Motherhood is an amazing, terrifying, exhausting, and rewarding journey that feels like it never stops. As a new mom, most of your focus rightly falls on your baby, what with the constant effort required to keep your little human happy, safe, and well-fed. But these days, a lot of new moms have an additional postpartum concern related to their own bodies: postpartum diastasis recti abdominis. That latin phrase has inspired many a frantic Google search while feeding or snuggling a newborn late at night. Whether they want to know what it is or what they can do about it, there are a whole lot of new moms out there adding it to their running list of postpartum anxieties.
Like any hot topic in the social media age, it can be hard to sift through the mixed messages surrounding Postpartum diastasis recti abdominis — especially while you’re battling sleep deprivation. That’s why we’re here to provide some educational info on the condition sometimes known as DRA, and to offer up some tips and tools that can empower you to recover from this relatively common side-effect of pregnancy and childbirth.
So what is diastasis recti abdominis?
Diastasis recti abdominis is the separation of the rectus abdominis, which is the technical term for the top layer of your abdominal muscles. If you have a visible six-pack, it means you’ve got a strong rectus abdominis. When diastasis recti occurs, it’s essentially a widening of the linea alba, or the space between the two sides of that six pack.
The body undergoes many surprising (but completely natural) changes to accommodate your growing uterus and developing baby during pregnancy, and diastasis recti abdominis is just another one of them. Essentially, the linea alba widens and pushes your abs a bit further apart in order to create some extra room in the womb. It doesn’t occur because you “did something wrong” during (or after) your pregnancy, and it has nothing to do with whether or not you’re out of shape. And as you’ll soon see, it’s entirely possible to alleviate DRA on your own with even just a little bit of concerted effort.
What are some common symptoms of DRA?
While DRA may be a natural part of pregnancy, that doesn’t mean that its symptoms can’t mess with daily life or distort your self-image. If you’re unsure about whether or not you’re experiencing DRA, here are some signs to watch out for:
A weak, bulging abdomen, sometimes (not so) affectionately referred to as a “mom pooch” or “mommy tummy”
Coning or bulging of the linea alba during exercise (i.e. the midline between your abs sticks out further than normal)
Any pain, soreness, or weakness in your lower back
Incontinence or constipation
Depending on your experience, these symptoms can range from mildly inconvenient to severely disruptive. While you may be painfully aware that you’re suffering from a symptom like incontinence, it’s worth taking the time to check in and identify subtler signals. For example, do you find yourself sitting with less of a neutral spine than you used to before your pregnancy? As with other aspects of the prenatal and postpartum experience, listening to your body is crucial so you can understand the symptoms you’re experiencing and, more importantly, how they might be affecting daily life.
How common is DRA?
Ultimately, DRA isn’t something you should stress about or plan your pregnancy around, in part because it’s much more common than you might realize. While new moms might be shy about showing off their postpartum bellies on Instagram, data published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine tells the real story. In a study of 300 first-time moms, more than 60% of them showed symptoms of diastasis recti abdominis six weeks after childbirth.
For those moms, DRA didn’t stick around forever. And just as notably, there was a negative correlation between returning to some level of cardio, strength, or abdominal exercise within a year of giving birth and the presence of DRA symptoms. So while the average first-time mom is more likely than not to experience some level of DRA symptoms, the good news is that making the right moves can go a long way towards getting your post-baby body back to its best.
To ditch DRA, breathe through it and move on.
Before we dive into some of the practical steps for healing and repairing diastasis recti abdominis after your pregnancy, it’s crucial to remember that every body is different. Your DRA may heal quickly and easily on its own. It might also take months of intentional work before it fades away. It’s hard to predict what it will take to recover, but you can and will get there with a little mindful effort. Just be patient, practice consistency, and you can rediscover that core you’re looking for.
One important component of any plan to put DRA behind you is breath work. Specifically, it’s about getting in touch with the feeling of breathing from the diaphragm (rather than the chest), which improves your ability to engage your deeper abdominal muscles. For an easy way to practice diaphragmatic breathing, lie down comfortably with one hand on your chest, and another just below your ribs. As you inhale deeply through your nose, you should feel your stomach rise while your chest remains stationary. Exhale for a count of three, feeling your stomach fall in a slow, controlled motion.
Exercise is the other major component of combatting diastasis recti abdominis. But don’t worry, new moms: we aren’t talking heart-pounding, sweat-pouring workouts just yet. Getting your linea alba looking right mostly involves light movements that engage the abdominals. As long as you get the all-clear to resume light physical activity from your OB-GYN, relatively low-key movements like glute bridges, heel slides, and posterior pelvic tilts are just a few of the ways you can start firing up the abdominal muscles without putting your body through too much of a taxing workout.
Those mentioned movements and breathwork are just the start, though. There are many ways to safely and smartly regain your core stability without getting burnt out by doing too much too quickly. And if you want some expert guidance on what it takes to make some DRA-fighting moves from home, working with a trainer who specializes in prenatal or postpartum fitness can be just the ticket.
Can I safely exercise with DRA?
Those easier movements can make a difference, but what if you’re itching to restart your fitness routine in earnest? If you have the ok for more strenuous exercise, there’s no reason that dealing with DRA should mean sitting on the sidelines. While those light moves mentioned above are helpful, there’s no definitive list of exercises that new moms should embrace or avoid.
Instead, the best strategy is to pay attention to how your body responds to each component of your workout. As you get back into the swing of things, keep a close eye on any movements that lead to pain, coning, or bulging at or around your midline. Similarly, it may be wise to avoid any movements that generate pain in your pelvic floor, lower back, hips, or abs.
To deal with any coning or doming of the linea alba that arises due to a certain movement, exhale while engaging your core. If this kind of mindful breathing keeps your coning in check and you can manage to perform it while also maintaining proper form throughout the rep, then it’s safe to continue. If that either feels too complicated, or the coning continues despite your best breathing efforts, then it’s probably wisest to scale back or eliminate that movement for now. No one likes pressing pause on certain movements, but you better believe that an injury is even less fun. Rest assured you’ll be ready and willing to hit that particular exercise even harder once your DRA is a thing of the past.
Go from pooch to powerful.
In the end, diastasis recti abdominis sounds scarier and looks more intimidating than it really is. And while breathing and movement will help, your greatest asset in this situation will be patience. Dealing with DRA isn’t fun, and it can feel like the last thing you want to worry about while navigating motherhood. But with a long-term outlook, a solid plan, and the right support, you have the power to redefine what it means to have a “mommy tummy” for the better.
If you’re looking for a customized plan to follow or a little push in the right direction, look no further than a Future coach who specializes in postpartum clients. No matter where you were before your pregnancy or what goal you’re aiming for now, your coach will offer their expertise and empathy that can get you moving again. With their help, you’ll find ways to integrate flexible workouts into even the craziest, most sleep-deprived schedule — from wherever you are. Working with a Future coach who understands your needs is a wise way to not only heal and rebuild after childbirth, but to do more with your body than you ever thought possible.