*disclaimer: I’m not a physician or a medical professional with specific training in pelvic floor and women’s health. Do not begin a postpartum exercise program before consulting with a physical or occupational therapist with advanced skills in pelvic floor therapy and women’s health.
“That’s not really a thing. It sounds like maybe it’s just, like, a Boulder thing.”
That’s what my sister said when I told her about my diastasis recti, right after my second child was born. But it really is a thing that many women deal with after a pregnancy and if you just had a baby and you have it, I’m here to answer some questions that you may not have even known you should be asking. Oh and the baby who caused my abdomen to split? She’s now two and-a-half and I am just getting around to editing and publishing this post. I’m not sure if that means I’m a slacker or I’m tenacious. In the spirit of kindness, I’ll go with the latter.
What is a Diastasis Recti and How Does it Happen?
The front-facing part of the abdominal wall includes the rectus abdominus muscle, which has a thin separation running down the middle of the right and left sides. Normally, the distance between the two sides of the rectus muscle is tiny, and a connective sheath of tissue holds the muscle together effectively.
But… when you’re pregnant, your uterus shoves other organs and tissues out of the way to make room for the baby. Yes it’s kind of rude, although in all fairness, the survival of our species depends on the take-charge nature of the uterus.
Sometimes, the uterus gets out of control with the pushing and shoving, with no regard for what organs and tissues were there first, and this is how you end up with a diastasis recti, which is a significant separation of the rectus abdominus muscle.
Risk factors include:
-a larger baby
-previous pregnancy (or pregnancies)
How do you know if you have diastasis recti?
It’s actually pretty simple:
1) Lie on your back
2) Bend your knees
3) Do a partial crunch, just so that your shoulder blades are off the ground.
4) Press your fingers into your stomach directly above your belly button.
If it feels tight, you’re fine. If you feel a gap, or a valley there, and it feels like maybe you could lose a finger in there, or as a woman I recently met said, “you could tickle my liver” —you probably have a diastasis. A gap of about 1 to 1 and a half finger-widths is considered normal. Two finger-widths or more is considered a diastasis recti. If you have one, you will probably notice that no matter how many crunches or planks you do, your abs do not get tighter. Actually, until you close up the gap, these types of exercises will do more harm than good.
I’ll pick back up with a post on what you can do about it (and what I’ve done about mine) in a subsequent post.
For now, it bears mentioning, that lady I mentioned who said you could tickle her liver… She’s my idol. We randomly met at the gym and when I found out she’s an ultramarathoner, I had to know how she’s handled the injuries I assumed a distance runner would sustain. She told me stupidly ran a 50k ten weeks after the birth of her first child, which exacerbated her diastasis recti to the point where it will not close, even partially. She said she could not run even a few steps between the birth of her first and second child, due to glute pain, about three years later. She’s back to running ultras at the age of 44, despite her lack of an intact core. My diastasis is nowhere near as severe as hers, but I do think it’s part of what has kept me injured on and off since Lady Bug’s birth. This woman’s story was so inspiring to me.