What is Diastasis Recti and other Postpartum Abdominal Changes
If you've just given birth and are wondering why you still have a belly after baby, you may be worried a little too early. Most moms will notice a significant decrease in the size of their belly after birth in just a few weeks. That's due to the swelling and the fluids that are draining after birth. But what if it's been several months and you're still noticing your core and abdomen don't feel the same after birth? What are common postpartum abdominal changes? By now, you may have started to wonder, 'how can I get rid of this postpartum belly?'
A common postpartum abdominal change that occurs in women after pregnancy is abdominal separation, also known as diastasis recti. If you're like most new moms, you'll be wondering 'What is diastasis recti?' and 'How do I check to see if I have diastasis recti?,' then this guest post is for you! We're grateful to introduce long-time UpSpring momma, Kylee Austin, who is a fitness instructor and health coach based in Gilbert, Arizona. After having her twins, she discovered that her postpartum body changes were more than just stretch marks. She wants to share her knowledge about ways to check for diastasis recti and help you start healing your diastasis recti. If you're still struggling with your postpartum body changes, this message of self-love is for you!
What is Diastasis Recti?
“I still look 6 months pregnant…” looking into the mirror and realizing that your belly doesn’t just go back to normal immediately after giving birth, can sometimes sting. Where was THIS in those “What to Expect” books? Why doesn’t JLO or Beyonces’ belly look like this? What’s wrong with me?? When you scroll the feeds of Instagram or Facebook, it seems like you are the only mommy out there dealing with this, and you immediately want to hide and stay in with your maternity clothes on forever. Well, you are NOT alone, almost ALL mothers, in fact, deal with some degree of Diastasis Recti (“split abs”) leaving that “pooch effect” and definitely a blow to self-esteem. Luckily, Diastasis Recti is treatable and so is loving your post-baby body just the way you are.
Diastasis Recti Abdominus is the thinning of the linea alba (connective tissue) that connects the two sides of your abdominals rectus (“six pack muscles”). During pregnancy, as our bellies expand to accommodate for the little cuties inside, our linea alba must allow for the separation of the abdominal muscles, so we may stretch. Some women (like moms of multiples) experience more stretch of this ligament than others. Once birth has taken place, this ligament remains stretched for some time, as ligaments are not “pliable” or resilient like muscles. (Think of a rubber band that has been stretched for some time and is never quite as tight any more.) Not all DR (Diastasis Recti) cases look the same and some may present themselves with different symptoms.
Diastasis Recti might look like or present itself as:
- A belly “pooch”
- Pain in the lower back
- Umbilical Hernia
- Incontinence (leaking)
- Weakness in the abdominals
- Pain during intercourse
- Constipation or bowel issues
- Organ prolapse
If not addressed properly, diastasis recti can lead to further injury, pain, and discomfort.
How to Check for Diastasis Recti
As a fitness professional myself, my postpartum fitness journey has been one riddled with the ups and downs of Diastasis Recti. Three years ago, I had my first son, a gorgeous 7 lb. 10 oz. baby. Immediately, I was struck with the surprise of what your stomach is left like after giving birth. I dealt with an umbilical hernia, was never diagnosed with Diastasis Recti, and was handed off to a general surgeon that upon “fixing” my hernia, questioned if I ever had a belly button to begin with… Through modified workouts (basically not crunching or planking a ton), I was able, for the most part, to “close my gap” on my own and was happy with my postpartum results, even though I had this unexplained pelvic pain, pressure, and organ prolapse.
Soon after my first son turned one, I learned I was pregnant again…with TWINS. I was in shock! While I stayed physically active, ate according to my pregnancy needs, and stayed healthy, my belly (of course) got huge! As a person of small stature (5’3”) with a small torso, my babies had nowhere to go but out! Enduring the looks, comments, and stares, I made it to 38 weeks. After hours of induced labor, my breech babies were delivered via cesarean. This time around (besides the c-section) I knew what to expect, so I immediately ordered the C-Panty High Waist C-Section Recovery Panty. I knew that I needed something to help reduce the swelling, stabilize my muscles, and help me mentally connect my body and mind (proprioception can be a huge issue with DR). It also had to be comfortable, I just had a major surgery for crying out loud! And, it couldn’t “catch” on my c-section scar. The C-Panty was PERFECT!! As soon as I put it on, I was immediately relived and felt incredibly better, no joke! While I was exhausted from the birth process and just having twins, I was surprised by the strength I had once I put it on.
It was very evident, once I returned home with my TWO precious gifts (both boys) that I had a long way to go yet on my diastasis recti journey, both mentally and physically. The slow process began with the help of the Shrinkx Belly Postpartum Belly Wrap and my at-home workouts. After allowing myself to fully recover from my c-section, I started adding fitness routines and weights back into my life. I felt stronger and more confident each day. Looking at the mirror and starting to embrace my “tiger stripes”, be confident in where my body is right now, and loving the person on the inside were very important steps in the process. Now, I share this journey with others like you so you can do the same!
Here are my best tips to correcting Diastasis Recti and gaining your postpartum strength and confidence:
- Get assessed- ask your doctor to assess your DR if you believe you have it; you can also search YouTube videos on ways to do self-assessments at home.
- Seek out professionals that can help- Pelvic Floor Specialists, Webster Technique Chiropractors, Doulas, and Midwives are great places to start. Some personal trainers are also specialized in postpartum exercises as well.
- Purchase “splints” for use immediately following your delivery or if you continue to have a “3-finger separation”- Splints are abdominal supports that allow your linea alba to recover by taking the pressure off; my personal favorites are the C-Panty for immediately after delivery and the Shrinkx Belly Postpartum Belly Wrap (use during the first 3 months post-partum for about 4-6 weeks).
- Avoid crunches, but do not avoid exercise all together- many women become afraid to workout after pregnancy in fear that they will worsen their diastasis recti. Exercise increases the blood flow, allows for healing and mind/body reconnection as well as releases feel-good endorphins! Doing the CORRECT exercises is important however. There are so many different programs that all give you their advice on how to correct diastasis recti, but my best advice however, is don’t do a move that you cannot physically do correctly (ie without using the correct muscle groups). This might mean you have to start with SMALL movements that seem incredibly hard. Your mind might be saying, "I used to be able to do this," but your body will NOT be where it once was so proceed with caution. Look for exercises that connect your breath with your abs and focus on “drawing in” to reengage the core muscles.
- LOVE YOURSELF- give yourself grace! You just had a baby (or two, or THREE!), you are amazing just the way you are! Even if your body never “goes back to normal”, know that you are loved and that you are perfect, because you are YOU! Seek professional counseling if needed, talk to a friend or loved one about how you feel, and stop comparing your journey to others! You got this!