Diastasis Recti Abdominis (DRA) is a buzzword amongst fitness and mom circles and has become a common term that many women are on the lookout for especially during and after pregnancy when it seems the post-pregnancy belly won't go away.
Many well-known fitness professionals have created entire niche programs around the so-called “mommy tummy.”
But with all the press Diastasis Recti gets, there’s a lot of error mixed in with the truth. So it can get really confusing trying to figure out what’s correct, who to believe, and what you should do (or not do) if you have a DRA.
Here are some surprising myths about Diastasis Recti Abdominis and what the truth really is…
Myth #1: A Diastasis Recti Abdominis means your abs have split apart or torn down the midline.
Truth: A DRA is when the linea alba- the fibrous connective tissue down the middle of the abdomen- becomes really thin, not torn. During pregnancy the abdomen is designed to stretch to allow for the baby to grow, so a bit of thinning of the linea alba is normal. In fact, ALL pregnant women have some degree of widening of their abdominal muscles during the third trimester to allow for the rapid growth of the baby.
Once the baby is no longer in utero, that stretched abdomen should naturally shrink down over time and the linea alba should thicken up again because the pressure from the expanding uterus has been removed.
While it is not as common, if there actually is a tearing of the linea alba, that is called a hernia.
Myth #2: Your body was made for birthing, therefore you can return to normal activities immediately after birth and the DRA will close right up.
Truth: Even though your body is made to heal after birth, it takes time. Although not a lot of attention is given to moms once the baby is born, you really are recovering from a major physical event. So take things slowly after having a baby. Pretty sure you wouldn’t just go out and run a marathon a few days, a week, or even a few weeks after having just run a marathon would you?
No way! Your body needs time to recover and rebuild after such a strenuous event.
It’s the same with birth. Your body has been giving it’s all to growing a baby for nine (or so) months. All culminating in a big event- the birth.
However, just because you’re recovering doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything at all. Recovering from birth is not an all-or-nothing thing and it’s different for everyone.
What it boils down to is your abdominals need to regain their strength after birth and that takes some activity and resistance (when they are ready), just like building any other muscle.
Now, since everybody’s different, that rebuilding process won’t look the same for each woman. It depends on your level of strength, typical posture, overall health, sleep quality (I know…you’re a new mom, it’s okay for now), nutrition, hydration, how well you detox, etc.
Also, consider that if you have an injury from pregnancy or birth, it doesn't mean you're defective or did something wrong. Even though our bodies were made for birthing in a perfect world, this isn't a perfect world. We may have injuries or imbalances from any number of things over the course of life. So it's important to be aware that even though birth and healing afterwards is a natural process, it doesn't always happen perfectly.
Myth #3: Placing your fingers in the space, or gap, between the abs is the best way to measure the severity of DRA.
Truth: While the gap is fairly simple to measure and it’s nice to check for changes in the distance between the abdominal muscles, it is not the biggest indicator of your strength. The amount of tension, or force, that the linea alba generates as well as how thin it is are really more important measures of the severity of the DRA and how well it will progress. It’s also important to check in various positions and exercises. So unfortunately, all the “check it yourself” videos out there, while interesting, don’t really tell you much about your core/abdominal strength.
Myth #4: In order to fix a DRA, you have to be in correct postural alignment.
Truth: Having “perfect” posture won’t fix a DRA but having the strength to move and function in many different postures is key.
Did you catch that? I’ll say it again.
There’s no perfect posture to correct diastasis recti, but rather it’s about being strong in many positions.
But wait, you’re saying you’ve read that you shouldn’t thrust your ribs or belly breathe or tuck your pelvis right? Yep, me too.
So check it out. Do you do those things normally?
If the answer is yes, then try something new. Try NOT tucking your pelvis all the time and see what happens. It doesn’t mean you can’t ever tuck your pelvis again.
It just means maybe you should try moving differently so your body gets more mobility and strength in a different direction for a change.
What about rib thrusting? Do you do that normally? If not, just curious, but are you able to rib thrust? Like is there ever a time where you might NEED to rib thrust? What about stretching in the morning when you first wake up? Or trying to get out of a shirt? Yes, that motion is sometimes necessary.
And that’s okay right? It’s not that you shouldn’t EVER rib thrust. You just shouldn’t do it ALL the time. Like anything else.
And now for the final and probably most widespread myth about Diastasis Recti Abdominis…
Myth #5: If you have or want to prevent a DRA you need to avoid crunches, sit-ups, planks, or anything that strains your abs.
Truth: No exercise is off-limits for DRA. It all depends on your own individual level of strength. Some women will be able to safely do full sit-ups, some won’t right away but could build up to that. Some will be ready for planks, some will need to start with something less strenuous.
The key is to find the right starting point and build from there.
While DRA is definitely worth checking for and noting when returning to function after birth, the common myths out there about what you should or should not be doing may be doing more harm than good.
Whether you’ve got a diastasis recti or not, you just want to build strength in your core after having a baby, or you want to take a prehab approach and build your core while you’re still pregnant so you can prevent injury and regain your strength more quickly after birth, there’s no better time to start moving than right now!!
It would be super helpful find a Physical Therapist trained specifically in Diastasis Recti rehab (Women’s Health PT, Obstetrics PT, or Pelvic PT) who can help get you where you want to be. Better yet, get a baseline measure of your linea alba and abdominal strength, tension, and separation before pregnancy (or during the early stages of pregnancy) to have something to compare with after birth. The great news right now is, even if there’s not someone in your area, virtual sessions are super useful so a PT could help walk you through remotely.
So what did you think? Was the truth about DRA different than what you’ve been told/read?
Want to learn more about DRA?
Check out this FREE online class for the 5 Keys to Core Healing. No worries, it's pre-recorded so you don't even have to get dressed to watch it. ;)