Managing Your Motherhood Journey Safely
Pregnancy and motherhood are transformative experiences, bringing joy alongside significant physical changes. One such change, often unfamiliar to many, is Diastasis Recti. This blog aims to shed light on this condition, exploring its causes, implications, and treatment options. At Advantage Physiotherapy, we’re committed to supporting new mums through this journey, mainly through our Mummy MOT course, spearheaded by our expert physiotherapist, Laura.
What is Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis Recti is a medical condition characterised by separating the two large, parallel abdomen muscles during pregnancy. This separation happens as the growing uterus expands, exerting pressure and causing the muscles to stretch and weaken. This is a natural and common body adaptation to accommodate your developing baby. Despite being a normal part of pregnancy, Diastasis Recti can have some lasting impacts on a woman’s body.
After childbirth, these abdominal muscles usually return to their normal position within about eight weeks. However, in some cases, if the separation is particularly significant and does not diminish, it can lead to complications such as chronic back pain or persistent abdominal discomfort. These issues arise due to the weakened state of the abdominal muscles, which are crucial for core strength and stability.
Causes and Risk Factors of Diastasis Recti
The probability of developing Diastasis Recti is influenced by several factors, each contributing differently to the risk level. Key factors include the size of your baby, where larger babies put more strain on the abdominal muscles, increasing the likelihood of separation. Multiple pregnancies also play a significant role; with each pregnancy, especially closely-spaced ones, the abdominal muscles and connective tissues are stretched repeatedly, heightening the risk of Diastasis Recti. The quality of connective tissue, which stretch marks can indicate, is another crucial factor. Women with weaker or less elastic connective tissues might be more prone to this condition.
Additionally, excessive amniotic fluid, medically known as polyhydramnios, can increase the uterus’s size more than the usual pregnancy, thus exerting extra pressure on the abdominal muscles. Body weight, both pre-pregnancy and the amount gained during pregnancy, can also impact the likelihood of developing Diastasis Recti; excess weight can add pressure on the abdomen, straining the muscles further. The width of the pelvis is another contributing factor; a narrower pelvis might offer less support and room for the expanding uterus, leading to more pressure on the abdominal muscles.
Significantly, the risk of developing Diastasis Recti increases with each subsequent pregnancy. This increase is due to repeated stretching and weakening of the abdominal muscles and connective tissues over multiple pregnancies. As a result, women who have had multiple births are often more susceptible to this condition than first-time mothers.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Diastasis Recti
Symptoms of Diastasis Recti can vary but typically include several vital indicators. These symptoms are primarily related to the physical changes and discomforts arising from the separation of the abdominal muscles. They can become apparent during activities that place stress on the abdomen. The main symptoms of Diastasis Recti are:
- Doming or tenting of abdominal muscles: This is observed when the muscles bulge or form a ridge-like protrusion in the midline of the abdomen. It’s particularly noticeable during activities that increase abdominal pressure, such as coughing, lifting heavy objects, or even during specific exercises.
- Lower back pain: The weakness in the abdominal muscles can lead to an imbalance and added strain on the back muscles, resulting in persistent lower back pain.
- Increased risk of stress incontinence: Due to the weakened state of the abdominal and pelvic muscles, there might be an increased tendency for involuntary urine leakage, especially when coughing, sneezing, or exercising.
- Pelvic organ prolapse: The weakening of muscles can also contribute to the descent or herniation of pelvic organs, such as the bladder, uterus, or rectum, particularly in severe cases.
In terms of assessment, Diastasis Recti can be evaluated by manually feeling the gap between the abdominal muscles. When assessing the condition, the focus should be not only on the width of the gap but also on:
The depth of the gap: Assessing how deep the separation between the muscles is.
The ability to tense along the linea alba: This is the connective tissue running down the midline of the abdomen. The capacity to generate tension in this area is a crucial aspect of assessing the severity of the condition.
It’s important to note that the gap size alone does not provide a complete picture of the condition’s severity or impact on an individual’s health and well-being. Therefore, a comprehensive assessment considering all these factors is essential for an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plan.
Treatment and Recovery
1. Breathing Techniques: Avoid holding your breath during activities. Engage your lower abdominals and pelvic floor, exhaling during movements.
2. Bowel Health: Regular, strain-free bowel movements are essential. Use a stool for a better anorectal angle and avoid breath-holding during bowel movements.
3. Adequate Sleep: Sleep helps in physical and psychological recovery. New mums should aim for quality sleep, possibly supplementing night rest with daytime naps.
4. Mindful Lifting: Learn to listen to your post-natal body, avoiding strain. Engaging your pelvic floor and lower abdominals can help manage intra-abdominal pressure.
5. Support Belts: While historically used, support belts are less advised now. Light support might be comfortable in the early weeks, but the focus should be gradually strengthening the linea-alba.
6. Exercise Caution: Avoid exercises that increase intra-abdominal pressure, especially in early recovery. Consult a physiotherapist for a tailored rehabilitation program.
The Role of Physiotherapy in Managing Diastasis Recti
Physiotherapy plays a crucial role in the effective management and recovery from Diastasis Recti. Seeking the expertise of a specialist women’s health physiotherapist is highly recommended for anyone dealing with this condition. These specialised professionals, like Laura at Advantage Physiotherapy, are well-equipped to thoroughly assess the severity and specific characteristics of Diastasis Recti in each individual. Based on this assessment, they can design and guide patients through a bespoke rehabilitation program.
This tailored approach to rehabilitation is essential because Diastasis Recti varies significantly from individual to individual. Factors like the width and depth of the gap between abdominal muscles, overall physical health, the number of pregnancies, and lifestyle all play a part in determining the most effective treatment plan. A women’s health physiotherapist will consider these individual needs and the various recovery stages to develop an effective but also safe, and sustainable program.
It is essential to understand that there is no universal solution or a “one-size-fits-all” approach when treating Diastasis Recti. The recovery plan must be customised to suit individual capabilities, goals, and lifestyle considerations. This personalised approach ensures that each person receives the most appropriate and effective treatment, leading to better recovery and overall health outcomes.
The Mummy MOT Course at Advantage Physiotherapy
Advantage Physiotherapy offers the Mummy MOT course, a comprehensive postnatal examination and recovery program. This includes:
- Full postural screen and muscle assessments.
- Screening for dysfunctions in the bladder, bowel, or sexual health.
- Customised advice and rehabilitation plans, considering lifestyle and personal goals.
- Detailed reports and guidance on safe activities like lifting and pushing a buggy.
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Your Journey to Recovery with Advantage Physiotherapy
Recovering from pregnancy and childbirth is a gradual process. At Advantage Physiotherapy, we understand the unique challenges faced by new mums. Our Mummy MOT course, led by Laura, provides treatment and the compassion and support needed during this time. We’re here to help you regain strength and confidence, ensuring a safe and effective recovery. Remember, being kind to yourself is crucial to the healing process.