The word and condition known as diastasic recti (DR) has been spreading like wildfire on social media platforms, mom groups and fitness communities.
Often referred to as “mommy tummy,” this condition has many of us focused on the size of the gaps between our rectus muscles and also leaving us afraid to perform, for example, a sit-up, and doing all the sit-ups without understanding what’s happening to our bodies or calling the nearest plastic surgeon in hopes to “fix” our abdomens and get our bodies back.
There is A LOT of confusion and fear-mongering surrounding diastasis recti. I have travelled both ends of the spectrum from not knowing anything about DR and desperately wanting my core to feel and look “normal” again to being scared out of my mind to perform a sit-up thinking that I might make DR worse.
We can do better.
As a Pregnancy & Postpartum Athleticism Coach, I’m here to bring some middle ground and hopefully shed light and hope to those who may have diastasis recti. Of course there is way more to the conversation than what is offered below but it’s all information I wish I had known.
There are many professionals who can provide strategies to help improve strength, function, and yes even aesthetics (sometimes but not always because there is no one size fits all protocol!)
What is Diastasis Recti? (The short version)
Diastasis Recti is a widening of your abdominal muscles and thinning of the connective tissue (linea alba) which runs along the center of your abdomen. It primarily occurs during pregnancy but non pregnant women and also men can have DR.
Here are 3 things you should know about DR
1. Diastasis recti is normal during pregnancy
If you are pregnant you cannot prevent diastasis recti. There is no magical program. You didn’t do anything wrong. It is normal.
A study from 2015 suggests that at 35 weeks pregnant 100% of women experienced DR.
Why? As baby grows the abdominal wall must grow. Everything must stretch and expand to help make room and accommodate for baby, organs, increased abdominal pressure etc.
The number of times I blamed myself and I’ve heard other moms blame themselves is too high. What if I had done things differently?
I think having awareness from my doctor would be beneficial in creating awareness (not fear) and is something in my opinion should be more readily discussed throughout pregnancy and postpartum.
Breathing and positional strategies, as well as awareness, can help manage intra abdominal pressure but there is not a way to stop DR from happening (at least based on the evidence I’ve seen and read from other professional experts).
There are so many variables that cannot be controlled during pregnancy (size of the baby, genetics, position of baby, etc and honestly there is a lot that is still being researched).
On the flip side, for postpartum, each person’s healing process is different. There are great programs out there to help rebuild core strength but anything that gives a magic movement, timeline or sounds too good to be true generally isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
Do your research before buying. A great source for DR information is Dr. Munira Hudani.
2. It’s not JUST the size of the gap that matters
If you have DR you’ve probably measured the gap or distance between your rectus muscles while doing a mini crunch. For many years the focus has been on closing or narrowing the gap. A 2 finger separation or less was considered normal and anything over was not.
However, as more research is done, we are finding that the distance is merely ONE consideration to assess a diastasis. It does not indicate the functional capacity of the diastasis. A narrow gap does not necessarily mean a strong or well functioning core and vice versa.
When assessing also check the depth (how far your fingers are able to push in) and also the tension you can generate along the linea alba (connective tissue). The more tension you’re able to generate generally indicates a stronger functioning core.
My resting DR distance is around 3-4 fingers. When I use a core connection breathing strategy accessing my inner core, my distance only changes slightly, however my tension considerably increases. This provides me the function, stability, and power I need to be a mom and athlete!
Here is a video that can help you get started on an assessment!
Good news: If you don’t have as much tension or your fingers sink into your abdomen (think past the first knuckle!) there is so much help! You can progressively strengthen your core through intentional exercises, positional and breathing strategies. Visit with a pelvic floor PT first to help coordinate breathing and integration of the pelvic floor and inner core muscles as well as your individual considerations.
3. Visit a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist BEFORE seeking a surgeon
I get it. We don’t want to look 6 months pregnant at 1 year postpartum. We don’t want to be afraid of sitting up and not doing the things we love. However, time and patience can be a huge part of the recovery process. It takes time for your body to heal, rebuild, and strengthen. Each person is different and this healing process shouldn’t be compared to others.
I also want to mention that there is help even if you’ve had your baby 6 years ago or if your kids are now having your grand babies; it’s not too late for help.
Learning different breathing, positional and movement strategies that support YOUR needs can often rebuild strength, function, and aesthetics (not always).
A pelvic floor PT can help not only assess you but can help provide strategies. From here they can provide core, pelvic floor and other exercises and make a game plan specific to you. Knowing how YOUR body is working is a KEY step to helping navigate this.
Sometimes even learning the best of strategies and rebuilding core strength doesn’t always work. Surgery may be needed either for improved function or aesthetics—this is totally ok! However, learning strategies to help manage pressure and rebuilding a strong foundation of strength first can help promote recovery afterwards.
Need help finding a Pelvic Floor PT?
Check this link or send me a DM! I hope these tips are helpful if you are someone navigating diastasis recti.