Think You Have Diastasis Recti? Start Here.
My stomach flopped over when I slept, poked out when I stood up, and caused me back pain at the end of the day. It wasn’t a pocket of extra baby fat that refused to melt away with breast feeding, but a muscle separation that let my insides come out in the most unflattering way. I had diastasis recti after having a baby, and couldn’t figure out how to rectify it on my own.
Diastasis recti (pronounced any way you want...we can just refer to it as DR) is a condition in which the large muscles of the abdominal muscles separate. Find out if you have it here. Google has a million solutions, and it’s exhausting enough being a mom, let alone spending hours sifting through the solutions that claim to restore your six-pack when in reality it might never close all the way again.
If you have questions about diastasis recti and what to do next, I hope I can provide some direction in this post. I am an ACSM certified personal trainer, but I highly recommend you find someone local to help if you decide you need further guidance.
What is Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis recti is caused by too much intra-abdominal pressure that splits the ab muscles in half. Pregnancy isn’t the single cause, but it is the one I will address here. Every woman has some sort of ab split during pregnancy to accommodate the growing uterus, but most of the time it goes back together postpartum. After the 2nd baby, about 66% of women still have a split two fingers or more at the belly button. I know it sounds painful, but for me, the only pain I experienced was the lower back soreness from a weak core (plus the emotional trauma of being able to see my stomach digest my last meal).
Where to Start After Finding Out You Have DR
The best resource I have found for the need-to-know info is from the Mutu System. Whether you are pregnant or postpartum, you need to do two things:
Avoid motions that make your belly dome or point in the middle (like sitting straight up). Try getting up sideways, and avoid lifting heavy things or doing high impact exercise until you can master number 2:
Learn how to breathe correctly and engage your deep core muscles. I tried to learn via online videos, but it didn’t click for me until a Women’s Health Physical Therapist showed me in person. Going to physical therapy was the best investment I have made in my health in a long time. If you're local, I can show you how to do this as well. If you can't find someone qualified near you, scroll down to the programs I have listed and contact Olivia Cagle. She offers one-on-one video sessions and can show you how to do this online.
How I Started to Close the Gap
I realized I had a separation during my 2nd trimester when I leaned back and my stomach turned into a football shape. My OB said it was just my intestines poking through (JUST MY INTESTINES?!) When I asked my midwife about it 6 weeks postpartum, she simply told me to stop doing crunches and planks. Six months after following her instructions, the gap had not closed. I heard about Mutu System and started watching their free videos and YouTube workouts on diastasis recti. I did that from 6 weeks postpartum until 1 year postpartum. When I saw little change, I signed up for the Mutu System 12 week program. Even though it is the best postpartum workout program I have experienced and I regained some more function in my abdominals, I still had a gap of 3.5 fingers wide after the 12 weeks.
I decided to get an appointment with a Women's Health Physical Therapist who was highly recommended. She told me my pelvic floor was too tight and that contributed to my diastasis. I worked with her for 5 sessions and she "loosened" my pelvic floor and taught me how to engage the right muscles when doing normal activity. It turns out I was engaging my superficial 6-pack muscles instead of deep core muscles. She advised me to get a binder to speed up the process, and it helped but I stopped wearing it after 6 weeks when I saw no more improvement. Then I got a more flexible splint to wear while exercising to remind me to engage my core. I wore that one during workouts for a few months.
How I Felt About It
After my gap did not close, I felt angry that my OBGYN knew I had diastasis recti while pregnant and did not tell me what to do. I was the one who had to bring it up to my midwife, but she didn't give me a long-term solution. I don't understand why more health professionals fail to inform women about this condition, and we are left to wonder why we still have a firm pooch despite losing the baby weight.
After therapy and 3 years of exercises, I'm not sure if the gap will close any more, but I still have hope! The biggest issue I have now is cosmetic. My stomach still pokes out in my shirts, so I have learned what to wear with it (including shoes that help my posture to support my core). I created a class through Olivia's FITabulous Moms Club with capsule wardrobe options for every season if you would like to sign up for that class here.
