Pregnancy and motherhood bring about change in every aspect of a woman’s life. Your family grows, your heart grows, and inevitably your belly grows.
While nothing can prepare you for the changes that take place when you hear those first cries and touch those tiny hands, the more information you have and the larger your village of support, the better you can take care of yourself and your family.
What Is DR?
Although it may sound intimidating, diastasis simply means separation, and the recti abdominis muscles are the “six pack” muscles.
Essentially DR is significant ab separation during pregnancy. (While DR can occur in men and even in babies, today we’ll focus on DR in pregnancy.)
What does that mean? We’ve all heard of the mom pouch, the mom tummy, and the many clever nicknames given to that extra little bulge that seems to linger long after the pregnancy weight has been lost and the kiddos head into grade school and beyond.
While women’s bodies do change during pregnancy, in many cases (estimates range from nearly 30 percent to as high as 60 percent), women are actually suffering from a medical issue causing that “beloved” mom tummy.
Diastasis recti abdominis occurs when the abdominal muscles separate during pregnancy. Held together by connective tissue, as the uterus expands during pregnancy and grows up toward the chest, the connective tissue holding the abdominal muscles together can split, much like a zipper, above and below the naval.
As gruesome as it sounds — connective tissue splitting and all — most women don’t notice when and if it happens. This can lead to not only the mom tummy, but also ongoing pelvic pain and urinary incontinence as the muscles that work together to support the back and growing belly are weakened.
While some separation between the muscles is normal (after all, where is a growing uterus and baby to go?), a significant gap can be exacerbated by routine abdominal exercises during pregnancy, and the lasting impact can be significant.
Do I have DR? The test.
Still dealing with the mom pouch, pelvic pain, or maybe a bit of tinkle when you laugh or sneeze? You may be suffering from DR. Whether you’re months, years, or decades postpartum or currently pregnant, if you’re struggling with severe low back and pelvic pain, it’s easy to do a quick at-home check to see if DR may be the cause.
- Lie on a flat surface on your back with your knees bent and feet forward.
- Place your fingers on your belly about an inch above your naval.
- Press your back into the floor as you keep your chin up, bring your head and shoulders off the floor.
- You should feel the space between the two abdominal muscles — if it’s less than three fingers wide, that is considered within normal range. If you cannot feel a narrowing of the muscles when you crunch, or if the space between your ab muscles is three fingers or greater, there are some exercises you can do to begin to close the gap.
I think I have DR, now what?
Don’t panic. While acknowledging that everyone’s bodies and fingers come in all shapes and sizes, there are steps you can take to bring those muscles back together.
If you’re pregnant, consider stopping abdominal exercises until after the baby comes so that the spreading is not exacerbated. Discontinue exercises such as planks and crunches for the time being. In many cases the space between muscles will close as your postpartum body recovers.
However, if you are already postpartum, there are several exercises you can do to help bring those muscles back together and hopefully eliminate or reduce that mom pouch, pelvic pain, and incontinence!
Try these exercises – there is hope!
There are simple at-home exercises you can do to strengthen your core muscles. I found this one helpful in targeting key muscles:
- Lie flat on your back with your arms above your head. Holding a small soft ball, squeeze while focusing on engaging your obliques and tightening your pelvic floor. Imagine pulling your rib cage together.
- Bring the ball above your head while engaging your abs and not letting your ribcage relax.
- Raise your legs and bring the ball toward your toes. With each movement, remain mindful of tightening your rib cage and pelvic floor.
There are a plethora of resources available to help. If it’s easier for you to follow along visually, do a quick search of YouTube, and you’ll find video after video demonstrating ways to strengthen these muscles and bring them back together.
As always, talk to your healthcare provider for their expert opinion and guidance. There are many tools available to help with this issue.
Tell A Friend
Ultimately, this is one of the mom issues that many of us know nothing about. Our bodies go through so many changes, it’s hard to keep on top of everything! And frankly, when there’s a newborn to snuggle and love, we often forget about ourselves and our bodies and lose track of our own health.
Even with the resources available, no new mom has time to read everything, and certainly we can’t all be prepared for the endless stages of this journey.
Simply being aware of the potential for DR, routinely performing a simple self exam during pregnancy, and, if detected, making some changes to your abdominal exercise routine can bring about significant changes.
Have you struggled with DR? What exercises helped you most?