I am so thankful I was lucky enough to learn about diastasis recti (DR) and how it relates to pregnancy early on in my pregnancy. So many women I talked to had no idea what this is, how it develops and how it affects their lives going forward. Even some OB/GYNs are poorly informed on what DR is and what it means for their patients. One of my good friends was telling me about the coning in her belly while she was doing crunches in her 3rd trimester and how her OB just told her ‘oh that’s normal, don’t worry about it’ so she didn’t think anything of it and just pushed the coning down while she continued doing crunches! What her OB SHOULD have said was, this is DR, this is what it means, these are the exercise you should not be doing as they will aggravate it and make it worse.
DR is the separation of the abdominal muscles to accommodate the growing uterus, and it happens to up to 66% of women when pregnant. In order to heal this separation, you first need to reconnect with your deep core muscles, the transverse abdominus (TA) and your pelvic floor (PF) and re-learn how to engage them appropriately.
I had a DR at the end of my pregnancy, even though I worked to prevent it. Looking back now, I think poor posture was to blame, but we all know hindsight is 20/20. At birth my separation was about 2 1/2 finger widths at the widest. I was lucky in that simply following my training program, Birth2FitMum, I was able to heal it within 6 weeks. However, once I began seeing my pelvic health physiotherapist (PHP) I realized that it was probably my over-active TA that helped more than I realized. The problem was, even though my TA healed my DR quickly, they further delayed the healing of my poor stretched out PF.
See, the core muscles work in symphony, and when one component is over or under-active, it throws the whole system out of whack. Julie Wiebe does an excellent job of explaining this in her video here. I love her model of the piston system of the core muscles. I experienced the issues she discussed in this video. I was tensing my PF in hopes of counteracting my strong abs. Before visiting my PHP I found Julie’s program The Pelvic Floor Piston: Foundation for Fitness extremely helpful. I’ve since learned through visiting my PHP that I hold a lot of my tension in my core, through holding in my abs and PF and taking short small breaths (because you can’t really hold your diaphragm taught and stay alive!). I’ve been learning how to allow my abs and PF to relax and how to take bigger breaths, and it’s still a work in progress 2 months later. It seems once I get one issue sorted out, another pops up, and after visiting my family doctor today, it seems I am on my way to the pelvic floor clinic in my city.
Unfortunately, I won’t be able to get in for another 3+ months. In the meantime, I will continue doing my exercises prescribed by my PHP, the pelvic floor piston exercises, as well as a few other exercise I’ve found help me personally connect with my PF and breath. One of my favourites that I’ve been doing since I was pregnant is just sitting in a squat. And no, I don’t mean those awful hover squats like you’re trying not to sit on a public toilet. More like you’re squatting in the forest having a pee. I relax, and it really helps me feel my breath through my pelvic floor. If you are having a hard time understanding how your breath and your PF are connected, try this. I also like to flow through cat-cow poses while controlling my breath and PF contractions. I think the reason these exercises work for me is because it takes my TA out of the equation, because they always want to kick in and take over.
I’m hoping I can re-learn how to use my core effectively before it comes time to work on nugget #2, and I think I am on the right track. However, some days I just feel like I am missing a piece of the puzzle, and I’m hoping the pelvic floor clinic can help me with that. I encourage you, if you feel like something just ‘isn’t right’ to go to your doctor, or find a PHP near you to help you sort things out. Don’t be discouraged if it takes time, and multiple tries to figure out what’s going on and how to fix it. You don’t have to just deal with a dysfunctional body because you had a baby!
While I am in the process of obtaining my PT certification with prenatal/postpartum specialization, I’m not quite there yet. Even then, I won’t be able to help everyone, but I don’t want that to hold you back from reaching your goals. My lovely friend Lorraine Scapens over at Pregnancy Exercise has most generously offered to give my readers a 10% discount on her programs that I used when pregnant and still use postpartum; Fit2BirthMum & Birth2FitMum as well as her other programs Super Fit Mum & No More Mummy Tummy Challenge. Simply enter the discount code ‘HMHB‘ at checkout to get your 10% off!