Diastasis Rectified

My journey to heal postpartum diastasis recti


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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:

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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)

 

 

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Encouragement for You and Me From Debbie Beane, RES

Debbie Beane, RES

Debbie Beane, RES

Recently, as I was weighing jumping into the Restorative Exercise certification, I was becoming overwhelmed with the feeling that this mountain of information and under-functioning body parts was too intimidating to surmount. I feared that I would pull a Humpty and never get pieced back together.

Then, like a vision, the kind, understanding countenance of Debbie Beane popped up in my Skype window and she spoke knowledge, encouragement, kindness, and genuine empathy to me. She is a mother who has been down the diastasis recti / pelvic floor disorder road, who did MuTu when it was still in infancy, and found Restorative Exercise at the right moment to fall in love with it and start her own RE practice. In short, she is my role model.

Lucky for you, she has bottled some of that kind, brilliant, wise empathy and let me distribute it here to you.

Here are her words for you and for me:

So.

First of all, I offer sympathy and empathy and I-know-your-pain. It is SO HARD to have done this amazing thing (bringing a human into the world?!), and to be dealing with all of the life changes (sleep??) and then to learn that your body is more or less betraying you… it’s hard. For anyone, but especially if you considered yourself particularly healthy or fit beforehand. And then, if you were a very proactive do-everything-Right sort of pregnant person, to learn that there were things you might have done that no one told you about? It’s devastating. How are we supposed to prepare when we don’t even know the right questions to ask??

So. Now you are here, with unhappy results. Know that you are not alone, that in fact there are more people with these issues than you can imagine. But more importantly, know that there *are* things you can do, and that it can, and will, get much much better. Prepare to open your mind and be willing to try things that you don’t understand. Realize that you’re up against a big project, and you’ll spend a lot of time working on it, but that in some ways it’s actually a gift. Because you will end up so much healthier than you were before, and you might never have sought out this information without the catalyst of the injuries.

It’s a small comfort, especially at first, but it’s true. And the benefits you can reap, not only for yourself but for your whole family, are huge. You can help your kids not have to deal with this later on… and maybe you can help other moms, or future moms, by spreading the word. It is frustrating, and depressing, and more than you want to deal with sometimes. But it is what it is, and now you have found the information you need, and all that’s left is to do it.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this because I’ve lost count. I need to print it and put it on my wall. I hope you love it as much as I do. Thank you, Debbie!

You can find more from Debbie over at PositivelyAligned.com.


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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:

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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? 


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Mutu System Week 5 Progress Report

It took me 8 days, but I did make it through doing the “intensive workout 1” four times. This week I moved onto Phase 2 core, which was at least psychologically important because I felt like I was actually progressing.

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Phase 2 Abs

This week I graduated to the next level of abdominal work. The main differences were:

  • More twists
  • More load put on the TVA (for example, in “Drop Your Knees, Find Your Middle” you can’t use your hands to brace your knees anymore
  • Bigger, meatier squats
  • The addition of a toe/shin stretch (which I don’t get much out of because I have inhumanly flexible feet)
  • Modified Bridge poses. Love this since I am having serious yoga withdrawal
  • Hip strengtheners and openers (including the same exercise the physical therapist had me doing for sacroiliac joint pain in pregnancy)

I was surprised at how different the second phase was from Core Phase 1. I was thankful for her mixing things up!

Progress

Looking at the photos, I think I see a little improvement from last week! That surprises me because:

a) I haven’t been walking, and this has not been good for my mental health with a 6 month old

b) I pushed myself too hard and it wasn’t until I had my husband feel my abs during Staggered Push-Ups that I discovered my abs were separating during them. So, back to wall push-ups!

Barefoot in Winter

We don’t really have “winter” per say here in San Francisco, but we definitely get rain and wind. I’ve been wearing my Tieks into the ground, so I have been on the lookout for a pair of winter shoes. I found this fabulous post on barefoot walking boots for winter. I love Katy Bowman and I kind of want to be her when I grow up, but I have a legit case of city fashion and most of those boots look like they were designed in a darkroom (Frye, are you listening? Chop, chop!).

Thankfully, I found two that I think I could work with tights or skinny jeans.

Nepal boots by Tom's Nepal boot, by Tom’s.

I find regular Tom’s pretty uncomfortable (especially compared to Tieks), but I’m hoping these will be a totally different story.

barefoot boot by VivoBarefootRyder by VivoBarefoot

While certainly not the sexiness that was my Frye Carmen Lace Up (love you forever, RIP), these will do when I need something waterproof. Giving up heels is tough, but think of all those bunions and joint replacements I’m hopefully avoiding!

Thanks for coming along the ride with me! Please let me know if you’re in this journey, too, so we can band together and offer each other support.


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Starting the Intensive workouts, struggling for motivation

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Wendy wrote some powerful words over the weekend and they helped me get my mind right.

I missed almost a whole week. Here’s why I was losing traction:

  1. I so badly miss group exercise. Motivating myself when at home baby-talking to a 6 month old feels like a herculean task. This is why I need your support! (I know Mutu has a Facebook group but I closed my FB account on purpose, so my loss).
  2. I’m frustrated about my insides poking through my diastasis on the EASIEST exercises. I am used to being “tough” and I am not used to feeling so weak. Weakness, vulnerability, lack of control, letting go of expectations – so many themes in my life are applicable here.
  3. “No time” (aka excuses)
  4. Negative thinking (“I’m never going to get strong” “my husband will love me anyway, so why try” “I’m a mom now, I should lessen my expectation of what fit is” “I can’t do it perfectly, so I just won’t do it at all”)
  5. During pregnancy I felt like a superwoman. I now feel like the opposite of a superwoman.

So, when I read these words by Wendy I felt a little prodded:

“Please, please, try this. Shift your mindset before you try to shift your body.  Diastasis recti is merely a symptom, one outer manifestation of pressure + mal-alignment within your body. It’s telling you your body is not quite in the right place or comfortable, which is why it doesn’t look + feel the way you want it to. It is not *the problem*. I know you feel overwhelmed  + I know you’re frustrated + searching for answers. You’re trying to change everything + fix everything all at once + you feel everything about your body is ‘wrong’ + broken.”

Wendy! You’re hitting too close to home. Ouch.

After skipping a week of Mutu my thoracic (upper) spine was popping like rubber bands being snapped on my back, my left shoulder started clicking, incontinence came back (UGH), and headaches came back. I reread Wendy’s words, had some patience with myself, and thanked my body for letting me put it through this trial so I could have this baby I love so much.

And a word about willpower

The Willpower Instinct by McGonigalI also thought about The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal at Stanford. In that book she explains that the smallest steps help build our willpower strength, just like building a muscle. So if you say no to the anxiety snack (I threw out the chocolate chips last week), you’ll be more likely to stick to your commitment to walk every day or to do six minutes of Mutu.

This morning I got up and went straight for Mutu before I could talk myself out of it. And you know what? It felt really good. I wasn’t even that hard on myself that I was doing wall pushups instead of regular ones.


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

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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.

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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.