Diastasis Recti is a condition where the abdominal muscles separate along the midline of the abdomen. This separation is due to thinning of the linea alba, the connective tissue that separates the left and right sides of the rectus abdominis (the “six pack” portion of your abs). Though this condition does not exclusively affect pregnant people, it is extremely prevalent in this demographic. The majority of women will experience abdominal separation during pregnancy and the condition persists postpartum for many folks as well. Healing is connected to how we manage intra-abdominal pressure through our daily activities of life and during exercise. Here are our three top tips to work on healing a diastasis postpartum!
1. Focus on breathing
Most of us don’t think much about our breathing throughout the day, but we should––especially postpartum! Breathing optimally can become a bit more challenging after pregnancy. While pregnant, the growing baby pushes the diaphragm up and the ribs out, which can change our breathing pattern. Re-learning how to breathe is an important step in healing a diastasis.
What does optimal breathing look like? The first step is to get out of a shallow breathing pattern, which is when pressure and air go up into our neck, shoulders, and chest rather than down into our diaphragm. These accessory muscles have to work constantly when we take shallow breaths all day and this can lead to tightness in our neck, chest, and upper traps.
When we breathe optimally, we take deep breaths that expand our trunk in all directions––360 degrees. If we take a deep breath but only get expansion in our frontside (belly), this can put too much stress on the midline fascia when trying to heal a diastasis, so breathing into our sides and back is crucial. Getting side and back expansion can be tricky to learn if you’re used to breathing in a shallow pattern, but the benefits are substantial. 360 degree breathing calms the nervous system and promotes great core and pelvic floor function.
2. Learn how to properly engage your deep core muscles
Our transversus abdominis (TVA) is the deepest layer of our core that runs from our sternum to our pubic bone and wraps horizontally from our midline in front to our spine in back.
How to engage your TVA
Lay on your back with your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the floor.
Take a big inhale in through your nose, expanding your rib cage in all directions.
Exhale out through your mouth as you think about “drawing in/corseting/tensing” your abdominals horizontally. To help engage your lower TVA, you can imagine your hip bones are magnets that are gently pulling together.
Avoid only “drawing in” at the belly button; this may only engage your middle TVA and can result in pushing out your lower belly and holding your breath. Think about engaging your upper, middle, and lower abdominals in a balanced way.
When you properly engage your TVA, your belly should firm slightly under your hands; it shouldn’t push out into them or dome. Keeping your hands on your belly is a great way to verify that you’re not pushing out.
Working one-on-one with a Pilates instructor is a wonderful way to master this skill if you’re having a hard time reconnecting to your core after pregnancy.
3. Work on improving your posture
It’s common for our posture to change postpartum. After living with a growing belly for nine months, some women will wind up with excessive lumbar lordosis (overarching of the low back), and after losing abdominal strength during pregnancy, other women will wind up clenching their glutes and tucking their pelvis under (flattening the curve of their low back) in an attempt to regain stability through their midsection. It’s also common for our shoulders to round forward as our breasts grow during pregnancy and as we hold our new babies postpartum. These postural deviations can impact healing a diastasis; when you improve your posture, you can reduce the strain on your midline abdominal fascia.
Some key muscles to strengthen to improve your posture are your lower and middle trapezius, serratus, rhomboids, transversus abdominis, and glutes. Pilates is a great way to work on strengthening these muscles!