In 2009, when I first began studying to become a certified personal trainer and pre- & postnatal corrective exercise specialist, it was because I had witnessed so many close friends struggle with self-care and recovery postpartum. But when I started seeing clients, a common theme emerged: Fear of diastasis recti or a belief that diastasis recti was inevitable.
That mindset is still pervasive today, and it’s doing women a disservice. A lot of the mainstream narratives out there will tell you: If you are pregnant, you will have diastasis recti. To some degree, that’s true, because diastasis is just the separation of the recti muscles in the abdomen, which is necessary to make room for a growing baby during pregnancy.
But somewhere along the way, diastasis recti started translating into an inevitable injury postpartum. Part of what we do at The Bloom Method—and something I’m incredibly passionate about—is taking away that uncertainty and misinformation and replacing it with an extra layer of knowledge for mothers. When you understand how diastasis works, it’s much easier to prevent and heal, whether that’s during or post-pregnancy.
With the right tools, and smart, mindful movement, there’s no reason you can’t focus on diastasis recti prevention during pregnancy.
Types of diastasis recti
Mama, I want you to know: Not every natural separation of the recti muscles that happens during pregnancy leads to an injury. This is why we distinguish between diastasis recti and injury-based diastasis recti at The Bloom Method.
There are essentially two types of diastasis recti:
- A normal, healthy version that occurs during pregnancy: Smart movement, proper breathing and modifying exercises when necessary protects the linea alba and your body’s natural ability to heal takes care of the rest.
- Injury-based diastasis recti: Either due to genetic issues, lack of focus on pressure management during pregnancy or an over-eagerness to return to challenging exercises early postpartum, the natural separation of your recti muscles doesn’t repair itself and begins to cause pain and other problems.
Preventing injury-based diastasis
Preventing injury-based diastasis starts with understanding how it works. Let’s talk a bit about your core, and the pervasive fear of developing diastasis recti during pregnancy.
What is the linea alba?
The two sides of your six-pack are held together by a band of connective tissue called the linea alba. The linea alba extends all the way down your midline, from your sternum all the way to the pelvis.
What is diastasis recti?
Diastasis recti is simply the natural separation of those six-pack muscles that happens as your belly (and baby!) grows during pregnancy. In response, the linea alba naturally starts to stretch. It’s supposed to stretch, and is fully supported by your body. In fact, this connective tissue is so brilliantly designed, that if you just protect it by managing your intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) during pregnancy, it can and will come fully back to (pretty much) its original state.
This pressure change can happen from simply:
- Standing up from seated
- Picking up your baby or toddler
- Core-based moves such as plank, crunches, etc.
Once the baby has come earthside, the tissue starts to repair itself. Even with this natural healing, it’s still critical to support your body’s efforts by spending the first 6 to 8 weeks postpartum doing some kind of rehab for your core and pelvic floor. It’s also important to understand how to regulate and manage your pressure as you continue to progress and restrengthen postpartum.
You will have a much easier road to recovery when—no matter how much your belly stretches and grows during pregnancy—you actively manage your intra-abdominal pressure. It’s why the foundation of The Bloom Method is all about how to properly engage your core and pelvic floor, lift and wrap with every exhale, and move with intention.
Preventing a natural separation from becoming an injury-based diastasis
What often leads to an injury-based diastasis is an inability to manage the outward pressure that’s placed on the linea alba as the belly grows and stretches. So the pressure tries to escape in the easiest and most available place: out of your newly stretched midline. This causes what’s commonly referred to as “doming” or “coning.”
This pressure, when not regulated, can weaken the over-stretched connective tissue, leading to damage and a lack of integrity that takes more time to rebuild. Whether it’s during functional, every day movements like getting out of bed, picking up your little one, or during exercise, every time doming or coning occurs, it’s more likely you are going to end up with an injury.
Protecting the integrity of the linea alba is everything when it comes to ending up with injury-based diastasis recti or not. The good news is that there are techniques to help manage the majority of pressure increases, like engaging your core and pelvic floor properly prior to any movement that causes a pressure increase.
Core-based exercises to prevent and heal diastasis recti
Many mamas are surprised that they’re able to gain core strength during pregnancy by regularly practicing specific prenatal core-based exercises, available through a specialized personal trainer or online program like The Bloom Method.
The sooner you learn how to repattern your breath and properly engage your core, the faster you’re on a path to strength and healing. By being disciplined with your core and mindful of your movement as your belly grows, you’ll be better prepared to bring your baby earthside, and able to heal faster postpartum.
Here are three core-based exercises for prenatal and postpartum mamas:
- Diaphragmatic breath: Tap into a deeper, more transformative type of breathing by utilizing your entire abdomen, side body and back body. When you diaphragmatically breathe, you’re even taking your pelvic floor along for the ride.
- Bloom’s belly pump: The deep contraction of both the pelvic floor and transverse abdominal muscle (TVA) turn this into an exercise. The belly pump creates a co-lengthening and co-contraction of your TVA and pelvic floor muscles. The end result is to turn the connection power of these two muscle units back “online” so that they work in unison.
- Deep core hold: Use this exercise to build muscle endurance in the deep core and pelvic floor by maintaining an intentional connection for a sustained amount of time.
Performing core exercises with proper, deep core engagement is critical for highly functional abdominal muscles. Then it’s time to practice, practice, practice by incorporating it into your everyday life—and all your workouts. I’d also recommend doing a prenatal core workout at least 3 times per week.
Three examples of functional movements where you need to engage your core
It’s also important to combine proper mechanics of your core unit with functional daily exercises and pay attention to your intra-abdominal pressure (IAP). As your belly grows, and your linea alba stretches to accommodate the baby, simple, everyday movements will require more mindfulness.
Some examples of movements that require you to engage your core are:
- Standing up from a chair.
- Picking up your baby or toddler.
- Reclining onto the sofa or bed.
Your breath gets the system to work and come online. The more you intentionally use your breath to activate your core when moving around your home or office, the more it will become second nature.
More about Studio Bloom
At The Bloom Method, we’re passionate about providing education and safe, effective, core-focused work to help you adapt to your changing belly while preventing common pregnancy-related injuries like diastasis recti. Use your pregnancy to dive deeper into your core connection and meet your strong(her) core just in time to meet your newest addition. Ensuring the understanding and continued mastery of our core foundations are critical for desired results of this program.
About the author
Brooke Cates is the CEO and founder of The Bloom Method. A cutting edge fitness methodology rooted in a desire to empower women before, during and after pregnancy. She is a Prenatal and Postnatal Exercise Specialist, Core Rehabilitation Specialist and Prenatal and Postnatal Holistic Health Coach. Brooke believes that the transformation into motherhood is where we truly ignite our real strength and that in this, all women deserve to have access to safe + effective workouts geared towards whichever stage of motherhood they’re in.