What is it?
Diastasis recti (DR) is the medical way of saying abdominal separation. During pregnancy the line down the middle of your abdominals (the linea alba) will stretch to accommodate your growing uterus and baby. It often occurs to some degree during pregnancy but DR usually refers to abdominals not knitting back together completely again post pregnancy, so you’re left with either a gap between both sides of your six-pack (the rectus abdominis) or in some cases they come back together but you can tell the line is still a bit weak when you perform certain exercises. The gap is most common around the naval but can be higher up by the ribs.
DR is more common with large babies or with women carrying multiple babies. In my experience I’ve noticed taller women suffer from it more and women who have never engaged in any formal exercise activity. Also having babies close together in age (less than 2 years) can increase the risk.
What causes it?
Like many pregnancy things it can be down to chance or genes. But certain posture types can increase your risk. Basically anything that increases the risk of permanent stretch through the tummy – like standing with your bottom sticking out as you might do in high heels can make it worse. This is why during pregnancy and the post natal period I am always reminding women to focus on connecting ribs to hips – to ensure the ribs don’t push forwards and add extra strain to the tummy.
Tight hip flexors (psoas) muscles can also increase the risk as well as putting pressure on the pelvic floor. It’s a BIG topic but the hip mobility work we do is all about trying to release these hip flexors.
Is it bad?
Well if you are left with abdominal separation it means there’s an area of weakness in your trunk. But I feel the separation is sometimes an indicator that there’s something else going on. A postural weakness that needs rectifying in order that it doesn’t cause further issues, like pelvic floor disorder or back problems. It is fixable to a certain extent but it’s worth remembering that the gap is not so much of a problem as the tension underneath it.
How will I know if I have it?
You may notice a little ridge in your tummy or ‘alien baby’ after birth. This is perfectly normal in the early days and if you come to my post natal classes I’ll be able to do a proper visual and ‘finger’ test. This just involves me prodding your tummy. Nothing deeper !!!
What can I do about it?
Ah now this is the tricky one because it really depends on why you got it in the first place. Weirdly the one thing I’d say is not to focus on abdominal exercises. In my Pilates classes we focus on cueing the back to work in order to get the tummy muscles working again.
Try this: Tense your tummy muscles. Sure you can tense your tummy muscles and feel them working but can you notice everything tenses when you do that, and that they’re probably not flat but a bit sticky outy? Getting them working slightly differently can have brilliant results in just a short period of time (so long as you’re prepared to do a little homework).
If you aren’t sure if you need private work then there are some tips everyone can do on my blog post: Why most of your post natal Pilates can happen outside of your class.