Diastasis Rectified

My journey to heal postpartum diastasis recti


23 Comments

My diastasis recti recovery update, or how I hope I don’t get fitted for another bridesmaids dress anytime soon

Sometimes when I am feeling particularly deflated about my glacial progress to restore tone and function to my midsection, I do what every wallowing person does and Google magical success stories. These shining examples are always self-motivated, and fitnessy, and tan – why are they always so uniformly tan? Do they not have sub-Equatorial arms and Icelandic thighs? They pop back to strong and svelte without ever even changing their intensive exercise routine. It’s neato!

Let me tell you another story. I was getting fitted for a bridesmaids dress a couple months ago and the sweet 21 year old measuring me noted that my stomach is four sizes bigger than my hips and chest (yes, f-o-u-r). I was even sucking it in a little, shame on me. She says, “don’t worry, I get girls in here all the time who drink a little too much and I tell them it all goes to your middle!”

Fast forward to this week. I’ve been getting ready to go to Vegas for the bachelorette party. Me, the woman who in a measure of austerity – or was it exasperation? – got rid of all her pre-baby clothes except for seven (now quite ratty) nursing shirts and three jeans will be going to a place where they permit entry based on your appearance. Did you know many clubs in Vegas require women to wear high heels? And the more scantily clad, the more likely you are to get in free? It makes me feel like in Vegas woman are the commodity and men are the purchasers, but let’s save my feminist rants for never.

Also, have you ever tried to open a really heavy door with one hand? My brain is yelling, “HEY ABS! Could really use your help right now!” and my abs are like “eh, mate? Can’t quite hear you. ZZzzzzz.” And that’s how I learned my abs are Australian.

Getting my mind right

I am a person prone to frustration and black and white thinking and guilt, which means you hope you’re never invited to a picnic in my head. I have to continually remind myself of these things:

  • My body is unique. No one else has my body and no one else is responsible for my body and it’s no one else’s responsibility to love my body but me.
  • Exercise programs are great, just like weight loss program or other life improvement programs. They do not guarantee long term success, though. Often they predict the opposite.
  • 15 minutes of exercises a day can make me stronger, but it’s what I do the 23 hours and 45 minutes of the day that will determine my long range outcomes.
  • Every time I choose to sit on the floor or stretch my hamstrings or hang from a pull-up bar (side note: don’t do pull ups! just hang until you can handle pulling up) or untuck my pelvic or unthrust my ribs or do a couple squats or go for a walk – each time I do those things I am changing my trajectory. It may seem inconsequential at the time, but over time those habits will make all the difference.
  • Any time I want to hide or give up or start comparing myself to others or even to my previous selves, I can stop and give myself a little breathing room. I can ask myself what that critical part of myself is afraid might happen if it stopped doing its job (yes, I got this from counseling. Hey, it works!).
  • Listing the things I am specifically grateful for in my life and then letting specific people know that I’m thankful for them helps to give me perspective.
  • I’ve also found superbetter.com to be helpful for those days I need help building momentum. It turns your recovery into a game and you invite friends and family to be allies who support you in your Epic Quest toward regaining strength.
  • Stop measuring the diastasis recti gap

What do you do to keep a healthy perspective?


 

My Update

diastasis recti side view 13mo postpartum

13 months postpartum, irregularly Mutu-ing, making progress with alignment materials!

Here is my latest picture from the side. I’ve been doing a little bit of Mutu but I’ve mostly been doing exercises from The Restorative Exercise materials. Side note: I LOVE Wendy’s new MuTu videos! She has incorporated so much of what I’ve been learning from Katy Bowman’s alignment materials, and I like her revised exercises much better.

Despite my wallowing, I have been feeling stronger and more flexible, even if my middle still feels like a Jell-O mold. In fact, it feels so much like a Jell-O mold that sometimes it even looks like one:

Innards bulging out through diastasis recti gap

Innards bulging out through diastasis recti gap after a meal

Does this happen to anybody else out there?

Advertisements


7 Comments

Getting Baby Around Without Hurting Ourselves More

Recently, I was lucky enough to Katy Bowman’s workshop about child development and baby carrying that she presented at the Ancestral Health Symposium. Here is my son demonstrating how he can’t and is not interested in hanging from a bar:

Image

Clearly he is not interested in being a poster child for natural movement.

I tried so hard to restrain myself from asking a million questions because Katy was not there to answer the questions of a bubbly new pupil. Thankfully, she covered a lot of things I was curious about in her talk and afterward.

Today I want to talk about baby carrying but I’ve included the other things I found really helpful in a list at the end of this post.

What is the best way to get our babies from point A to point B? 

Katy described in detail why they are ideally are carried in-arms, upright with one of our forearms under their pelvis. Once they can walk, they can work up to walking longer and longer distances and need less carrying.

bowl shaped kid

(my) Bowl shaped kid in his bowl shaped chair covered in bowls. 

