If you want to know how to fix diastasis recti, you probably already know that you have it. But just in case you’re not sure, here are some simple, straightforward directions to check for it.
Before we get into the details about how to correct one, I want to make an important point.
Why you might not need to fix your diastasis recti
This article will cover a lot of information about what it might take to get the results you want, but before we do, let’s consider the words we use in the process. Broken things needs to be fixed, and you, beautiful mama, are not broken. You’re not. You may feel that way, but you’re not.
Your body changed when you grew your baby (or babies), and you know how to use the original version. Now, you need to learn to use this new body.
Diastasis recti has a significant impact on self-esteem and self-confidence, and so do the words you choose. Do not tell yourself you’re broken, and do not let anyone else tell you that. In part, because you need to get that message out of your head, but in part, because it’s just not true.
Becoming a mother is a transformation. It transforms your lifestyle, your relationships, your emotions. And your body. And just as you gradually grow into your role as a mother, there’s a learning curve for understanding this new body.
That’s not to say that your feelings aren’t justified. They are. But those feelings are not about diastasis. They may be about what your belly looks like. Or the pain you have. Or the weakness or dysfunction that interfere with your life. And that’s what you will learn to change. Your diastasis may change as part of that process. Or it may change only minimally, but it isn’t the focus. It’s only a piece of the larger puzzle that is your new body.
We do not fix a diastasis recti to solve the above problems. Instead, we solve the above problems to heal a diastasis.
Can a diastasis recti heal in the first place?
Of course. Yes. In fact, every woman who carries a baby to term will have a diastasis, and most of these heal, or resolve, by 6 months postpartum. For those that don’t resolve in this time frame, the healing process can still occur but will vary widely.
The human body, as a whole, is much more fluid and dynamic in nature than we generally give it credit for. As examples, decreasing calories will cause most bodies to burn more fat. Increasing demand on the muscles and tendons will cause them to get bigger and stronger in response. And pregnant and postpartum bodies are constantly changing. As you know, they have to adapt to a variety of needs and to the fluctuations of a multitude of hormones.
So, how does the linea alba heal? Well, all soft tissue, including the linea alba, constantly remodels itself. It does this in response to the mechanical stresses it receives. Just as the linea alba stretched out due to the increased pressure of the uterus pushing outward (among other things), it can also remodel back down due to the right stresses from the abdominal muscles pulling it back inward.
And the best part of all of this? There is no time table on diastasis recti or linea alba healing or remodeling. Because all of your tissues do this all of the time, you can change the stresses and change the results whether you’re 3 weeks postpartum or 3 decades postpartum.
Varieties of diastasis recti and which one you have
Did you know that diastasis recti does not look the same from woman to woman? It doesn’t. In fact, all of these can be true:
- a mom pooch with diastasis recti
- a mom pooch without diastasis recti
- diastasis recti without a mom pooch
- stress incontinence with diastasis recti
- stress incontinence without diastasis recti
- diastasis recti without stress incontinence
These variations occur because diastasis recti is not an injury caused by pregnancy. Rather, it is a pressure management issue unique to the woman. In lots of women, this issue existed before pregnancy, but it hadn’t reached a problematic level. The changes that occurred in the core with pregnancy brought the issue to the forefront. In other women, it didn’t really exist before pregnancy, but the pregnancy-related changes in the core occurred in such a way or to such a degree that it created the problem.
Because of these variations in diastasis recti, the causes behind it are also unique to each woman. For this reason, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Rather, healing is most likely to succeed when treatment is tailored to the individual woman.
A common link among varieties of diastasis recti
Although the causes behind diastasis recti can be multi-factorial and diverse, they all boil down to a gap and more importantly, a lack of tension in the linea alba. Resolving any diastasis, or the symptoms associated with it, occurs when normal tension is restored to the linea alba. This means not too much and not too little.
We create this tension through the function of the 6 abdominal muscles that attach to it. These are the external obliques, the internal obliques, and the transverse abdominals. Each of these has a left and right muscle that can function independently of the corresponding muscle on the other side.
