Diastasis recti, known as DR, is becoming a hotter topic during pregnancy and for good reason. Although DR is extremely common in pregnancy, the education thus far provided to pregnant women has been a bit fuzzy. Diastasis recti, by definition, is the separation of the abdominal muscles during pregnancy, where the connection tissue called the linea alba widens to help make more room for the baby.
Although diastasis recti is not completely avoidable, and is considered normal for the majority of pregnancies, there are things women can do to help minimize the separation during pregnancy and during the postpartum period. If not dealt with, diastasis recti can cause not only poor body image postpartum, but also lead to back pain, hip pain, poor posture and urinary incontinence.
So how does one minimize their risk of diastasis recti during pregnancy and postpartum?
1. Avoid heavy lifting during pregnancy.
Keeping your core strong while pregnant may be one of the best ways to minimize separation of your abdominals while pregnant. However, you want to avoid heavy lifting and exercises that build too much abdominal pressure. One study found women who lifted heavy weights during pregnancy more than 20 times per week had a higher likelihood of diastasis recti.
If you have a job requiring you to lift a significant amount of weight or you’re carrying around other children, this can be hard to avoid. My best advice is to invest in a good maternity support belt to help take pressure of your lower back and abdomen when you are lifting and carrying things in your everyday life.
2. When sitting up out of bed, engage lower abs first.
Sitting straight up from a laying down position builds abdominal pressure and research shows that engaging your pelvic floor and transverse abdominals first, may reduce the distortion of your diastasis recti. If you have a hard time identifying your transverse abdominals or “lower abs” during pregnancy, you can try rolling on to your side and using your upper body to help lift you to a sitting or standing position, taking some of the pressure off of our abdomen.
3. Get checked by a medical professional postpartum.
4. Strengthen your core properly postpartum.
After having a baby, and being cleared for exercise by your medical professional, you want to slowly build up your core strength by starting with your pelvic floor, lower back, obliques and transverse abdominals. You also want to focus on flexibility of your shoulders, lower back and hips, as tightness in those muscle affects your posture and how you carry your body postpartum. It may seem intimidating with a newborn to take care of, but this can be done in just a few minutes a day and you’ll feel improvement in your strength, stability, balance, lower back, and pelvic floor. Some beginner exercises include: Bridges, Supermans, Sumo Squats, Bird Dogs and Dead Bug Crunches.
What’s important to remember is diastasis recti is normal and very common during pregnancy, but by being in tune with your body and this medical condition you can minimize long term risks and damage to your abdomen and pelvic floor.
In some cases, a pelvic floor physiotherapist or surgery may be required to fix diastasis recti so don’t be afraid to seek out expert help if you still have questions or pain in relation to your diastasis recti postpartum.