I don't have enough fingers to count the number of times postpartum moms tell me:
"I'm sick of people asking me when my baby is due."
"I still have this belly pouch and not sure if I have a diastasis."
"I don't feel strong in my midsection."
"I've googled postpartum exercise and it says I shouldn't do planks, crunches, twists and now I'm scared to move."
If this sounds familiar, welcome to the mom tribe of confusion regarding exercise, diastasis and core work. If you're lost when I say diastasis, go here for more details, I've got you covered, friend. I'm here to shed some light on the postpartum belly.
If you're googling postpartum exercises and are feeling scared and nervous to exercise, that isn't helping you move the needle forward.
You probably researched it because you want to exercise and feel strong. Being a mom means, loads of carrying: kids, laundry and carseats; extra cleaning: bottles, babies and poo off the walls (was that only at my house? I'll save that for another story, or go ask my hubby about it). Ironically, being a mom requires strength and postpartum our bodies need to rest before we recover physical strength. Then when we're ready to recover the strength, we're told not to do anything. Oy vey people, stop with the oxymorons. I definitely felt like a moron when trying to figure out how to get my middle strong after birth.
So what next?
How do you proceed with core work when you're told to do A and then to avoid the same A from another website? Honestly, go to a professional that works with this, stays up to date on recent research and listens to your goals. Your body is not the same as your bestie's or your mom's or your neighbor's or anyone. It's unique to you and should be assessed as a whole person, not just a belly that does or doesn't dome, bulge, pouch or sink inward. The way you move and breath are related to abdominal function in addition to mobility, alignment, joint tightness, muscle length, balance, muscle recruitment, posture and load transfer. And this is why it's easy to google search and feel confused.
Is it even a DRA?
Sometimes moms come in convinced they have a belly gap and then upon assessment, it's just a weakness that needs to be addressed and they can activate their deep abdominals when cued to do so. Sometimes it's bloating that is leaving them distended through their belly. Sometimes it's loose skin with a strong belly below. Sometimes its a true DRA, but how do you tell?
The assessment for a DRA is more than lying on your back, putting your fingers in your belly, lifting your head and feeling one spot. It's listening to your personal story, goals and going from there. It's checking the abdomen from the ribs to the pubic bone. It's watching and feeling your breathing technique. It's seeing if you can do functinal tasks and recruit your core system such as when standing one leg, lifting a leg while lying on your back or even resisting rotation. It's looking at leg strength and flexibility. Its how your thoracic spine moves or doesn't.
But what about online DRA programs?
Online programs can be amazing for people that don't have access to or can't see someone in person. Those programs can provide you with education and general guidelines, but remember it's based on generalizations, not specifics to YOU. If you're still confused, having symptoms, or looking for answers specific to your body and function, a physical therapist (especially one that is also educated on postpartum bodies) is a great resource. One on one assessment and treatment would be ideal for everyone, but we can't all have personal trainers, PTs or coaches, so we do our best with the resources we have. That said, if you've found an online program and are feeling stronger and more confident, keep it up.
We know you need to load the tissues to improve strength in them, that includes your belly, so doing something is better than nothing.
Here's the bottom line, more research is needed in this area and we're learning some really cool stuff. Without getting into too much nitty gritty, my advise is to remember that every individual is different and before freaking out, get assessed by a professional that can help you move forward vs staying stuck in the worry of DRA.