Diastasis Recti, a condition affecting many postpartum women, is a topic often shrouded in myths and misinformation. As a Pilates instructor with over 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, I have personally experienced this condition and witnessed its effects on many of my clients. In this blog post, I will share my personal journey with Diastasis Recti and provide some insights into the anatomy of this condition, as well as some common myths and misunderstandings.
Firstly, let me explain what Diastasis Recti is. It is a condition that occurs when the rectus abdominis muscles in the abdomen separate, causing a gap in the middle of the stomach. This separation typically occurs during pregnancy, as the growing uterus puts pressure on the abdominal muscles, causing them to stretch and separate. While this condition is common, affecting up to 60% of postpartum women, there is often confusion about what it is and how it can affect a person's health.
In my case, I first experienced Diastasis Recti when I gave birth to my first child at 19. Over the years, as I continued to work as a Pilates instructor and had two more children, I noticed that my belly always had a rounded or protruding appearance, even at my lowest body fat percentage. I knew this wasn't due to excess body fat but rather the muscle structure underneath, which had not fully recovered from the abdominal separation caused by pregnancy.
So, what happens when you have Diastasis Recti? The linea alba, a ligament that runs down the middle of the rectus abdominis muscles, stretches during pregnancy and may not fully recover postpartum. Whether or not your linea alba recovers fully depends on your genetics and the percentage of separation you experience after giving birth. The skin's elasticity is a good indicator of your genetic elasticity, meaning that if your skin can spring back postpartum, you have good elasticity. However, if you experience extensive stretch marks after pregnancy, this could indicate low elasticity.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation surrounding Diastasis Recti, and fear-mongering tactics are often used to sell products or services. This is especially profitable since 87.4% of postpartum women experience body dissatisfaction. One common myth is that having an abdominal separation will cause further health problems, but this is not supported by evidence. Having an abdominal separation does not necessarily mean you are at risk of other health complications, such as incontinence, low back pain, or pelvic organ prolapse. To determine if you are at risk of any further complications, it is necessary to have a functional movement assessment from a public health physio to assess the strength and functionality of your entire core structure, not just the rectus abdominis muscles.
The same can also be said for when you return to exercise after giving birth or experiencing Diastasis Recti. A public health physio can assess the strength of your core and help you determine how much load your body can handle safely. It is also crucial to seek professional help if you are experiencing issues with incontinence, back pain, discomfort during sex, or problems with bladder function. It is essential to be mindful of your core's functionality and engage in exercises that do not exacerbate the condition. During any activity that requires your core muscles to work, such as picking up a baby, sweeping the floor, walking, or exercising, you need to pay attention to any signs of abdominal doming or pelvic floor bearing down. This signals that there may be a dysfunction in your core muscles that need to be addressed. To correct any issues, it's important to engage your muscles properly and avoid bearing down, as this can exacerbate the problem. This is a crucial area that I always cover with my private clients during a functional movement assessment. We work together to assess core functionality and your core's load-bearing capacity. I also have a whole video about diastasis and core functionality in my on-demand subscription.
Diastasis Recti is a common condition that affects many postpartum women. While there is often misinformation and fear-mongering surrounding the condition, it is important to seek professional help and to engage in exercises that are safe for your body. Remember to listen to your body and seek guidance from a qualified health professional if you are experiencing any issues.