Updated: May 24
Disastais Recti, the infamous abdominal separation that is associated with pregnancy and motherhood can really suck. It can contribute to a bunch of unpleasant symptoms, like hip and back pain, leak pee and instability. It can also do a number on a woman’s self-esteem. To look down at what were maybe once super toned, make others want you or want to be you type abs and see a bunch of mushy skin or a pooch that wasn’t there before can be really hard. Even if a woman didn’t have “to die for abs” before pregnancy, chances are, with a Diastasis Recti, her abs may appear differently, which may be difficult to accept. As a result, many women will hit the gym at full force; crunches, burpees, planks, running and push ups, only to find the situation is getting worse. (Please see a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist or qualified Fitness Professional before attempting to heal a Diastasis).
Yes Diastasis Recti can Really Suck!
However, there is another side to Diastasis Recti. It really isn’t all bad. In pregnancy it is actually functional, protective and I would say beautiful.
Over the course of a pregnancy the pressure within the abdominals gets greater and greater as baby grows. Not only is there a baby, or possibly babies living inside of the abdominals, there are the things that come with that baby; increase in fluids, placenta and if the digestive system has slowed down and a woman is experiencing constipation, there may be other “things” adding to the pressure. With this raise in pressure, the body has to figure out a safe why to create space for baby and all of the “gear” while making accommodations for the pressure to protect the mom. Think about blowing up a balloon. If we just continued to blow and blow, eventually the balloon would burst. We definitely don’t want any mommies bursting, so the body creates a Diastasis Recti. This happens in 100% of pregnancies.
If the body did not create space through the abdominals by lengthening through the tissue called the Linea Alba that runs between you six pack muscles, the pressure would end up going somewhere else, maybe somewhere less ideal and much more difficult to rehabilitate. The Linea Alba which is essentially connective tissue is meant to soften and yield to allow space for the baby. The same principal applies to the cervix and tissues of the Pelvic Floor which yield to allow the birth of a baby. The Linea Alba is meant to be elastic and supple, allowing it to return to its pre-pregnancy state about 8 weeks after pregnancy. Now this is not always the case for various reasons, which is why working towards a functional core before, during and after pregnancy can be so beneficial. Body Workers, Fitness Professionals, Pelvic Floor Physiotherapists, and Nutritionists can all help with this.
If the body did not create space through the abdominals the pressure within the core would go somewhere else, like up towards the ribs, effecting the ability to breath. If you think breathing in pregnancy is already a challenge this would bring this challenge to a whole new level as your lungs and diaphragm would be pushed up towards your head, creating upper back pain, hernias, shoulder issues and likely neck and jaw pain, while intensifying symptoms like heartburn. But honestly, if you can’t breathe these aliments are pretty minor.
The pressure may also go back towards the spine, likely creating spinal and disc issues or it may go down into the Pelvic Floor, damaging these tissues and basically ensuring hip issues, incontinence and Prolapse. We want the baby to maybe come out through the vagina, but we don’t want the bladder, uterus or rectum coming out with it. So, Diastasis Recti has a pretty important/protective function; creating space and protecting the body while allowing it to grow a healthy baby and keeping the body of the mom intact.
Now I completely understand the panic a woman may feel when she realizes her abdominals are “splitting down the middle”, but I encourage this separation in pregnancy to not be feared, but to be celebrated. It really is a beautiful thing and a testament to the capabilities and intelligence of a woman’s body.
I also understand that it can be stressful during that initial postpartum period to not look like the celebrities supposedly look just after giving birth. But guess what? They also have a Diastasis Recti and a lot of what we see via media is not a realistic representation of the postpartum body (I bet you already know that). Like I stated above there is an eight-week healing period where the tissues of the abdominals will go through spontaneous healing. For some their abs may look like they did before getting pregnant and for others things will look significantly different. Either way the postpartum woman is absolutely beautiful. The appearance of a Diastasis is not “ugly”. Like stretch marks, often referred to as tiger stripes, it is something that can be shown off to the world as proof of being a warrior and the capabilities of a woman’s body. It is pretty awesome and really beautiful.
Despite the beauty it is always important to see an appropriate professional, before, during and after pregnancy. My first choice is a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist. This is especially important if someone is experiencing unpleasant symptoms, such as; pain, incontinence or instability. The most important thing when it comes to Diastasis Recti is the function of the abdominal wall. It is also really important to recognize and respect the strain that is put upon the abdominal wall during pregnancy and to move and exercise in ways that support the tissues, while limiting excessive strain, which will encourage better healing. This is where an appropriate professional can really help. And of course, if a woman is struggling with the appearance of their abdominals and it is affecting their self-esteem or how she feels within her body, I highly recommend seeking out help and support. Just because I say the postpartum body is beautiful; not every woman will feel that way and that is ok.