  • The earlier babies are carried upright, the faster they can 1) get head control faster and 2) learn how to hold on. Those babies have strong grips, too.

    The more they learn to hold their own weight, the less you hold their weight. This blew my mind because I hadn’t thought of my pudgy giant baby’s ability to hold himself to me but apparently this happens in other cultures all the time.

  • Car seats and strollers encourage kids’ rapidly adapting bodies to make sitting in a “bowl” the least taxing body position. Babies and kids will default to whatever is least taxing day-to-day.

  • While carriers may help the child stay upright, they don’t let the baby change positions. Restrained babies can’t react to stimuli around them or shift when they are uncomfortable.

How do we recovering moms cope with this information when our bodies are so messed up right now?

  • Especially if we have diastasis recti, ditch the carriers if they are causing problems (this is my emphasis – Katy didn’t say this directly). She did say that carriers create a constant load on the parent, so we can’t respond to cues our body is sending that our muscles are over-taxed, e.g. “hey! this hurts!” I noticed early on that my front carrier was creating a bulge in my midsection and numbness in my upper back, so my husband did all the baby wearing. 
  • When carrying babies in-arms, try to not do these things:
    • Thrust ribs forward or up. This happens when we fatigue and want to use our rib cages to carry the weight. I constantly catch myself doing this.
    • Thrust hip out and put baby on our hips to relieve aching arms.
    • Latch the carrying wrist in our other hand to create a “sling” out of our arms. I also find myself doing this often. It gives the muscles a break at the expense of the joints.
  • Katy also didn’t cover this, but Debbie Beane mentioned that walking while pushing a stroller makes it very difficult to maintain alignment. It’s natural to start thrusting your chest while strolling. It also could change your gait and definitely prevents arm swing (which helps open up the shoulders, which are SO TIGHT, am I right? Of course, carrying a baby prevent arm swing, too.). 

Seriously? That seems impossible.

So, despite this sounding extreme (to me, at least), I took all of the above to heart and really tried carrying my baby everywhere within reason. As you may know, we’re carless, so this included grocery trips. It took about a week for me to realize that, while my baby loved it, my healing progress was reversing. Carrying groceries and the baby back made me feel very intense (yes, strangers commented on how fit I must be. Haven’t heard that in awhile!) but then oh did I pay for it.

The problem is that I would walk a half mile to run an errand and then hold him during the errand and then realize about halfway back home that I was fatigued and bulging and contorting. My body was doing whatever it could to get out of the pain. Since then, I’ve realized that it’s better to take the stroller somewhere if I can’t carry him the whole way without fatiguing to the point of injury (I realize this sounds obvious. I need things s-p-e-l-l-e-d out.). Like a workout, I need to work up to more carrying.

When I manage not to overdo it, carrying is a fun way of getting around. My little guy really is engaged with his surroundings and can help point me in the direction of things he wants to explore and I’m more tuned in to his needs, e.g. I see that grocery store hysterical breakdown coming before it’s too late.

As I write this, my back is in spasm. I have a hard time with moderation. I’m working on it. 

 


 

If you are interested, here are some of my notes from the session. The whole three hour event will be available for purchase at some point, so I didn’t mention every last detail.

My notes from Katy’s “Paleo Parenting” workshop 

  • Adaptation to physical load is the most extreme in the first five years, so variability is key to optimize their development.
  • Kids adapt most to the mechanical environment they spend the most time in. A natural position at an unnatural frequency is still no bueno for a rapidly growing body (or for adults). She pointed out that kids’ contraptions tend to be sitting-oriented and are getting more bowl-shaped over time: car seats, high chairs, carriers, bumbos, strollers, etc.
  • Hunter-gatherer cultures have daily infant movement routines and carry their children vertically most often. For example, they can lift their kid up by one arm and swing them to their back because their kids are strong enough for this. Katy carried her kids vertically in-arms from birth and her daughter had head control at three days. I thought that was awesome!
  • It doesn’t take many attempts for a restrained baby (stroller, carrier, car seat) to learn not to try to move. Sad face.

 

And for the adults:

  • Sitting will be the least taxing way to orient our bodies if that is how we train our tissues to adapt. 
  • We give the role of our muscular skeletal systems and metabolisms to the couch when we sit on it.
  • Using a carrier of any sort creates a constant muscular load and prevent both you and baby from shifting (certain carriers are more limiting than others)

 

 


7 Comments

Am I engaging my core or just sucking it in?

Was it the first pair of tight jeans or the baby tee craze of late 90s that led to sucking my gut in for the first time? Ew, maybe it was those crop tops. Whatever the cause, it is long gone and the sucking in remains. I was under the impression that I have just always been a stellar example of constant ab engagement. Sadly for me, this is not the case.

