Closing “The Gap”: Healing Diastasis Recti and Ourselves

Hi, how are you? Yes, I mean you. I know you’ve probably already adjusted to no one asking how YOU are, but I’m not asking about your newborn, your other children, or your partner. I am asking about YOU.

I’m Ilaria. I’m from Milan, Italy. And I’m Lukas’ mom. I’m introducing myself to you this way because I believe that motherhood becomes a huge part of your identity.  More than moving to a different country, which I did.  More than changing careers, which I also did (I used to be a performer with a gymnastics & dance company in Europe). More than anything else I’ve experienced up until this point. 

Motherhood is a visceral, physical, and mental shift. When I gave birth, I was 39 years old and I was “ready” for motherhood. Being of such “advanced maternal age,” borderline geriatric, I am thankful that everything went smoothly with my pregnancy and delivery, relatively speaking.

But… Are you ever really ready to be a mom? 

The truth is, you can read all of the articles and books about labor, birth, and parenting and still be entirely underprepared for the experience. Nothing I read prepared me for the new life where plans are constantly changing and I had no control over my time anymore. Or my body.

I realized how important it is to manage expectations. As much as we try, we can’t plan the delivery. Genetics are the main driver of “getting your body back.” Our children may not want to be bilingual. (I wanted to share my language with Lukas so I always speak to him in Italian. He responds in English.) 

Or… if you’re like me and addicted to making plans, try embracing “The No Plan Plan.” Link To No Plan Plan Article Because no matter what plan we plan, or how much we want it all to go a certain way, it doesn’t always happen. With my extensive performance and movement background and training, I expected my body to seamlessly recover. That was my plan.

Something that was definitely NOT in my plan was diastasis recti. This is when the separation between your rectus abdominis (aka you six pack muscles) does not close again postpartum. I call this “The Gap.” Not to be confused with the denim store founded in 1969.

4 Fun Facts About “The Gap.”

  1. This separation of the rectus abdominis is part of pregnancy. The muscles weaken and over-stretch in order to allow our bodies to grow and stretch to fit a whole human inside our body.
  2. Your six-pack ab muscles were never all the way together. Picture someone with a six-pack. There is a clear line of depression down the center of their abdomen. That’s the ligament that the muscles connect to. So you’re not looking for them to touch each other, we want them to be close to their original place. Which has about 1-2 fingers of separation depending on YOUR body.
  3. Nonpregnant people can experience “The Gap.” While I have not evaluated him, my guess is that Homer Simpson has it with his beer belly.
  4. Babies are born with diastasis! Twinsies! As they strengthen their core muscles through tummy time, learning to roll, sit, and crawl this separation closes.

Sometimes this separation affects only the superficial layers of abdominals and can be addressed through mindful, intentional exercise and physical therapy.  Other times the separation can be more extreme and affect multiple layers of muscles in which case surgery may be required followed by physical therapy and appropriate, mindful exercise.

I felt informed and empowered in my recovery because of my experience working with clients experiencing diastasis and my years of studying Pilates, somatic training, and ELDOA. This is why I want to share my insight with you. Remember, everything (and I mean everything) changes and shifts during pregnancy.  THEN a human comes out of your body. Remember when that happened?!

We have to rebuild our foundation and common postpartum gym exercises can sometimes do more damage than good. Especially when sporting “The Gap.”

Here’s a little exercise to help you out:

  • Think of your abs as a corset with the laces in the front. How can you use your muscles to lace up that corset? 
  • You start at the bottom (your pubic bone) and work your way up to your xiphoid process. Don’t you love how that sounds? It’s the bottom of your sternum just below your cleavage. 
  • Drawing the two sides of the corset (your abdominals) towards the center from the sides engages yours transversus abdominis and obliques in a supportive, functional way.
  • Inhale as you expand the corset and exhale to lace up the corset. 
  • This is how we start guiding our bodies and ourselves home. 

The most important thing you can do to support your recovery is: B R E A T H E. Breathing is crucial in this phase of recovery. I know it can get annoying when everyone is telling you to breathe. I get it. You can read more about why everyone is telling you to breathe here. During any physical exertion, like lifting the baby or car seat or yourself off the toilet, exhale before you move and imagine the corset. 

“Blow before you go,” if you will. You don’t want to hold your breath or inhale before you go. That creates more internal abdominal pressure which can invite things to escape through “The Gap.” (Yes, I’m referring to a hernia). 

You might be wondering… “Why don’t our doctors tell us about this? Why must we resort to Google or articles for all of the answers?” Because our doctors weren’t trained to address this broad scope of side effects.

It feels like they see us six weeks postpartum and are like “If the baby is alive, you’re fine!” We don’t get much, if any, practical advice on how to address diastasis, incontinence, pelvic pain, pubis symphysis dysfunction and other common results of pregnancy and childbirth. 

I was just as frustrated and I’m sure you are too. And I’m thankful I had experience with “The Gap” to help ground me in my rehabilitation. I encourage you to seek guidance around safely reintegrating movement into your life with your new body. Ask “embarrassing” questions, talk to other parents about diastasis, share that you always “blow before you go.” Let’s empower ourselves and each other to close “The Gap.”

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