I am so excited to introduce you to a lovely mama whom I met as a result of a Pregnancy App available when I was pregnant with my first and second child. (Read more here about how Pregnancy and Parenting Communities are helpful resources!)
She has been amazing enough to share about a condition called diastasis recti! Pam has first hand experience with diastasis and I hope the information and her personal journey here will help someone else who may have questions or is on their own journey!
Disclosure: If you are concerned about possibly having diastasis, please speak with your doctor. This article is intended as a personal story and experience and by no means should be used in the place of medical and professional opinion and diagnosis.
Pam’s Journey with Diastasis Recti (Part One)
My name is Pam and I had a problem that affects many women, but few know about. It’s called diastasis recti. This is a separation of the ab muscles. For most women, after pregnancy, their ab muscles go back together. For others, they don’t. That gap is a diastasis recti. Risk factors for getting a diastasis recti include carrying multiples, c sections, and multiple pregnancies. Or, in my case, a petite torso and a baby that was transverse for much of the 3rd trimester.
“When I was doing [crunches and sit-ups], my stomach…bulged out like a mountain, or like an alien was trying to escape my belly button. It was so bizarre that I mentioned it to my OB.”
My first son was born in 2011. He was born by emergency c section. He was transverse for much of the 3rd trimester. I carried him all out front, and my muscles and linea alba were stretched to the max. I had never heard of a diastasis recti though. A few weeks after he was born, I was eager to start getting my body back. So I started doing a few crunches and sit ups, since that helped me get a six pack before I was pregnant. And when I was doing them, my stomach did this very strange thing. It bulged out like a mountain, or like an alien was trying to escape my belly button. It was so bizarre that I mentioned it to my OB at my 6 week check up. She felt around my belly, and said that I had a diastasis recti. She said that she had one too, and explained what it was. I remember asking her what can be done. She said that it can be fixed surgically, but most surgeons only do it after you’re done having kids. I asked if PT could help, and she said she didn’t know if it did. I left feeling like a bit of failure. I didn’t heal right after my baby was born, and it seemed like I was stuck with it.
At my next physical, I asked my regular doctor about it too. She also felt that it was there. She also didn’t know what I could do about it, aside from surgery.
So I saw a general surgeon. He was an older guy who said that I also had an umbilical hernia along with my diastasis recti. He said that the surgery would be through my belly button, and it would have to wait until our family was done. At this point, my husband and I didn’t know what our future was for our family, so I had to wait. (I would later find out that I did not have an umbilical hernia, and that he was wrong.)
I was so unhappy with how my body looked. I had this perpetual baby bump, which is a common characteristic of a diastasis recti. I couldn’t bathe my son, because it was too hard to bend over the tub without my core being able to support my body. Doing the dishes was uncomfortable too. I struggled to carry heavy things, like laundry baskets and boxes. I also had trouble opening tightly closed containers because of my limited core strength. This diastasis recti was impacting my life, more than just how I looked and how people wrongly assumed that I was pregnant.
So I took to Google. There were some resources there, but not much yet. (More information and resources are available now though!!!) I did learn that in France, all women get physical therapy after birth to help their muscles and pelvic floor heal. And I was very jealous! If I had had that care, then maybe my body would be in better condition. I read about a few exercise programs that you can buy to help heal your diastasis recti. I also found a physical therapy facility near me that had a specialization in post-partum women’s health. I called them and started going.
I liked my first PT a lot. She was kind, patient, non-judgmental, and very helpful. I learned so much about how my muscles work (or don’t work in my case!). I learned how to gain some of my strength back. It was the support that I needed and the learning about my condition that I was desperately seeking. I wished that my doctors knew about the importance of physical therapy to help a diastasis recti.
“The videos didn’t help. I was stuck and I hated it. I tried jogging, and it made no change to the size of my stomach bulge. Between the extra skin and the diastasis recti separation, no amount of exercise was going to change what I looked like.”
At the beginning of my PT journey, my gap between my muscles was about 4 fingers wide, which is no small amount. It was May 2012. I did PT for about 1 and a half years or so, and I was able to shrink my gap to 1.5/2 fingers wide. But I was stuck there. I was not able to heal the gap. I tried to go back and saw a different PT. She was much less helpful and I didn’t make any further progress. I felt frustrated and stuck. I looked always a little pregnant, which people would ask me about. (Never ask a woman if she is pregnant!!) I tried one of the programs that I had found online, and it was a complete failure. I ended up just wasting time and quite a bit of money. I then tried some exercise videos, being careful to not make my diastasis recti worse. Doing any crunch or sit up type moves, or 100s in pilates, etc can pull the muscles apart more. So I did everything but these kinds of movements. The videos didn’t help. I was stuck and I hated it. I tried jogging, and it made no change to the size of my stomach bulge. Between the extra skin and the diastasis recti separation, no amount of exercise was going to change what I looked like.
“Through my participation [in the 4th Trimester Bodies Project], I was finally able to find peace and acceptance with my new body. It will forever be a part of my post-partum journey. Although my body wasn’t changed, I could mentally move forward.”
As a Mom in this era, I often found great support and resources online for all parts of Motherhood. This battle I was having with my broken body was no different. One life changing support network was the 4th Trimester Bodies Project. This photography project was dedicated to the uncensored beauty of motherhood. This project showed real Moms, and what a real Mom’s body looked like. This was so eye opening for me, and empowering. These were real people, not super models. And nothing was retouched. When I saw the picture of a Mom who also had a diastasis recti, I was brought to tears. I feel in love with the project’s mission and decided to participate in March 2014. Through my participation, I was finally able to find peace and acceptance with my new body. It will forever be a part of my post-partum journey. Although my body wasn’t changed, I could mentally move forward.
If you think you have Diastasis, get in touch with your local doctor and ask for an assessment!