I have learned to accept my DR since I no longer have pain and can perform all of my normal activities (with the exception of plank competitions). However, I will not accept the lack of information about DR that's out there and continue to learn, work on my own core, and educate others.
Myths I’ve Encountered
1. Myth: You should never do planks or crunches. After learning how to properly engage the deep muscles, these exercises can be performed correctly with a diastasis. They aren't the best core exercises with diastasis but can be done.
2. Myth: Your gap will close. It might never close completely. The goal is to regain function.
3. Myth: With the right program and 100% adherence, your problems will be solved. No one program will fit every body. Find out what works for you. This might be to see an in-person specialist like a Women’s Health Physical Therapist.
4. Myth: You should never use a binder or splint. A splint really helped me narrow the gap for the few weeks I wore it. I had to learn to use it as a support instead of a crutch before it could be effective.
I’ve listed a few resources below I have personally tested and am happy to pass on to you.
Online programs (with affiliate links):
Mutu System 12 Week Program (2 payments of $97 or one payment of $167)
Pros: Best overall postpartum fitness plan, user-friendly program hub
Cons: More corporate feel, less personal access
The Diastasis Fix 8 Week Program $88
Pros: Olivia is a friend of mine, a Christian, and very kind and personable. The Facebook group is very active with a lot of helpful support. Make sure to follow her @diastasissafe Instagram account for more fitness ideas!
Cons: Less refined design
Fit Pregnancy Boot Camp 6-week Program $150
Pros: This is another one of Olivia's programs. It's 6 weeks, but you can repeat it throughout your whole pregnancy. Countless videos of instruction for alignment, workouts, separate days for labor training, relaxation recordings, nutrition advice, and she takes special care to address mamas with diastasis, training breath and engagement.
Cons: No postpartum recovery
Mother Figure 16 Week Program $49
Pros: Real talk, thoughtful email prompts, sciencey, free one-week trial
Cons: Less refined design
Other recommended resources:
Bellefit Postpartum Girdle: *2nd baby update* My new physical therapist recommended this support girdle, since my ab split went down into my pubic bone area and I needed a little more support from the bottom rather than just around my waist. I ordered a small according to the sizing chart and it was incredibly too small. I could have taken it back, but decided to get a medium and keep the small in case I fit into it later. When I wear it I absolutely feel supported and it’s much smoother than having to worry about velcro straps making embarrassing noises, but by the end of the day I am itching to get it off. The boning starts to dig in, and the clips at the bottom make it annoying to go to the bathroom.
Bamboo Belly Bandit: I would use this right after having baby for support. It’s very structured and I couldn’t tolerate wearing it for more than 4-6 weeks, but it did help close much of my gap.
Postnatal Fit Splint: After my core felt strong enough to do regular workouts, I wore this only while working out to remind me to use my transverse abdominal muscles. Check out my video review of both splints here.
Hab-It DVD for pelvic floor restoration with flat band: Essential in strengthening my pelvic floor. Took away the pelvic floor soreness after a few weeks of exercises.
Exercise ball (make sure you pick the right size for you)
Resistance band set with door anchor is one of the best small investments for in-home perinatal fitness equipment.
If you are a local in Athens, Georgia, please contact me for a one-hour session on how to properly engage your core. If you have any other questions or want more info, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to chatting with you!
Because diastasis recti can really change how you look and therefore how you view yourself, let’s figure out how you can see yourself as loved and give thanks for your reflection. When I became pregnant and my body changed so much, it really messed with my identity. When I was pregnant, I loved my growing belly. Then after I had the baby and still had the belly, I was really unhappy with how I looked. I knew it was mostly superficial, but because diastasis recti makes you literally feel pulled apart, I felt like I was separated from who I wanted to be, too.
I wanted to enjoy my body and the life it gave, but I really wrestled with my reflection. So I wrote the Bible study below on body image. If you struggle with how you see yourself, especially with diastasis recti, I would love for you to buy my book and go through it with a friend! And of course if you have any questions, please email me at email@example.com.