One of the first things I will ask a prenatal or postpartum client during a consultation is: “Have you checked yourself for Diastasis Recti yet, or have you noticed it during certain exercises or movements?” Most often the response is: “Diasta -what?” Many women don’t even know that Diastasis Recti is even a thing during and after pregnancy because their doctors or healthcare providers sometimes don’t openly discuss this with them. So we are going to talk a little bit about it today and how you go about testing yourself for it.
Diastasis Recti is an abdominal separation that commonly occurs in pregnancy, and continues to be present after baby is born. It is now thought that most, if not all, women will experience some form of Diastasis Recti in pregnancy simply because of the need for a woman’s body to be able to create enough room for her expanding uterus and growing baby.
Now, the thing to keep in mind is that your abdominals don’t actually come apart when a separation occurs between them. What actually happens is that the connective tissue (the linea alba) that runs in between and connects your abdominal muscles from the sternum to your pubic bone begin to soften and become more lax during pregnancy. The softening of this connective tissue enables it to thin out and stretch, thereby causing the right and left sides of the abdominal wall to move farther apart.
During pregnancy you want to be practicing exercise and daily life habits that will minimize the severity of Diastasis Recti. After pregnancy, you should be focusing on those exercise and activities of daily living that are going to help you heal your DR. It can be challenging to get a true assessment of Diastasis Recti during pregnancy, but one telltale sign that you have DR is if you can see any doming, bulging, or coning happening along the mid-line of your belly; this can happen when you do certain exercises or happen to do a sit-up type action while trying to get out of bed, or up off the floor. And FYI: you will most likely want to avoid all types of sit-up and crunch-like exercises and movements as you progress further along in pregnancy.
It’s best to wait a few weeks until after you have given birth to assess yourself for Diastasis Recti. It’s also very important to point out that when checking yourself for Diastasis Recti, there is a lot more that you will want to take into consideration than simply the width of your abdominal separation. It is quite possible (and OK) to heal your Diastasis Recti, yet still leave a slight separation in between your abdominal muscles. What we are even more concerned about here is the quality of the connective tissue between your abdominals. But how do we determine the quality of the connective tissue? Let’s take a closer look at the DR assessment….
How Do I Even Check Myself For Such A Thing?
Whether this is your first go around as a mom, or if you have more than one child and a few years of motherhood under your belt, you can still absolutely assess yourself for Diastasis Recti. Just give yourself at least a few weeks post-birth to assess yourself in you are newly postpartum. This gives your uterus adequate time to reduce enough in size and for swelling to go down so that you can get a more accurate measurement.
Roll over onto your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. You will need to expose your belly from about the middle of your rib cage all the way down to around your pubic bone.
You will first assess the tension of your connective tissue (linea alba) while laying on the floor. Starting just below your sternum and walk your hand down the middle of your belly until you get to just above your pubic bone. This is to help you assess what sort of tension there is along the linea alba. Does the tissue bounce back” when you press your fingers into it or does it sink down when you touch it? Do some areas along the mid-line of your belly feel softer than others?
Now you are going to assess your connective tissue as you lift your head up off the ground. Using the pointer, middle, and ring fingers of one hand, press straight down into your belly just above the belly button. Now keeping your fingers pressed in towards the belly, tuck your chin and slowly lift ONLY your head up off the floor.
Remember -this is not a crunch -you are only lifting your head up off the floor enough to feel your abdominal muscles contract and “hug” your fingers. You may need to add a few fingers or take away fingers to get more of an accurate measurement (the abdominal muscles are hugging around your fingers).
Now, repeat step 3 at about 3 fingers’ distance above the belly. Remember to add or remove fingers for a better assessment.
Now you are going to repeat step 3 again, but this time at about 3 fingers’ distance below the belly button.
Re-test at your belly button, three fingers’ width above your belly button, and three fingers’ width below your belly button. But before you lift your head up off the floor, you will engage your transverse abdominals and pelvic floor with a breathing technique called Core Connection Breathing. Learn how to do it here:
- Press down into your belly with your fingers
- Inhale through the nose and breathe down into the rib cage.
- Next, exhale through your mouth and gently contract the pelvic floor up, and then lift your head up off the floor.
- Take notice at your three testing spots if the depth of your Diastasis Recti improves, the tension and integrity of your connective tissue (linea alba) improves (is it more shallow, more taut, stronger), and the width of your Diastasis Recti improves.
For a full video demonstration on how to assess your Diastasis Recti you can watch here.
How Often Should I Check Myself?
It’s usually best to check yourself every few weeks. This will give you a better assessment of how well you are healing, and if any exercises you are doing to help rehabilitate your core and pelvic floor are helping, or if you need to make some adjustments to your routine.
How Do I Know When My Diastasis Has Healed?
When assessing and monitoring your Diastasis Recti, we are more concerned with the quality of your connective tissue. Remember, it is OKAY to still have a slight gap between the abdominals with a healed DR. Your recovery efforts are moving in the right direction as long as you can feel strong connective tissue underneath your fingers when you press into your belly, as well as better tension along the linea alba when you contract your transverse abdominals and pelvic floor.