I realize when you’re a new mom that the last thing on your mind should be your body image. After all, that body did just successfully grow another human being. Granted you will be so tired your first week home. Especially as you get used to your new life with baby. However, after a few weeks you can’t help but think will my body ever be back to normal? I’m here to tell you mommas that YES IT WILL!
The dirty truth is that 100% of women experience some form of diastasis recti after pregnancy. Don’t panic though! According to this article studies show that 37% of women experience diastasis recti after their first pregnancy and 67% of women who have had multiple pregnancies.
What is Diastasis Recti?
Despite its name diastasis recti is not some complicated part attached to the space station. It IS, however, what causes that unsightly mom pooch. I’ll go ahead and save you the trouble of googling it since my initial research found it described as a “physical deformity.” Yeah, I hear what you’re saying and frankly I agree that it sounds ridiculous! Ready for a little anatomy lesson?
In a nutshell diastasis recti is the separation of your abdominal muscles. The long set of muscles that run down either side of your mid-section are know as rectus abdominis. They are the main component that allows you to maintain a tight core. This is also the group of muscles that helps keep all your internal organs in place.
The linea alba is the connective tissue that helps keep these muscles held together. If that name sounds familiar it’s probably because you have heard of the linea nigra. You know that mysterious dark line that many pregnant women get down the center of their belly? It’s called the linea nigra. Why? Because it runs down your belly in the same exact place as the linea alba connective tissue.
During pregnancy your uterus expands upwards and out as your baby grows. This puts pressure on the front of your abdominals causing them to stretch. The gap caused by the separation of these ab muscles is known as diastasis recti.
So Will I Get Diastasis Recti?
Below are some factors that can make you pre-disposed to developing diastasis recti:
- Multiple pregnancies
- Excessive amount of amniotic fluid during pregnancy.
- Giving birth to a baby 8 lbs or more.
- Having weak abdominals prior to pregnancy.
Just because you may have one of the above pre-disposing factors doesn’t mean that you will develop diastasis recti. Everyone’s body is different. However, you should still be careful during the first few month’s postpartum to ensure you do not develop this condition or make it worse.
What To Avoid
I think by now you can probably guess that you shouldn’t work your abdominals directly after giving birth. In fact most medical professionals suggest you should not do any ab related exercises for the first 16 weeks postpartum.
Whenever you need to get up from a laying down position you should be careful and roll to your side first before pushing yourself up. This way you can avoid putting additional strain on your abs. Talking about straining, you also want to avoid being constipated. (Read more about the 10 Things to Have in Your Postpartum Kit) Bearing down can put further strain on your abdominals and make them stretch even more.
You should also avoid certain exercises including crunches and planks until your mid-section has had time to heel.
During pregnancy your body produces a lot of hormones! One of these hormones is known as relaxin and allows your body and muscles to stretch more easily as your baby grows. This hormone is also your best friend postpartum as it allows your body to reform its pre-pregnancy shape!
One product that I will ALWAYS have packed in my hospital bag is a postpartum girdle. You will want to take advantage of the high levels of relaxin in your body immediately post-birth. Wearing a postpartum girdle helps apply compression and aids in helping your body’s muscles come back together. It also made me feel more “held together” instead of having a jiggly belly immediately after giving birth. Another added benefit is it serves as a lower back support, which you will definitely need with a weakened core. (Read more about What to Pack in Your Hospital Bag: Plus the 5 Things You Didn’t Think to Pack)
How Can You Tell if You Have Diastasis Recti?
There is a very simple test you can perform on yourself at home to determine if you have diastasis recti. If you do not feel comfortable doing this yourself you can always ask your doctor to check for you as well. However, YOU will have to request this of your doctor, as they do not typically check for this condition at your postpartum checkup. This still BAFFLES me and frankly is not acceptable.
- Lie on the ground on your back with your knees bent and feet planted on the ground.
- Lift you head and shoulders slightly off the ground as if you were going to perform a standard crunch.
- Use your fingers to feel for a gap just above and just below your belly button. A standard form of measurement for the severity of diastasis recti is finger width. Any width 4 fingers or wider is considered severe and may require surgery. Typical first pregnancies result in a 1-2 finger gap.
I can tell you I started with a 1 finger width gap and now 7 month’s postpartum the gap is fully closed. I also wore my postpartum girdle during the day AND as I slept for the first 6 weeks.
Your hips will also separate towards the end of your pregnancy to make room for you baby to pass through. This is the main reason that many mommas have trouble fitting into their pre-pregnancy jeans. They actually make postpartum hip girdles as well, however, they are very difficult to sit in. I primarily wore mine when I knew I was going out walking or would be doing chores around the house like laundry or washing bottles.
How Can You Heal Diastasis Recti?
Now you are informed on what diastasis recti is, how to not make it worse and how to identify if you have it. I’m sure you’re now wondering what the heck do you do about it if you have it?
The most important thing to do is to focus on preventing diastasis recti BEFORE you become pregnant. By maintaining a strong core your body will already be more prepared to get back in shape.
That being said, you can also perform these exercises from Diary of a Fit Mommy to help heal your diastasis recti.
Just remember momma’s your body just went through a lot over the course of the past 9 months. Therefore your body will take time to heal and get back to normal. The important thing is that you feel good about where your body is and remember it is a work in progress. I guarantee you when you look into the eyes of your little miracle you will not be nearly as concerned with how your body looks. I’m here to tell you that is IS possible to get your pre-pregnancy body back. DO NOT give up, it just takes some time and determination!