I often get asked if you can prevent diastasis recti in pregnancy. Diastasis recti is a trendy topic with a lot of noise out there online and in the pre- and postnatal space regarding DR, what to do or what to avoid, and magical programs that will heal it. It can certainly feel overwhelming and many women are left feeling like they are broken when they do have it.
Let’s dive into what it is and facts about what you CAN do about it during pregnancy.
So, what is diastasis recti?
It is the thinning out and separation of the left and right sides of the rectus abdominal muscles (the “6 pack” abs) at the linea alba (the connective tissue that runs down the midline of the abdomen).
IT IS NOT THE ABDOMINAL MUSCLES TEARING OR RIPPING APART (unless there is a hernia there, there is no physical tearing, but it is commonly believed to be because of all of the fear-mongering around DR).
A true DR is any separation greater than 2cm, but just because there is a gap, it doesn’t mean that the tissue/muscle there isn’t functional.
Even though diastasis is characterized by the degree of separation, there are many other factors that give us information about your abdominal wall.
Functionality of the tissue at the linea alba with different movements and strategies can give us a better idea of how it works and if there’s anything to be concerned about. How much tension can be generated while doing various movements, how much the rectus abdominal muscles approximate with movement, etc. are ways we can look at functionality.
Photo courtesy of Tara Abel Fitness
Diastasis Recti in Pregnancy
The following stats show just how common it is in pregnancy:
-27% of women have DR in the second trimester
-66% in the third trimester (Boissonnault & Blaschak 1988)
-100% by the 35th week of pregnancy (Moth Et al 2015)
In pregnancy, the fascia of the abdominal wall spreads out to accommodate your growing baby and pressure on the core system-this is a GOOD & VERY NORMAL PART OF PREGNANCY! We need to be able to make room for a growing baby and this is how our bodies do it.
Genetics play a role in this as well. Some women have a genetic predisposition to have some degree of a separation at the linea alba, even prior to pregnancy.
Women with shorter torsos may also develop a greater separation during pregnancy because there isn’t a whole lot of room vertically for the belly to grow, so it grows outwards, thus putting more stress on the linea alba.
Should you check for DR in pregnancy?
Unless there are other issues arising (potential hernia, etc.), I do not check my pregnant clients for DR and I don’t think it is necessary to do so. Again, it is a natural part of pregnancy, so I don’t think it’s appropriate to stress a lot about the parts we can’t control. Instead, we are mindful and bring awareness to their movement and strategies to control what we can.
Considerations and things to watch for in pregnancy:
Coning or doming along the midline of the abdomen
Pulling sensations or pain/sensitivity in the abdomen
ANY amount of unintentional leaking (urine or feces)
Pelvic pain or pressure, or other pelvic health symptoms
Orthopedic pain (hips, back, etc.)
So, what can you do?
Learn what your breathing and pressure management tendencies are and different ways to implement them.
Adjust exercise and movement strategies to reduce stress that is being placed on the already stressed abdominal wall.
Bring awareness to learning how to decrease high intra-abdominal strategies and efforts (i.e. not maxing out during exercise).
Get an assessment and assistance with the application of adjusted strategies and exercise by working with a qualified coach.
I discuss specific exercises in other blogs, what to watch for, and ways you can adjust your movement to manage any of the above mentioned signs/symptoms. Check them out HERE.
To sum it up, no, you cannot completely prevent diastasis recti in pregnancy. However, there are things you can bring awareness to and adjust during this period to help with the management of pressure and severity of DR during pregnancy.
Control what you can and surrender to the rest.
Planning for your postpartum recovery period DURING pregnancy is very beneficial as when you are in the thick of those early days and weeks postpartum, there is a lot going on and thinking of how you will get back to exercise may not be a top priority.
If you haven’t yet, check out this FREE resource guide: 5 Tips for Returning to Exercise Postpartum for more guidance on steps you can take early on.
If you are looking for a program to help guide you back to exercise appropriately in the postpartum chapters, check out Core Restore for Fit Moms, an online 6-week postpartum return to exercise program.
Want more info on how you can navigate symptoms, exercise, and your journey? Fill out this form to schedule a FREE call with me to discuss how you can get better guidance with exercise and managing symptoms in pregnancy!