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Reduce your risk of developing diastasis recti during pregnancy

If you speak to a lot of moms, you might hear ominous statements like, “Your stomach will never be the same!” or “Your tummy will split in half!”


This can be scary to hear! But the question is, what do these moms really mean, and is there anything you can do to keep this from happening to you? 


Let’s get to the bottom of abdominal separation during pregnancy and postpartum, and separate the facts from the fear mongering!


What is diastasis recti?


We all know that during pregnancy our belly stretches – A LOT! Baby’s gotta go somewhere! But have you ever stopped to think about how exactly, and WHERE that stretching occurs? 


Much of the stretching occurs in the connective tissue along the center of the rectus abdominis muscle (those six pack muscles you are probably familiar with). It’s NORMAL to experience stretching here during late pregnancy. But what really determines if you have “diastasis recti” in the sense that we use the term, is whether the separation lingers postpartum, or closes back up on its own.



Diagram of diastasis recti with photo of regular abdomen and postpartum abdomen


Some stats:

One study showed diastasis evident in 60% of women at 6 weeks postpartum, 45% at 6 months postpartum, and 33% at 12 months postpartum (NIH). And the truth is, many women live with diastasis while having no idea that they have it!


I want to emphasize this: Stretching in the abdominals is a necessary part of pregnancy, and can’t be prevented. Multiple factors determine the amount of stretching you will experience, including the size and positioning of your baby, tissue tension vs pliability, exercise choices and pressure management, and hereditary factors. As you can see, many of these things are out of our control! This is why diastasis recti or abdominal separation should not be demonized or feared, but rather dealt with when it occurs.


And while we don’t want to be panicked about diastasis, we do want to make sure we’re taking it seriously. Diastasis can contribute to reduced rectus abdominis function, pelvic floor dysfunction, lower back pain, and decreased body image and overall ability (NIH). For many women I work with, they feel their core “just isn’t the same” and some are concerned with the appearance.


I think the biggest symptom to note here, because it may be surprising, is that diastasis can be associated with pelvic floor dysfunction. This is because the pelvic floor and deep core are deeply connected. They work in conjunction to make up the abdominal canister, which manages pressure in your torso and helps with overall strength, stability, and control. If one part of the canister is weak or compromised, it will be very difficult to regain strength and you’ll likely have trouble feeling connected.



Diagram of the abdominal canister, pelvic floor, multifidi, diaphragm, and transverse abdominis
The abdominal canister


But is there anything we can do to reduce our risk?


What really can make a difference in your experience of diastasis recti is working on your tissue tension, in both the transverse abdominis (deep core) and eventually the rectus abdominis. Tissue tension basically refers to muscular strength and ability to withstand demand. The more you train your deep core through proper exercise, before, during, and after pregnancy, the more tissue tension you will have postpartum.


When someone presents with a diastasis postpartum, what we are most concerned with is not the width of the separation between the two sides of the rectus muscle, but depth of the gap and the amount of tissue tension we can find in that connective tissue and the deep core muscles underneath. 


You can think of your deepest core layer as your supportive corset: the more strong and supportive it is underneath, the less detrimental a separation of the more superficial abs will be.


So why is diastasis still so prevalent?


The main issue here is that the majority of women do little to NO deep core training during pregnancy! Think about your non-pregnant self – what do you imagine would happen to your strength if you skipped core work for almost a year? Couple that with the stretching, hormones, and the pressure inside the abdomen from your growing baby, and you have the recipe for abdominal separation.


And yet women are still being told by their friends, fitness professionals, and even doctors to avoid core work during pregnancy! This is most likely because choosing the wrong exercises during pregnancy (i.e. crunches, situps, or anything that demands more than your core can handle) can sometimes worsen diastasis, or even cause it.


So how do you make sure you choose the RIGHT exercises, to mitigate diastasis and not worsen it?


  1. Focus on the deep core, pelvic floor, and particularly the transverse abdominis. We do this by:

  2. Working to stabilize a neutral spine (i.e. supine marches, deadbugs, modified planking)

  3. Resisting against asymmetrical forces (i.e. Pallof presses, single arm raises, farmer carries)

  4. Exhaling with effort, the more you exhale the more deeply the transverse abdominis can activate and provide support

  5. Avoid exercises that demand more than your core can handle. You can tell an exercise is too difficult for where you’re at if you can’t breathe during the exercise, see bulging in the center of belly, or feel pressure or heaviness in the pelvic floor. Which exercises cause these symptoms will vary heavily person to person.

  6. Work with a prenatal and postpartum professional to ensure your choices are safe. There are many trainers out there who are not qualified to teach pregnant women. But at the same time, there are many who are (hi!). So if you are unclear on how to select the right exercises yourself, make sure you work with someone who knows how to keep you safe, and improve your chances of a better recovery.


If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all this info – I’ve got you! You don’t have to figure it out alone. The Her Move Prenatal Program has safe workouts to take you week by week through your entire pregnancy, educational content on the deep core and conditions like diastasis, and interviews with PTs and other women’s health experts to keep you in the know. Watch this free video to get a taste of the program, and then start your two week free trial to begin your stress-free workouts. I am here for you every step of the way!


 
Image showing prenatal personal trainer smiling

Julia Neto is a prenatal and postpartum fitness expert with over eight years of experience in the space, and the founder of Her Move Wellness. She's a NASM CPT, CES Prenatal and Postpartum Corrective Exercise Specialist, NASM Certified Nutrition Coach, and Birthsmarter Pro. Julia's passion is helping women feel strong, secure, and informed in their bodies through pregnancy, postpartum recovery, and beyond. Her Move Wellness is a platform that makes safe and effective fitness affordable and accessible for women across the globe.

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