Engaging our cores – specifically the “waist-making” muscles of the transverse abdominis (TVA) – and “sucking it in” have nothing in common. Sucking in creates a vacuum in the midsection that in turn displaces our pesky organs, moving them up and giving a skinnier appearance.  Sucking in does not strengthen any muscles. Sucking in is no friend to those of us with diastasis recti.

Engaging our TVA is something that happens naturally during the day as we need to use it, but programs like MuTu and Tupler work to strengthen it specifically so we can heal our diastasis recti. Since healing is dependent on doing this action correctly, I better be doing it right!

I have a hard time knowing that I am working my TVA and not sucking it in. You know how research shows that you haven’t mastered something until you’ve done it 10,000 times? Once we “master” sucking in, it’s a lot to unlearn!

In Katy Bowman’s Alignment Matters book, she has a post that helped me discover my TVA and differentiate that feeling from the sucking it in feeling. Really, it’s the only thing that’s helped me feel the difference. The more I do this diagnostic exercise, the more I can feel the difference when I’m going about my daily activities.

Here’s what you do (and I recommend checking out Katy’s post for lots of more detail!):

Step 1

Get on all fours and let your pelvis and back go to their normal, relaxed position. There should be a curve in the lumbar spine.

Image

Step 2

Keeping that curve in your lower back and not moving anything else, contract your TVA by drawing the belly button up toward the spine. Do not move your pelvis!

TVA engaged

I was surprised how deep and low I felt this. Try it!

Step 3

Now, tuck your pelvis and suck in to feel the difference.

Sucking stomach in

This is why people suck in. So they can look like emaciated wildebeests.

Did you try it? How did it feel? Hope you have a non-sucky day!


8 Comments

My 4 favorite sitting postures and how they’re getting in my way of healing this diastasis

Certification Pre-Req Pack

Whole Body Alignment Pre-Req Pack

I got my pre-requisite pack from The Restorative Exercise Institute! Giddy excitement mixed with overwhelm, that. I was up reading Alignment Matters last night and couldn’t go to sleep because of all the things to learn. You should get all this information as soon as you have a body to take care of!

There are so many new things I’m learning: my feet are like sonar for your body, my tight shoulder girdle is contributing to poochy stomach, I shouldn’t have to make noise while passing gas, menstrual cramps can be mollified, tight calves are imperative to address, poking your pelvis forward is not the same as good posture, and on and on. So many things to discuss!

Today, however, I want to talk about sitting because I sure do a lot of it. Have you ever read Dear Zoo 20 times in a row? Built 105 towers of blocks to be knocked over 105 times? Fallen asleep in childs’ pose while someone crawled onto your skull? No? Well, these are a daily occurrence for me. I no longer have to spend eight hours a day at a desk, hallelujah, but there are other challenges associated with repeated activities.

Repeated body postures tell us something, and for me I tend toward these four almost exclusively:

Image

ImageImageImage

Did I do a good job distracting you from my nursing pads on the chair?

Anyway, these are my four sitting postures. Everything else hurts almost immediately in my upper back or hips or hamstrings or somewhere. Ouch. So it’s not that these are terrible ways to posture your body but that my body is tight and loose and misaligned in certain ways that these four are the path to least resistance. For me. Yours will be different.

The “Hello Incontinence”

I think I developed that foot sitting habit during pregnancy and picked it right back up after perineal healing – because leaking. It’s always my right foot. My pelvis is tilted as a result and so my spine has to accommodate (as you can see, since my torso looks like a backwards “C”). 

The Pelvis Tucker Sacrum Crusher

Why, oh why, do I love this one so much? Clearly I’m taking any stretch out of my hamstring by tucking my pelvis and drawing up my knees. I also don’t have to activate my abdominals because my arms are holding me in a ball and I’m leaning up against the wall or couch. I tend to get numbness in butt-town on this one, but that does not stop me.

The Go-To

Always right leg over left, usually with bent over spine and shoulders. If I sit on the floor, this is always my first posture. Again, pelvis tucked or in the process of slowly tucking. I’ve been trying to cross left over right more and keep sway in my low back while not thrusting my ribs and that does not usually last long. 

The Tight Hammy

Wow, are those legs popped up or what?! I think, “oh, I’ll stretch out my legs in front of me!” and then I end up bending one because of those tight hamstrings. Instead of sitting with my pelvis in a more neutral position and using my abs to hold me up, I have to curve over and pop my legs up for it to work.

Plan of Action

  • Stretch the hamstrings the right way
  • Open up the shoulders on a bolster
  • Ribs down
  • MIX IT UP WITH DIFFERENT POSTURES. I have to be really aware of trying new positions, even if they feel weird. These four are like perfectly well-worn shoes that feel so soft and familiar.
  • Psoas release and stretch (will post more about this later)

What are your favorite go-to sitting postures and what do they tell you about your body? 


