Self-Test: Do you have diastasis recti aka “mommy tummy”?

diastasis recti, a split in the belly muscles, referred to as "mommy tummy" may be disregarded or surgery given as the only option in many cases. But it can be treated through specialized fitness training and massage.

Diastasis recti, a split in the belly muscles, referred to as “mommy tummy” may be disregarded or surgery given as the only option in many cases. But it can be treated through specialized fitness training and massage.

The major reason diastasis occurs is because of a distended belly, almost always due to poor core function. It happens when the abdominal muscle connective tissues stretch and weaken at the midline or linea alba. The left and right sides of the abs look and feel separated.  Poor alignment and doing the wrong abdominal exercises only make it worse. Some hints that you may have a diastasis include low back pain, “mommy tummy” that you can’t seem to heal, and loss of control of your pelvic floor.

diastasis-recti-m2m-march-2016

66% of women who have diastasis recti also have problems with their pelvic floor function.

Dysfunctions include at least one of the following:

  • Pelvic floor pain
  • Weak pelvic floor
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Fecal incontinence
  • Pelvic organ prolapse

The gap will become most noticeable when you lie down and relax. The loose skin above or below the bellybutton may seem to sink into the center gap. There may be a jelly like texture to the skin instead of a solid abdominal wall. When you lift your head and shoulders slightly from the floor and engage the abdominal muscles more deeply, you’ll see that the midline or linea alba gap will reveal itself to be deeper and wider.  If your fingers are not pressing into the gap, it may seem to protrude outward, as if the inner contents are pushing out of the midline.

diastasis-test

Checking for Diastasis Recti:

  1. Lie on your back with feet on the floor and knees bent. Arms should be by the sides.
  2. Place your two fingers horizontally into the stomach just above and below the navel.
  3. Inhale.
  4. Then exhale as you raise your head just off the floor.
  5. If there is a gap, the fingers will sink into the abdominal cavity.
  6. One to two fingers’ width soon after the birth is normal and will tighten over time with some modifications to exercise.
  7. Three or more fingers’ width means steps must be taken to close the gap.

Formula for Healing Diastasis Recti (according to The Center for Women’s Fitness)

  1. First Realign
  2. Then Exercise

A pelvic floor assessment with a qualified physical therapist is a very effective starting point. Ask your midwife or OB/GYN, or your doctor if it’s been many years, for a referral. Many of the postnatal health issues in the US can be prevented and treated with this foundational care. It is standard procedure for postnatal mothers in the UK, France, the Netherlands, and Australia. You can find out specifically how to support recovery including whether your pelvic floor is too tense/tight or weak/lacking tone and (whether and which) kegel exercises will help you come back to balance.

Proper breathwork techniques are the first and foundational exercise. They can help to gently rebuild and realign the core and pelvic floor muscles. Breathing should be fluid and not too extreme (neither too expanded during inhales or constricted during exhales).

Some basic breathing exercises:

  • Extended inhales
  • Extended exhales

Avoid exercises that put pressure on your already separated, therefore weakened, abdominal muscles. This includes excessively heavy lifting as well as planks, push-ups, and sit-ups. A postnatal corrective exercise personal trainer is an excellent and effective way to ensure that you will get the customized tools you need to rehabilitate your core and come back stronger and healthier than ever!

Fit for Birth (http://getfitforbirth.com/) is a leading organization in the prenatal/postnatal fitness world and is a great resource for finding a qualified professional in your area. I offer these services in Miami, Florida and Portland, Maine as well as online in live sessions in the US and internationally.

Your body has worked hard to create, nurture, and give birth to your baby. The process of rebuilding the core and healing diastasis recti can be slow, especially if you have had it for many years, so please be patient with yourself.

Sacred Breath: Giving Ourselves Permission

breathing-meditation

“The wisest one-word sentence? Breathe.”
~Terri Guillemets

Breathing is the channel through which the human body is designed to discharge 70% of its toxins. The smaller percentage of toxins are discharged through sweat, defecation and urination. We don’t rid our bodies of toxins properly when we aren’t breathing properly; this means really filling our belly and lungs and fully exhaling, slowly and deeply enough to receive the oxygen that we truly need to function at full capacity.

We tend to forget and “outgrow” the full belly breathing that was so natural for us as babies. We can reclaim a major foundation of our health simply by relearning how to breathe by first becoming aware of our breathing patterns to see how often we actually hold our breath and checking in with our bodies throughout the day.

breathe

In daily modern life, anxiety, stress, and trauma overstimulate the sympathetic nervous system (a system meant to be stimulated for only minutes at a time) on a consistent, on-going basis. We have become shallow chest breathers, just getting by with enough oxygen to survive while holding our bodies rigid.

Breathing affects our respiratory, cardiovascular, neurological, gastrointestinal, muscular, and psychic systems. It affects our sleep, memory, concentration, and energy levels.

Dropping our breath down to deep diaphragmatic (belly) breathing makes a huge difference and helps to re-program our nervous systems away from chronic stress.

The diaphragm muscle is located just below the lungs and, like any muscle, becomes weak when it is underused. Instead, we overuse the secondary breathing muscles located in the neck and the back causing imbalances and leading to neck and back issues and tension headaches. Eventually they can build up and surprise us with a pulled muscle that we didn’t see coming.

It is also a foundational “core” muscle. It is the beginning point for core strength and core rehabilitation. Both the diaphragm and pelvic floor work in tandem and are both toned during diaphragmatic breath. If we don’t use our diaphragms regularly while breathing, we don’t build foundational core strength. Proper breathing is essential to the natural course of laboring and birthing. It builds deep core muscle strength which aids mothers during pregnancy and postpartum recovery.

Breath plays a major role in the functioning of the immune system; in fact, improper breathing is a common cause of ill health and, in some cases, life-threatening disease. Medical research reports the prime cause of 1.5 million heart attacks each year is hypoxia (a lack of oxygen). Scientists have confirmed that a key precursor of cancer is a lack of oxygen at the cellular level.

It takes time to correct our breathing habits and develop the diaphragm muscle but, with repetition and consistency, you will feel the difference. Try this lying on your back with you knees up and soles of your feet down on any surface, just before you go to sleep. Repeat each 10-20x.

MAKE NOTE: If you get lightheaded, dizzy, or nauseous, this is a sign of detoxification and lets you know that your body really needs this. Just back off and take a drink of water. Return to the breathing when you feel clear again.

  • Place your hands on your belly, inhale, filling it like a balloon.
  • Exhale fully.
  • Place your hands on the sides of your ribs.
  • Inhale deeply, expanding your ribs out sideways avoid your chest rising.
  • Exhale fully.

See what happens when you give yourself permission to take up some space and time and really BREATHE.