Does it feel like you’re not able to engage your core muscles? If you have children, are you frustrated because no matter how hard you try it looks like you are still pregnant?
“Mommy Tummy” results from a condition known as Diastasis Recti [di-a-stay-sis rek-ty]. It is the separation of the Rectus Abdominis muscles due to the weakening of the connective tissues called Linea Alba, that connect the two muscles. This may be the reason why you’re having difficulty engaging your core muscles and causing all the frustration. It would make sense to find out if you have Diastasis Recti and correct it so that you can maximize results from your workout program.
In order to explain what Diastasis Recti is in more detail, we should have a look at the basic anatomy of the stomach muscles. The left image is a Normal Abdomen, the right image shows what Diastasis Recti looks like.
THE FOUR CORE MUSCLES
Your Core is made up of four Core Muscles that work together to expand and contract during breathing. They also support your back and all the organs contained within your pelvis and abdominal cavity. It is designed to expand during pregnancy and come back together after delivery. The four core muscles are made up of the following:
- The Diaphragm (the muscle that’s responsible for your breathing (inhalation and exhalation)
- The Corset Muscles,
- Rectus Abdominis that is responsible for flexing your trunk
- Transverse Abdominis that is responsible for stabilizing your pelvis and low back.
- Internal and External Obliques along with the Transverse Abdominis are responsible for rotating the trunk.
- The Multifidus, is the muscle that stems from the vertebrae of your spine to support your back. It is responsible for supporting your spine and keeping it straight.
- The Pelvic Floor Muscle is the sling of muscle fibres supports all of the organs housed in your pelvis (including your bladder, uterus (womb) and rectum). That’s a lot of important organs sitting on top of a tiny muscle.
WHAT IS DIASTASIS RECTI?
DIASTASIS RECTI is caused by constant intra-abdominal pressure on the two Rectus Abdominis muscles. On very lean individuals, these Rectus Abdominis muscles give the appearance of having “six pack abs”. During pregnancy, the Linea Alba (the connective tissue between the two Rectus Abdominis muscles) stretches during your pregnancy to make space for your growing baby. Over the first 4 months after delivery, your body has a natural ability to heal itself as your uterus begins to contract and return to normal. When the Linea Alba doesn’t heal completely you are left with a separation or DIASTASIS RECTI. The separation can be anywhere from 2-8 fingers apart.
(INSERT PHOTO OF VARYING DEGREES OF DR)
A Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist aims to help a postpartum woman get the gap down to 2 fingers wide by focusing on strengthening the Linea Alba. But of course, once they get this far, most women want to get it as strong and tight as possible. So that’s when a Core Specialist Coach, like me, can take them to the next level.
You know the saying, “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link?” Well if any one of the four core muscles are weak, you may experience one or more these other conditions:
- Urinary Incontinence – This results from having a weak pelvic floor muscle. The early signs exist when you begin peeing by accident during vigorous exercise or when you laugh, cough or sneeze. This then progresses to wearing Incontinence Liners and eventually to Adult Diapers. Urinary Incontinence is more common than Fecal Incontinence that is inability to control your bowel movements causing stool to leak from your rectum. This is also due to having weak pelvic floor muscles.
- Prolapse of the bladder, uterus, or rectum – Also results from having a weak pelvic floor muscle. This is when your organs feel like they’re “falling out”
- Low Back Pain due to muscle imbalances from carrying your baby
- Constipation caused by not being active, drinking enough water, or eating enough fibre, etc.
- Pain during Intercourse – caused by the vaginal muscles being too tight or too weak.
- Hip or Pelvic Pain due to the inability of the core muscles to stabilize the pelvis while seated, standing or moving around. This often coincides with experiencing low back pain.
MOMS ARE NOT THE ONLY ONES WHO CAN HAVE DIASTASIS RECTI
Diastasis Recti can also occur in:
- Overweight Men and Women – the added weight causes a strain on the Linea Alba.
- Individuals who have suffered a fall or any trauma to your back, abdomen or lower body.
- Individuals who have had surgery on their low back or abdominal muscles.
