Diastasis recti – a separation of the abdominal wall at the linea alba – is very common during pregnancy for many reasons. At The Tummy Team, we’ve seen that it is most commonly caused by the pressure of the growing baby combined with an already weak core, poor alignment, and excessive pregnancy hormones. The pregnancy hormone known as relaxin is what causes ligaments and connective tissue to relax and stretch, increasing the vulnerability of the linea alba and thereby contributing to the likelihood of developing diastasis recti.
The common belief is that diastasis cannot be treated until after delivery. However, despite the hormone changes and the pressure of the growing baby, the body is absolutely capable of reducing the stretching of a diastasis, as well as improving core strength and postural alignment during pregnancy.
We encourage you to seek core rehabilitation during pregnancy to improve fetal alignment, to decrease pain and discomfort during pregnancy, and to prepare the core and pelvic floor muscles for the demands of labor, delivery and birth recovery. A weak core and collapsed posture can contribute to excess pressure on the pregnant belly, creating a higher risk of diastasis. The Tummy Team approach capitalizes on how the functional use of the core can dramatically improve diastasis by eliminating these movement patterns.
Here are 3 easy ways to modify some things you do every day to help minimize diastasis recti:
1. Sitting Posture
Practice “active sitting” on a firm chair every chance you get. Start by sitting on the edge of your seat and gently spread your cheeks a little so you can feel your sit bones on the surface of the chair. Your sit bones allow your pelvis to be in neutral alignment so the corset muscles are aligned to activate. Next, focus on elongating by visualizing a cable from the crown of your head drawing you up toward the ceiling. Elongating places the corset muscle in an active position to build the necessary long-term postural strength.
Most people do not have much postural strength to begin with so some back support will be vital. Simply scoot back to the back of your chair (be sure you stay on your sit bones) and then use a small pillow or folded towel for lumbar support to help keep your body supported and neutral. Keep in mind though that most chairs, couches, and furniture are not designed to support this upright, elongated position. You may have to choose your seats wisely or use an extra pillow to make this aligned posture work. It’s worth it because sitting well is a key way to eliminate unnecessary pressure on your abdominal wall and keep diastasis recti from worsening.
2. Potty Posture
Believe it or not, this is something that needs to be addressed. What we do throughout the day matters and potty posture is a significant part of our daily habits. Sitting in a rounded posture and bearing down during bowel movements places excessive outward pressure on the abdominal wall. Constipation is a common complication with pregnancy, and with the pregnant belly already having pressure from the baby, bearing down can be even more damaging to the connective tissue. You can fix this by improving your potty posture.
Our bodies are designed to squat for bowel movements. Just raising your knees above the hips will open the pelvic canal by 33% and un-kink the bowels, eliminating the need to push during a bowel movement. The Tummy Team recommends the use of a Squatty Potty or a similar stool to place your feet in a squatted position while using the toilet. In addition, while your feet are elevated, we instruct clients to elongate the core, rather than leaning forward and rounding your back. Elongating the core places a steady compression pressure on the intestinal tract, improving the function of the peristalsis, further eliminating the need to hold your breath and bear down. Changing your potty posture and the pressure on your tummy during bowel movements can help eliminate further damage to diastasis recti.
3. Lifting Strategies
Poor strategies for lifting can worsen your diastasis recti by contributing to the pressure on your linea alba. To make matters worse, lifting becomes more and more awkward later in your pregnancy. It is common for people to “heave,” or hold their breath and bulge the tummy when lifting kids, groceries, laundry, etc. Think of the things you lift all day long and consider how you might lift in a way that won’t bulge the tummy.
First, think of hinging and squatting more than rounding and heaving. Hinging at the hips and knees while keeping the back straight can put you in a better alignment. Then, exhale and draw your tummy in (engaging the core) when you lift. Keep the lifted object as close to your body as possible to avoid arching and straining. If you align and engage every time you lift, your core will actually build strength during daily activities instead of experience pain and worsen your diastasis.
These 3 little tips will help you minimize the pressure you may be putting on your tummy and can help significantly lower your risk of developing or worsening your diastasis. However, we can’t stress enough how important it is to have your core muscles working well prior to delivery. The strength of your body is important as you enter this stage of your life. Please check out our Prenatal Core Training Program. This 6-week online program will transform your pregnancy and birth experience. If you aren’t pregnant but still need help healing diastasis recti, check out our Core Foundations Online Program.