in gas, urine and faeces. If you're prone to the odd embarrassing slip-up when you cough, sneeze, or run, that's a red flag that your pelvic floor needs to be conditioned to improve its function.
Pelvic floor weakness is just as likely to indicate a too tight, or 'hypertonic' pelvic floor, as a too 'slack' one - so don't keep clenching, squeezing, sucking in your tummy or tucking your backside underneath you - these movements and habits will actually make your pelvic floor weaker, not stronger!
Until your core is fully functioning and stable again, the following type exercises will make your mummy tummy worse, not better:
- Sit ups, crunches, oblique twists or V-sits of any sort
- Planks or prone (facing down, holding your bodyweight) push-ups
- Burpees, skipping, or any move that requires jumping or impact
- Heavy lifting or pull-ups
Neither your abs, nor your pelvic floor will be fixed by going crazy with hardcore exercises that repeatedly contract muscles in isolation. Crunches and Kegels are not appropriate and could be exacerbating the problem, so steer clear!
To restore your body properly, you need to build awareness, strength and suppleness (which includes the ability to relax) of all the core muscles, getting them to work together as an effective team. Until you do this, your healing is in a holding pattern - and flat abs are out of reach!
The approach that works involves starting with a clean slate.
Going back to the basics of how to stand, sit, walk and move in natural alignment (not the alignment we have taught our bodies by encasing them in squishy furniture and planting them in cars and high heels).
It means learning how to breathe properly. Moving around in the way that our bodies are designed to - sitting less, walking in correct alignment, stretching, twisting, lunging and squatting. Allowing our muscles to lengthen, contract and relax.
Your body also needs great nutrition and adequate hydration to heal, so make sure you're not lacking in essential fats, green vegetables or high quality protein to aid repair.
Conditioning our core doesn't mean we need to do 'hardcore' ab exercises. And for post-natal women, whose cores are compromised, it really should never be about starting there. Instead we need to learn how to re-connect with our core muscles - You can't strengthen a muscle your brain isn't talking to. Understand your body's signals so you know when you're ready to plank, run or get hardcore again after having children!
Sitting less, getting out of high heels and realigning the way we move, as well as finding our core muscles, learning to gently contract and relax them, breathing with our exercises, exhaling as we exert ourselves and inhaling as we relax... These are the first steps to restoring a weakened core and healing a diastasis.
Big results can be felt, and seen, by tuning into our bodies more effectively and being mindful as we exercise and move about in our everyday lives.
For more information on how to recognise, and deal with, all the issues mentioned in this article, visit the MuTu System website. You can start to get your body back into shape and in good working order however long ago you had your babies!