I recently gave birth to twin boys. I went 38 weeks, which is long for twins, and Robert came out weighing 7 lbs., 2 oz, and William 6 lbs., 8 oz. I felt very blessed to have such healthy babies and went home from the hospital overjoyed. I had delivered my first son three-and-a-half years before and, just as I had after his birth, I jumped back into doing as much as I could once I had the green light to exercise.
But around four months postpartum, I discovered I had diastasis recti.
What is diastasis recti?
Diastasis recti, or DRA, happens when the abdomen stretches during pregnancy and separates at the center, leaving a wide gap. "Diastasis" means separation, while "recti" refers to the large vertical muscle bands of the front of the abdomen called the rectus abdominis. To have a true diastasis, the gap must be at least 2.74 cm or 2.4 finger widths wide. Some moms can have gaps as wide as four fingers or more!
The rectus abdominis ab muscles are the band that gets split down the middle. This compromises the support of the belly contents— so the uterus, bowels, and other organs can "pooch" out, making you continue to look pregnant long after delivery. The condition can also cause constipation, low-back pain, and urine leaking.
How DRA manifested in my body.
I was lucky enough to avoid the "leaking urine" thing, but I did have quite a bit of back pain, and I just felt frustrated. I hated feeling bloated and not being able to do all of the usual exercises I loved. I was nervous about doing anything that could exacerbate it—situps are definitely a no-no when you have DRA, but even upward-facing dog and wheel were now out of the question.
I felt like I had to go back to square one and learn how to reinforce my transverse abdominals, deepest corset layer of abs, and relearn how to breathe properly without inflating my belly.
How Pilates saved the day.
Finally, after chatting with my doctor, I decided to give Pilates a shot. Pilates is all about strengthening the deep core and breathing into the back ribs while keeping the abdominals drawing in, and it's very concentrated and controlled. Nothing is done without total centering and making sure the transverse is working.
If I saw any coning, doming, or pushing out of my abs when performing an exercise, I would quit immediately. I went back to the basics and really worked on knitting the front ribs and feeling everything zipping back together.
Every morning I rolled out my mat and started with TVA breaths. From a comfortable seated position, I would breathe deeply and laterally, then start voicing "ha" on an exhalation for a count of five to ten breaths out or as many as I could do. Three or four reps of these are lifesavers. They can also be done on all fours, in a bridge position, or even standing. I like to do them periodically throughout the day while standing since that is when I find myself falling back into poor posture and letting my belly relax too much.
Pilates is great because you can do it on the machine or the mat and you can do so many exercises without exacerbating a split abdominal wall. It can be very overwhelming and frustrating when you have a diastasis because if you go too hard or too fast without keeping your core engaged, you risk making it worse or reinjuring it. So many mom friends have told me HIIT, CrossFit, and even some forms of yoga have made theirs worse. The Pilates mind-body connection and emphasis on zipping it all in and up is a game changer and great way to heal DRA.
Pregnancy may have caused my diastasis, but even before being pregnant, I think I may have done many exercises wrong or without total control and use of my abdominals. Pilates helps us tap into our center constantly and consistently. Pilates can iron out any imbalances in our body and help us heal from the inside out.
Considering giving Pilates a try? Read up on why Pilates was the one thing that finally healed this woman's lifelong injury.