Staying Active Post Baby Part 2: Diastasis Recti
One day, deep into the second trimester of my first pregnancy, I tried to sit up in bed and nothing happened. A modified Zoolander reference flashed through my brain (“She doesn’t have it. Nah, she doesn’t have it!”). Then I stared blankly at the search box on my phone for a second and typed. “Pregnant…where did my abs go?”
The short answer is that they went to the sides of my belly. The long answer is something called diastasis recti, a “separation” of the abdominal muscles right down the midline that can lead to a host of issues post-pregnancy. The fact that this is a major thing that happens to many women’s bodies during and after pregnancy (and to women’s and men’s bodies even without pregnancy) and that it isn’t widely discussed is mind-blowing to me. I mean, it is 2019 and all—there are multiple drugs available for erectile disfunction—and yet very little awareness, support, resources, or even knowledge about women’s bodies post-pregnancy.
I mean, it’s fine. I know we can handle it; we clearly have been for centuries. It’s like many things about pregnancy; we’ve been conditioned to accept that our bodies will change and they will never be the same and that it’s okay, it’s just what happens, and it’s worth it for the bundle of joy that you get!
And it is! It totally is worth it, prolapses, diastastis recti, other maladies that I won’t mention, and all the rest. I would take (give up?) a lot more in exchange for having kids. But that’s not my point. My point is that there are things we can do to prevent this, and things we can do to heal. I think awareness is a good place to start, so I will do my part by oversharing about my own experience of diastasis.
As an athlete, I considered myself fairly aware of my body and thought I had a strong core. I even knew what a kegel was and incorporated it into certain ski drills while coaching women’s ski camps. However, when I finally went to physical therapy after the birth of our second baby and discovered where my pelvic floor was and felt those muscles contracting properly for the first time, it was like discovering that my house had an extra basement. I was…floored.
When I got pregnant the first time, I vaguely knew that I wasn’t supposed to do ab exercises after the first trimester, but no one explained why. When I asked my midwife she said “no planks” and then told me a story about a patient who was having issues with her pregnancy and it turned out she had been doing planks every day and it was endangering her baby. My good friend who is a delivery nurse had told me that doing ab exercises during pregnancy makes delivery way more difficult, but I didn’t quite understand the reasons behind any of these things, or that they were all related.
So I chilled on doing any core exercises after the first trimester, and had a baby. I’ll spare you those details for now. I rested blissfully for a few weeks.
And then, subtly, when directed to, and given the okay by my midwife, I began exploring squeezing my pelvic floor muscles, and also squeezing my abdominal muscles together, up and in, as if pulling my belly button up and back towards my spine. My midwife coached me in her office, and then checked me again a few weeks later to give me an update. I did it a lot while nursing, making sure I had good posture and then doing some mellow squeezing of the floor and the core. I am definitely not any sort of doctor or medical professional, so by all means check with yours before doing anything. PLEASE.
By connecting with this part of my body again, I felt a sense that it was really the center of my power. I can feel a flow of energy (I know, it sounds crazy), a humming through my body when I turn my brain off and concentrate on connecting with breathing and squeezing my floor and core. Squeeze the baby, squeeze the core, although this exercise (and this power) is available to anyone, baby or no baby.
So, while the downside is that diastasis recti and prolapses can be shocking changes to the body, the great news is that there are some great resources available and awareness is beginning to grow. After our second baby, I went to PT specifically for my pelvic floor, and I learned a ton in just two sessions. I’ve also been learning a lot about my posture, specifically as it relates to my pelvic alignment, which has helped with those little aches and pains in the neck and back from nursing and carrying babies around.
However, I’m learning that my knowledge is still very limited, and I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn. The more I research this, the more it seems that knowledge in general about DR is fairly limited—there isn’t really even a fundamental understanding of what exactly diastasis recti really even is, let alone how to fix it.
I’ve listed some resources below that I’ve found informational or helpful so far, just as jumping off points. Take them with a grain of salt, please, and definitely consult a trusted medical professional. And certainly let me know if you have any more information or good resources and/or your own experience you’d be willing to share. Thanks! And happy squeezing.
Resources for Diastasis Recti:
Mommastrong.com—workout programs and advice geared towards pre- and post-natal exercises for moms, with a focus on core strength and healing DR, $5/month membership fee. I found the Core Camp and DR focused workouts especially helpful after my first baby for awareness of posture and muscles while exercising.
Diastasis Recti by Katy Bowman—book/ebook with some great practical advice and knowledge