With about 2/3rds of women suffering from this condition, diastasis recti is a common post-pregnancy struggle. Also known as a pregnancy "pooch," this condition also causes other unpleasant side-effects such as lower back pain, breathing difficulties, and constipation. Diastasis Recti happens when the tissue connecting both sides of the rectus abdominus (linea alba) thins out.
Many new mothers are desperate to eliminate this unpleasant condition and grasp for quick-fixes and drastic exercise regimens. Unfortunately, some extreme exercises can cause more harm than good. Before going on a yo-yo diet or forcing yourself through painful exercise programs, consider this post-pregnancy checklist while when treating your diastassis recti.
What is Diastasis Recti
Although this condition can potentially affect almost anyone, new mothers are at the worst risk. Pregnancy and delivery place great stress on the abdominal muscles, particularly the "rectus abdominis" muscles. During normal pregnancy, these muscles are designed to temporarily shift to allow infant growth and delivery. However, when these muscles don't return to normal, the muscles and connective tissue can suffer injuries such as tears and hernias. This condition causes a gap between your left and right abdominal muscles results in a noticeable "pooch" of sagging skin.
If you're uncertain whether you have this condition, you can easily check by laying flat on your back and gently raising your upper body into a partial crunch-like position. Place your fingers on your abs and feel for any sign of a gap. Many women can easily feel abnormal muscles issues when doing this self-care test.
Although the muscle gap may feel small, avoiding treatment may result in later medical complications. It's wise to consult your doctor for advice and receive an exam.
Although this is a common post-pregnancy issue, there are important preventative measures you can take to reduce your chances of developing this condition. Some of these prevention tools include:
- Body Mechanics
Getting up is a real struggle, particularly in the end-stages of pregnancy when you're at your largest. Never strain or struggle. Instead, use the "log-roll" method to reduce muscle strain. Roll onto one side with your torso and head aligned. This is a safe posture for your muscles. Use your arms to help push yourself into an upright position.
- Watching your Posture
Body alignment and good posture are always important, but this is especially true during and after pregnancy when your core muscles are most fragile. Using good body alignment and watching your posture goes a long way in the prevention abdominal strain and damage. Guard against postures such as the pregnancy "sway back" stance where the abs, hips, and stomach protrude forward.
- Using Supportive Devices
There is some controversy over supportive devices such as braces and stomach binders. However, most experts agree that temporary use of these devices offers important support to help protect your core muscles. These devices shouldn't be used as a permanent replacement for exercise and core strengthening. Never use them for long periods of time. Prolonged, unhealthy use can cause your abdominal muscles to atrophy and waste away rather than regain their natural strength.
Safe exercises include regimes and movements that pull the belly inward and gently restore your abdominal strength and muscle tone. These exercises don't place dangerous strain on your muscles. Some safe exercises include:
- Gentle abdominal compressions
- Heel slides
- Single-leg stretches
- Breathing techniques to reduce muscle tension
- Gentle walks
- bridge while pulling the belly in
Always consult your doctor about safe exercise routines. As a good general rule, exercise shouldn't begin until at least 6 weeks following delivery. If you are a more active person it could be sooner. However, under your doctor's guidance, seek to begin abdominal strengthening soon to get the best results. Work into these exercises gradually and never perform anything too quickly or drastically.
Aquatic therapies and pool exercises are great alternatives to promoting exercise and fitness following your pregnancy. Because water works as a reduced-gravity environment, it is a safer alternative for exercise. Aquatic therapies allow the body to tone muscle and increase strength without places dangerous strain on the muscles. Using flotation devices and supportive bands or devices increases the effectiveness of aquatic exercises. Consult your doctor and look for local exercise groups that specialize in post-pregancy exercise programs.
Exercise Red Flags
Although there are many safe diastasis recti exercises, some movements and activities should be avoided completely. They can cause harm to your body and even worsen your muscles condition. These red flag exercises include movements such as:
- Heavy lifting
- Planking or any gravity exercise that causes strain on the abs
- Exercises such as crunches, abdominal curls, or reverse curls that involve increased twisting of the spine or back
- Straight leg lifts
- Poor postures that place stress on the back and abs
Avoiding the Yo-Yo Diet
Contrary to popular belief, forcing yourself to start an extreme diet is not the answer to improving post-pregnancy "pooch." The issue with diastassis recti is not body fat, but strained and separated muscles. Rather than stressing yourself with unrealistic diets, focus on maintaining a balanced, wholesome diet. Focus on foods such as:
- Lean proteins (fish, lean meats, and soy products)
- Fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants and vitamin C
- Leafy greens rich in iron
- Vitamin-rich whole grains
Many mild cases of diastasis recti improve with proper self-care and appropriate exercise. If your case is more severe, your doctor may recommend physical therapy to help monitor and treat your condition. Although surgery is sometimes necessary to correct extreme cases, most instances of diastasis recti do not require extreme treatment. With these tips and doctor guidance, you can keep yourself safe from further complications. Ultimately, the goal in treating diastasis recti is restoring your core strength and tone. This is not an overnight process. With consistency and time, you can restore your abdominal muscles and eliminate the "pregnancy pooch."
Results come with consistency. Keep going mama! You're doing great!