Clare is a specially trained Level 3 Pre and Post Natal Exercise Instructor and Level 3 Mat Pilates Instructor based in Brighton, who is experienced in working with pregnant and post natal woman who have had a range of experiences of pregnancy, birth and new motherhood.
As pregnancy progresses, the rectus abdominis muscles (on the top of the abdomen) gently stretch and separate to allow the fetus to grow. This process is enabled through release of the hormone ‘relaxin’ during pregnancy, which softens the joints and muscles to allow the belly to expand and also in preparation for birth. In the 3-6 months following birth, most women find that the muscles start to close back together again. ‘Diastasis Recti’ is diagnosed where the gap has failed to close 6 months after birth.
Diastasis Recti can be distressing for some post natal women. Physically, women are at risk of herniation (protrusion of insides through the gap) when significant diastasis is present. Women I have worked with also describe feeling hollow or loose inside their abdomen. The effects are not only physical, but can be psychological and emotional. At a time when a new mum may already be feeling anxious and overwhelmed, concern, embarrassment and guilt over worrying about their own body can compound an already stressful time in life.
How do I know if I have Diastasis Recti?
The presence and extent of diastasis recti can be easily tested for with a simple external examination. I undertake this with all my post natal clients and teach them how to test for themselves so that they can track and monitor their progress. Your midwife, GP or a Physiotherapist will also be able to help.
What causes Diastasis Recti?
Having more than one child makes this condition more likely, especially if they’re close in age. You’re also more likely to get diastasis recti if you’re over 35 when pregnant, or if you’re having a heavy baby or a multiple birth.
Can I prevent Diastasis Recti?
Ensuring a strong core before pregnancy and keeping fit and active during pregnancy have both been suggested as ways to prevent or minimise diastasis recti, although there are so many individual factors at play during pregnancy, there is currently no definitive way of preventing it.
Unfortunately for many women, diastasis recti is something they only learn of once they are experiencing it. I have worked with post natal women who have come to me with with rectus abdominis muscles that have returned to their pre-pregnancy state within 8 weeks post birth and have required no intervention, to women who have had a 3cm gap for 2 years post partum.
Can you treat Diastasis Recti?
Yes! With proper care, you can close a diastasis even years after you delivered your last baby. How long it takes to heal depends on the severity of your diastasis (the distance between the separated abdominal muscles and the damage to the stretched connective tissue) as well as your commitment to fixing the problem.
This is where it is extremely important to seek advice! Many women start doing sit-ups,crunches and other intense abdominal exercises in an attempt to strengthen and flatten their rectus abdominis muscles. Unfortunately for them, this is the worst possible thing they can do. They risk herniation and may experiencing ‘doming’ of the abdomen which is very difficult to reverse. The nature of the exercises you need to do will depend on a number of factors but women ultimately need to ensure that they are ‘strengthening from the inside out’.
If you would like Clare’s help in assessing any potential diastasis recti and embarking on a recovery programme (should you need it) you can contact her directly using the details below.
Clare offers group Pilates classes for new Mums (and their babies!) at various locations in Brighton. She also offers private sessions for those who want or need individual attention and ‘Pre Exercise’ assessments for those seeking guidance on safely returning to exercise after having their baby.