4 Comments

Rib thrusting, diastasis recti, and where to go from here

Bellies 2014

I am almost done with the Psoas course from The Restorative Exercise Institute and I am here to report that I am a rib thruster. Notice in the second photo from the right how the bottom of my rib cage is in front of my ASIS (your ASIS is the bony part of your pelvis in the front that is commonly mistaken for a hip bone). This shortens my psoas muscles, shifts the way my body carries its own weight, and increases pressure in all the wrong places. I would explain more, but I’m not an expert. Yet.

This, and other misalignments, help explain explain why Mutu isn’t giving me the results I want. I don’t meant the appearance I want but rather the body function. The machine of my body is more like the ’89 Volvo with the electrical problem that would leave me stranded in the middle of the highway (literally in the middle…of a lane…it would just shut off) and less like the aerodynamic Teslas I see zipping around the city. For example, I was out of commission for days last week with a debilitating neck and back spasm which my 22lb 9mo was only too happy to accommodate [sarcasm]. I have felt like the work I’m doing, while having some visually obvious effect on my body, has not been addressing the full root of the problem. It’s like if you put fertilizer on a plant whose soil is too acidic or alkaline – you are not going to help the plant until you adjust the soil.

I believed I was fixing my “soil” with zero drop shoes and some lifestyle changes, but I’m seeing now that the more fundamental problems require more extensive changes Habits I’ve learned over literally decades (dating all the way back to my first ballet class at 4) and things drilled into me in the Exercise Science building at my college or in the group classroom at the gym not only contributed to this problem in the first place but are preventing me from being well.

BUT WAIT, it’s not all sad panda around here! I am on a trajectory to fix these underlying issues. While Wendy does base many of her exercises on Katy’s work, I need more information and practical knowledge. I need to understand all the “whys” because that’s just the kind of woman I am, I guess. It won’t affect change in me until I really “get” it, that much I know is true. That’s why I have signed up to complete the first step of the certification program to become a Restorative Exercise Specialist. It’s a nice goal to have, but in end systems are more important than goals. So, part of my “system” is to continue to integrate what I’m learning and applying into this blog and pass on the information to all of you with separated bellies wondering if it can even get better. Together we can create healthier, happier bodies that work with us and not against us. I hope you’ll join me. 🙂


Leave a comment

Sit Bones, Tucking, Intraabdominal Pressure, and the Postpartum Pooch

Image

Along with my new diastasis recti friend Jamie at Belly After Baby, I have gone through some rough patches lately. 

Let’s review the life changes this process has brought so far:

  • Never sitting on sofas, the mattress, chairs, or anything that would displace the intraabdominal pressure. I mainly sit on the floor on my sit bones (those two bottom points pictured above). 
  • Getting rid of all of my heeled shoes, even the slightest ones.
  • Walking with weight in my heels, totally upright (which looks a little bit like a soldier and is hard with a stroller!)
  • Squatting instead of bending and lifting
  • Not torquing or twisting
  • Avoiding front carrying whenever possible.
  • Putting a bolster under my knees at night (if sleeping on back) or in between them (if sleeping on side)
  • Giving up my favorite exercises until I have strength again
  • NOT TUCKING MY BUTT. Muscle memory is for real, peeps. I learned to tuck my butt in lifting classes at the gym (grr) and it has been absurdly difficult to stop.

The list could go on. Needless to say, this takes serious commitment! It is easy to get discouraged.

I have been spending a lot of time on the Aligned and Well blog, trying to understand the role alignment plays in my diastasis. 

Takeaway: alignment is everything. I gently pressed on my belly today just to feel the force that intraabdominal pressure is putting on my midline and WOW, it is powerful! No wonder the muscles can’t keep it together. Only by taking away the pressure I’ve been loading these muscles down with will I be able to regain and keep a strong, flat core.

One of the things Katy over at Aligned and Well said in her first Alignment Snack shoulder class (screenshot below) was that it’s a great idea to move your body in ways that aren’t as familiar. For example, if you normally cross one arm over the other in a stretch, then do the opposite. Get your body out of its routine. She even advises gradually weaning yourself off a pillow, for example, in order to increase mobility.

Image

I’m starting to wonder if I had a small diastasis before pregnancy and didn’t know it, or at least poor alignment and a weak TVA. Then, wearing (chunky! sensible!) heels during pregnancy and doing literally thousands and thousands of weighted reps with my butt tucked probably took me over the edge. Let this be your fair warning, oh ye adorably fit pregnant person! 

I am going to be starting the Mutu interval training this week, as last week I still was doming in the easiest of exercises and I even missed a couple days. I hope I will see more progress by next week after trying the “Week 2” Mutu routine this week. 

We can do this, ladies! We’ve certainly met with much more difficult challenges before, even if they weren’t so easily visible to the outside world.