A few weeks ago, actress Kate Hudson shared a video on her Instagram stories about wanting to “reconnect” her ab muscles. Fresh out of a workout, the mom of three exclaims, “Did my workout. My abs. Arghhhh. Arghhh. Can’t get ‘em. Arghhh. It’s not working!” Then she adds: “still trying to reconnect, I guess.”
All jokes aside, Hudson – who just had her third baby in October 2018 – is bringing up an actual medical condition that impacts the majority of women who’ve been pregnant: diastasis recti, or the separation of the abdominal muscles.
You may have heard of diastasis recti before, usually in reference to the infamous “mommy tummy” or belly pooch so many of us postpartum mommies sport months or even years after having a baby. And while it’s no fun to continue to look pregnant even when you no longer are, it’s not just physical appearance that is an issue when you have a diastasis recti.
And let me just add here that you are fucking beautiful not matter what your tummy looks like and that the pressure to “get your body back” after just having had a baby is some serious patriarchal bullshit.
The fact is, diastasis recti affects the vast majority of new moms, physical therapist Marianne Ryan tells Scary Mommy. It makes sense when you think about it: carrying a baby in your body is quite a load, and Ryan says that our connective tissue naturally loosens so that our bodies can accommodate the changes of pregnancy.
“Hormones that are produced during pregnancy cause the connective tissue (linea alba) that lies in between the ‘six-pack’ muscles (rectus abdominis) to become looser and more pliable and will make the muscles spread apart,” Ryan explains. “This is normal and needs to happen during pregnancy to allow the belly to accommodate the growing baby inside a mother’s belly.”
For some women, says Ryan, the abdominal muscles naturally come back together on their own in few weeks or months. But for the majority – up to 40% — this is not the case. These mothers are not just left with a mommy tummy, but also a potential host of other health issues.
Personally, I can tell you that I had a diastasis recti after my second baby was born, and although it didn’t really bother me at first, as the years wore on and I got older, I began to develop all kinds of issues that I found out later were connected to my diastasis recti: back pain, leaking pee, and a lovely little condition called a rectal prolapse.
Common conditions related to a diastasis recti include back pain, pelvic pain, leaking pee, fecal staining, bloating after meals, painful sex, pelvic organ prolapse, and constipation.
Yep, says Ryan, all of these can be related to a diastasis recti. She says common conditions related to a diastasis recti include back pain, pelvic pain, leaking pee, fecal staining, bloating after meals, painful sex, pelvic organ prolapse, and constipation.
Wow – I had no idea that bloating after meals (which only adds to the “pregnant look”) can be attributed to diastasis recti. But it most certainly can, according to Ryan: “Most people who have diastasis recti complain that they feel bloated and are frustrated when their belly bulges after eating a meal. So many moms with this condition complain that people ask them when they’re due when they are not even pregnant!”
Unsure about whether you have a diastasis or not? Here’s a video that help you determine that:
The good news, though, is that there are things you can do to close your diastasis recti – and doing this can solve many of the health problems that are related to diastasis recti.
“If you have this condition, the earlier you know about it, the better,” Ryan says. “Studies show that women who have a diastasis recti are more likely to develop lower back pain, incontinence, painful sex and pelvic organ prolapse, conditions you definitely want to stop in their tracks. There are definitely things you can do to promote healing and, at the very least, prevent it from getting worse. If you ignore it, however, you can unknowingly make the condition worse.”
Ryan says that the best way to tackle a diastasis recti is to see a physical therapist who specializes in diastasis recti (here’s a link to find a women’s health physical therapist near you). A women’s health physical therapist can help diagnose the issue and work with you on exercises to help you heal.
In addition, Ryan recommended some things to do in your daily life to prevent your diastasis from getting worse, or possibly even preventing it in the first place during pregnancy:
– Avoid exercises that put strain on your belly like heavy lifting.
– Remember to exhale (rather than inhale) if you exert your abdominal muscles.
– When getting up from a lying down position, roll up from your side rather than coming up like you’re doing a sit-up.
– Avoid sit-ups and anything that causes you to bulge your abs out upon exertion.
– Don’t dive right back into strenuous activities that challenges your core too early postpartum.
– Avoid stiff and binding clothing.
– Try to prevent constipation or straining during bowel movement.
I personally also benefited from a daily exercise program that helped me heal my diastasis recti and strengthen my core. There are many similar systems out there, and some exercise teachers specialize in it. If cost is an issue, there are a ton of free YouTube videos out there to get you started as well.
Closing my diastasis took time (almost a year!), but I was also able to lessen so many of my issues just by doing that. My rectal prolapse is much better and I no longer leak pee when I sneeze. Yippee!
There are things you can do to close your diastasis recti – and doing this can solve many of the health problems that are related to it.
The bottom line here is that yes, diastasis recti is common, but that doesn’t mean it’s just something that women should “put up with,” especially if the condition is causing discomfort or pain. It can be tough to get motivated to do something about it, especially when you are chasing around a little one.
But I can tell your from personal experience that you will feel so much better – both inside and out – if you put in the time to take care of your diastasis recti. And you are so worth that.