Diastasis recti is the abdominal separation that commonly occurs in pregnancy.
It’s thought that perhaps many, if not all women experience some degree of abdominal separation and expansion of the abdominal wall in pregnancy because of the growing baby. It just makes sense that this would need to happen! Diastasis recti is actually a really amazing function that allows your body to grow a full-term baby. This diagram illustrates what diastasis recti looks like.
Your abdomen has connective tissue that runs along the midline, from your sternum to pubic bone, called the linea alba. The linea alba softens and becomes more lax during pregnancy, which allows the abdominal wall to expand. When this happens, the span of the connective tissue widens, and the rectus abdominus muscle bellies (the right and left sides of this muscle group) move wider apart.
They don’t tear apart. They don’t rip apart. They’re still very much “together”, just wider apart compared to their pre-pregnancy position.
I always say that during pregnancy you need to minimize the severity of diastasis recti. After pregnancy, you need to heal it well. It can be difficult to assess yourself for diastasis during pregnancy, but you can certainly check your abdomen after pregnancy to see how your abdominal wall is healing.
If you’ve given birth, you can assess yourself for diastasis recti.
It’s really important to note that diastasis recti is about much more than just the separation of muscles. If you have a separation of your abdominal muscles, it can be just fine! Your core could be functioning well if your connective tissue is taut, strong, and can gain good tension when you need to use your core muscles.
When you assess your diastasis you must keep this is mind and pay attention to the quality of the linea alba, that connective tissue along the midline of the belly. It’s also interesting to note the width of the gap and see how it changes over time. Just know that it might not change depending how long postpartum you are—and this can be absolutely OK.
You can assess whether you’re a first-time mom or a more seasoned mom. I recommend waiting until you’re about two weeks postpartum to do your first assessment.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, like you are about to perform a glute bridge. Lift your shirt up to expose your belly.
Walk your hand along the midline of your belly to get a sense of the tension in the linea alba. You can start from just under your sternum and work your way down towards your pubic bone, straight down this line. Feel if there are areas that are squishier than others. Can you press your fingers way down into your belly? Does the tissue feel supportive when you press into it?
Using the three middle fingers of one hand, press straight down into your belly just above the belly button. Tuck your chin towards your chest and slowly lift your head off the floor. Only your head should come off the floor. Keep your shoulders down. This isn’t a crunch, just a “head lift.”
Repeat a couple of times if needed, adding or taking fingers away to get an accurate measurement with the same, very small head lift (no full crunches).
Repeat Step 3 above the belly button. Measure three fingers wide above the belly button and do the head lift test at this site.
Re-test below the belly button, with the same three-fingers wide spacing.
Re-test at all three measurement sites, but now do the core and floor connection breath (gently contract your pelvic floor upwards) on your exhale breath and then do your head lift test.
If you’re using an exercise program to heal your diastasis recti, I recommend re-assessing every 2–3 weeks. This will typically give you good feedback as to whether your exercises are effective.
I recommend going through at least eight weeks of specific core exercises with very good consistency to get a good sense of the changes you feel in your abdominal wall. Re-assess three to four times over that period and note the changes as you go along.
As I mentioned earlier, the quality of the connective tissue is what’s important in assessing the healing process. You can still have a gap with a healed diastasis. That’s why it’s important to assess yourself and feel the progress.
You’ll know when you have really great tension along your linea alba.
This means you’ll feel the strong tissue under your fingers when you press into your belly, when you do your core and floor connection breath. If you don’t feel good tension, you might feel this squishiness, or like you can press down easily into the belly.
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