Learn How to Prevent Dysfunctional Diastasis Recti
If you're having a baby or have had a baby, you may have heard of diastasis recti. Essentially, diastasis recti (or as it's sometimes called "diastasis" or "DR") is a weakening of the linea alba or connective tissue that, in turn, causes a separation of the rectus abdominis muscles. Diastasis recti is commonly caused by a lack of intra-abdominal pressure and a lack of awareness of what the core is doing during daily functional movement, as well as exercise.
During pregnancy, it is perfectly normal for there to be diastasis recti. Our wonderful bodies are made to stretch and provide space for baby to grow. Abdominal separation occurs regardless of fitness level, baby size, number of pregnancies, etc. For many women, the abdominal muscles return to their normal position after giving birth (over time, of course). However, some women experience too much stretching of the linea alba, creating a significant separation of the rectus abdominis that doesn’t heal as easily. We call this version of DR dysfunctional diastasis. Ultimately, there are two versions of diastasis: the natural form (functional diastasis) and the injury form (dysfunctional diastasis).
So, how can we prevent dysfunctional diastasis recti? The good news is that it's not impossible but does involve attention, awareness, and dedication. You’ll need to devote time (small bits throughout the day) to re-patterning your breath and to focus on how your core fires in specific daily movements. You may also want to include core-based techniques that bring balance and strength to your changing core during pregnancy. Address your posture and make sure that common shifts like an arched low back and rib thrusting are kept to a minimum. Through this new awareness of your core, you can maintain core function through pregnancy and into motherhood.
Mamas, be on the lookout for belly doming during pregnancy. Watch your belly and become aware of what it does in various movements. Does it push out if you lean back into a chair or couch, cough, sneeze or laugh? How about when getting up out of bed? Be mindful of your intra-abdominal pressure. Being able to regulate this through smart movement and core awareness is key. Those daily subtle movements, like getting up out of bed, getting in and out of your car, and picking things up, can have a large effect on the pressure in your belly.
Let’s face it—doming is probably going to happen during pregnancy—just notice it, be aware of it, and try to limit it. Then, counteract the doming (or pressure increase) with Bloom’s “lift + wrap” technique. Lift all sections of your pelvic floor and wrap your TVA (transverse abdominis) from the top of the hips to the bottom of the ribcage while engaging fully around the torso. Activating the inner muscles of your core in this way will help to regulate the pressure so that doming doesn't occur. It will protect your connective tissue from weakening, thus preventing the dysfunctional DR from showing up postpartum.
What if you miss it and doming happens? That's perfectly fine as long as it's a few times here and there, but repetitive doming is where the problems occur. Repetitive doming is what damages and weakens the connective tissue and can lead to dysfunctional DR.
On the other hand, this doesn't mean that you need to keep your core braced and engaged all day. In fact, we want you to steer clear of this and breathe diaphragmatically instead, using your core when necessary. Most of the day you can let go and be relaxed, but be aware of those times when your core does need to be activated. Learn to fire your core correctly and protect the connective tissue both during pregnancy and early postpartum. If you do this, you can reduce your chance of diastasis injury, as well as incontinence and prolapse.
If you take the time to create awareness, you'll protect yourself from dysfunction. Notice the doming before it happens, and activate the pelvic floor and core to regulate the abdominal pressure. Many mommas will still need rehabilitation postpartum, but there's a difference between helping your core return to a healthy foundation and correcting existing dysfunction in DR.