- Children, although it typically tends to go away as their core muscles strengthen as they grow
IF THIS IS THE FIRST TIME YOU’VE LEARNED ABOUT THIS, ARE YOU IN SHOCK?
I know what you’re thinking. How come this is the first time you’re learning about this?! This is exactly how I felt when I found out that I had Diastasis Recti. After delivering my third child, my Diastasis Recti was pretty wide. When I asked my Ob/Gyn what can be done, she offered surgery, which I didn’t want so I just accepted the fact that I’d have to live with it; that is until I became a Core Specialist and learned that it could be treated without surgery! Unfortunately, there is currently a HUGE disconnect between our medical and healthcare practitioners in terms of educating women about Diastasis Recti and it’s effects on a woman’s ability to restore her core and pelvic floor strength.
HOW CAN YOU FIND OUT IF YOU HAVE DIASTASIS RECTI AND CAN IT BE CORRECTED?
The good news is that Diastasis Recti CAN be corrected with a series of corrective exercises in as little as 6-8 weeks. The goal may not necessarily be to close the gap but to focus on strengthening the Linea Alba that holds the two Rectus Abdominis muscles together. However, it will take at least 9 months to a year to correct all of the other conditions caused by pregnancy. The good news is that it IS possible to heal naturally by following a protocol of exercises specifically designed for you by a Core Specialist. It takes 9 months to grow and deliver a baby. Women need to set the right expectation and give themselves at least 9-12 months to fully recover regardless if you had a vaginal or c-section birth.
- You can not prevent Diastasis Recti. Your body was designed to expand to allow for a growing baby.
- Although you can’t prevent it, you can minimize the effects of it. Pregnant women may begin pre-natal exercises that incorporate Core Breath exercises to prepare for childbirth, strengthen their back and help stabilize the changes that will occur in their pelvis. By following a comprehensive Pre-Natal Exercise Program women can minimize the degree of Diastasis Recti and will recover much faster postpartum.
- Ideally, women should focus on correcting their Diastasis Recti between children
- However, if you missed this opportunity, using the latest techniques, a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist* and a Core Specialist* can help women recover from these effects of pregnancy. About 15 years ago the only option for women to fix their Diastasis Recti was surgery OR to live with it. Thankfully, that’s no longer the case.
- Mothers should re-train their core and rehabilitate their pelvic floor muscles after their 6 week check-up with their OB/GYN or Mid-Wife.
- Even if your youngest is 1 month, 1year old, 10 yrs. old or 30 yrs. old. it is never too late to fix this.
- NOTE: There is a difference. Not all Physiotherapists and Personal Trainers/Coaches are qualified. You specifically need a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist and/or a Personal Trainer that is a certified Core Specialist and Corrective Exercise Specialist. In Canada, there are also Chiropractors and RMT’s that are certified Core Specialists. Outside of Canada, you’ll have to look into it in your area.
WATCH THIS VIDEO TUTORIAL ON HOW TO DO A SELF-ASSESSMENT FOR DIASTASIS RECTI:
I created this simplified version for women to learn how to do a basic self-assessment.
- Look for space between the two Rectus Abdominis Muscles Doming
- The Depth of the gap in the Linea Alba OR Doming
- Look for Doming Down the Middle of Your Belly. If the tissue on your belly is too thick to get through to feel between your abdominal muscles, lay on your back, lift your head slightly and if a peak forms down the middle of your belly that’s an indication that you have Diastasis Recti.
WHAT ARE THE NEXT STEPS SHOULD YOU TAKE?
- If you just gave birth, wear a belly wrap to provide optimum support for healing. The one I recommend is called the Ab Wrap-Postpartum Recovery Wrap by Bellies Inc. (Enter my discount code: STRONGBIKINIMOM10 for 10% off). It’s soft and moves with you so you can put it on immediately after birth and wear it comfortably all day underneath clothing.
- If you experience ANY pain during postpartum recovery, see your doctor just to rule out anything serious before you begin an exercise program.