It would be convenient if we could just do exercises for each of these muscles. Unfortunately, there are lots of life experiences, compensations, and other muscle groups that affect the function of these 6 abdominals. And often, we have to solve these issues before we can restore function to the abs.
This is why diastasis recti is a whole body issue, not an ab issue. Sometimes, the problem is directly related to one of the abdominal muscles, whereas, other times, the problem is elsewhere in the body but impacting the function of these muscles. And more often than not, it’s both.
How to improve your chances of healing
Several key components, when added together, will significantly increase your chances of healing diastasis recti. First, let’s start with the basics.
Nutrition and hydration
We’ll begin with a cooking example for a little perspective. If you want to make eggplant parmesan, it’s going to require eggplant, parmesan, and some marinara, at the least. Beyond that, you can get creative, but it’s really not eggplant parmesan without the basic ingredients.
The same is true for healing anything in the human body. More than half your body weight is water. Water makes up a substantial portion of all soft tissues and is a necessary part of the healing process. Depending on who you ask, you should drink somewhere between 64 ounces a day and half your body weight in pounds, then relabeled as ounces. If you live in a hot climate or exercise regularly, you need more than this. Or to simplify, you know you’re drinking enough water when your urine is pale to clear in color.
Along these same lines, quality nutrition provides the right vitamins, minerals, and nutrients for healing. This doesn’t have to be a particular or fancy diet. Trying to emphasize eating real foods can be enough. But the odds of healing well on a processed, junk food diet are far fewer.
Bowel and gut health
Chronic constipation and frequent bloating can affect normal function of the pelvic floor and abs. The excessive pressure caused by these conditions makes it harder to contract and relax both of these muscle groups. Sometimes, reconnecting and familiarizing yourself with the muscles can make a significant difference.
But for others, qualified advice from a medical professional is necessary to get the problem under control. If you have difficulty in this area, you may need to address gut or bowel health before you’re able to properly regulate intra-abdominal pressure.
Changing movement patterns
For most people, this is the largest and most time-consuming part of recovering from diastasis. Not only will it affect almost every movement pattern you use, but it needs to apply to life beyond an exercise routine.
As an example, let’s say you do the most perfect strengthening exercises for your transverse abdominals while lying on your back. But you still stand all day with your butt tucked under you, pelvic floor clenched and abs turned off. Because you stand for a lot more of the day than you exercise on the floor, your standing posture negates the gains you made in your workout.
Like all habits, changing the way you move takes frequent repetition and conscious effort. When you learn to generate tension in the linea alba through exercise, you then have to apply this new skill to all of your movement patterns throughout the day. For some people, this can happen relatively quickly, but for others, it may take months or years to create lasting change.
What it takes to find real success in healing a diastasis recti
First, follow the tips in the previous section to be as healthy as possible. Then, you need to find someone to guide you through making the necessary changes to your movement strategies. Hopefully, you can see at this point that what worked for your neighbor or your sister or the mother you read about on the internet just might not work for you. A crucial component in successful resolution of diastasis recti is a tailored approach that accommodates your learning style, your current function, and progressive loading of the tissues you need to heal.
The gold standard for this kind of care is personalized treatment from a pelvic floor physical therapist. Because they are the experts on postpartum bodies, they can give you customized advice to meet your needs. However, just like any profession, there are ones that might be more talented or better suited to you than another. If you don’t initially find the answers you’re looking for, don’t stop looking. Ask someone new.
On the other hand, there are a lot of reasons why a pelvic floor physical therapist might not be accessible to you, and if this is the case, an online program can be a reasonable alternative to guide you in this self-discovery. The key component, here, is that the program doesn’t offer a singular exercise routine for all participants. If everyone does the same exercises, some women will improve and others will be overlooked.
Instead, it needs to allow options for you to customize the program to your needs. It should guide you through understanding the factors behind your specific diastasis and how to use exercise to address these. Learning to change HOW you move is far more important than the particular exercise you do. Exercise is a component in getting to this point, but it only works when coupled with appropriate strategies for posture, alignment, and stabilization throughout the day.