- Make an appointment with a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist. Schedule your visit after your 6-week follow-up appointment with your Mid-Wife and or OB/GYN. A Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist will perform and internal exam and assess for Diastasis Recti and other possible conditions, such as Prolapse and Incontinence. She will also give you a protocol of exercises to begin re-training your four core muscles to function together again. It is imperative that you do the exercises daily and to follow through with your follow-up appointments until the Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist discharges you once she is confident that your core muscles are functioning synergistically again and there are no internal muscle imbalances that could interfere with your progress once you resume an exercise routine.
- IMPORTANT: If you do have Diastasis Recti, ask if it is Functional or a Non-functional DR.
- A Functional DR means that your brain is able to send signals to the four core muscles and they are responding; this means that you can proceed with DR corrective exercises.
- A Non-Functional DR means that the mind-muscle connection is not there and needs further investigation by the Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist and your doctor may refer you to a surgeon for consultation.
- IMPORTANT: If you do have Diastasis Recti, ask if it is Functional or a Non-functional DR.
- To compliment your Physiotherapy Treatments you may also begin working with a Certified Core Specialist, like me! Together we will continue stimulate, regenerate and thicken the Linea Alba (connective tissue) that holds the two muscles together. You will also learn to make healthy lifestyle changes to get even better results than doing just exercise alone. Rather than hiding your belly in loose fitting clothes, and missing out on making memories with the kids, imagine, looking fabulous wearing anything you want and going back to doing the activities that you love.
- Eliminate the Mom Guilt, change your mindset, now is the time to focus on healing and making yourself the #1 Priority. You are the hub of your family and the strongest link in the chain:)
- Establish a set time, ideally 4-5 times a week. When I design a program for a new mother, we’ll begin with just 10 minutes per day. The key is to do them daily to establish a mind-muscle connection. The more time you spend practicing the better. Most of the DR exercises can actually be performed anywhere.
- No babysitter available? Don’t stress, have fun and workout with them.
- In the meantime, avoid doing crunches, sit-ups, planks, mountain climbers, push-ups on the ground. Basically any exercises where your belly is face-down. Not forever, just until we re-build the strength in your Mid-Line (aka Linea Alba). You won’t miss crunches, trust me there are SO many other core exercises that are safe and you won’t hurt your neck and back the way crunches do, that you won’t miss crunches and sit-ups.
BENEFITS OF CORRECTING YOUR DIASTASIS RECTI NATURALLY THROUGH EXERCISE:
I have helped hundreds of women correct their Diastasis Recti and the benefits far outweigh just closing the gap.
- Your clothes will fit, oh so beautifully and you’ll feel confident in anything you want to wear. No more frumpy tops and loose baggy clothing.
- No one will ask if you’re pregnant anymore (OMG, I can’t believe people do that!)
- BTW, you may be surprised that you’re no longer peeing drops by accident. That’s right, no more wearing liners “just in case”. This is a game changer especially for moms who love to be active. Bring on the burpees right?!
- Sex – Um, way better! Because the core breath exercises stimulate the pelvic floor muscles your vagina also begins to tighten. You will also learn how to relax these muscles. Contract, Relax, Contract, Relax – oh yah!:)
- Your back pain and stress throughout the body will reduce significantly and you’ll know how to manage any future bouts of pain and stress naturally with the stretches and exercises that you’ll learn. When you work with me, you will learn a protocol of stretches that are specific to you.
- ENDORPHINS are da bomb! Endorphins are the body’s natural anti-depressant. Your body releases endorphins when you exercise and that’s what makes you feel amazing. After each session. you’ll leave feeling uplifted, stress-free and anxious to take on the world. The addiction to feeling that endorphin kick at the end of each workout is real! When you feel great the positive energy gets passed on so your partner and the kids are happy too.
- My clients feel that the best advantage about healing Diastasis Recti Naturally is that you will learn how to make lifestyle changes to achieve fat loss and maintain your results for the rest of your life.
HOW WILL YOU KNOW IF YOU’RE CORE MUSCLES ARE WORKING AND ENGAGING CORRECTLY?
Oh trust me, if you learned how to do the Core Breath exercises correctly, you’ll feel it. You’ll feel your corset muscles engaging from the pelvis right up and from your low back all the way around
Are you ready to learn how to do the Core Breath Exercise?