Abdominal Separation [and what to if you have it or suspect you have it]

Hey there,

There are SO MANY things I wish women knew about pregnancy that simply aren’t talked about nearly enough. Pelvic floor health, the postpartum period, perinatal anxiety, your choices during birth, and perhaps really important [to me as a yoga teacher] is sharing the RIGHT movement for your body.

There’s something called diastasis recti (DR) that occurs for many women [and I might argue all] during pregnancy, especially towards the end of the third trimester. Diastasis recti means “abdominal separation.” It occurs when the connective tissue, known as the linea alba, between the two sides of the rectus abdominis (the “six pack” muscles) is stretched. During pregnancy, our bellies and the linea alba naturally stretches to accommodate a growing baby. See figure below:

diastasis during pregnancy.jpeg

After giving birth, we want to encourage the rectus abdominus to start to knit back towards one another, decreasing the stretch of that linea alba. Some women experience greater degrees of separation during pregnancy and postpartum. While this is a common experience, living with DR is NOT normal and also not healthy. Why? Because you may experience:

  • Chronic low back pain'

  • Incontinence

  • Lack of core strength

  • Lack of stability in your pelvis and pelvic floor

And, because the linea alba is so stretched, there is only stretched connective tissue/skin to protect your internal organs, rather than your core muscles.

While I do believe that most (if not all) women experience some degree of abdominal separation during pregnancy and initially postpartum, there are postures in yoga and physical fitness that can exacerbate it, and ones that can minimize it, too.

During Pregnancy:

  • When your belly starts to become noticeable, STOP the planks, crunches, bicycles, anything that puts pressure on the abdominal wall. You’ll know you’re contributing to DR when your belly “cones” or “shark fins” in the center. That’s skin pushing through the abdominals. Core work is important during pregnancy, so try deep breathing and modified side planks to engage the obliques - not the rectus abdominis muscles.

  • Let go of deep backbends in pregnancy. Heart opening is lovely and stretches the chest and the shoulders, and is especially helpful as the breasts become heavier. However, postures like wheel, full camel, even too much of cat posture (from cat/cow) stretch the belly and linea alba way too much. Protect this area with light heart opening postures - if you can feel a stretch across the top of your belly (and definitely the bottom), you’ve likely gone too far.

During the Postpartum Period:

  • See above! Refrain from “core work” like planks, crunches, etc. and refrain from deep backbends, even if your care provider has confirmed you are ready for “exercise.” Rebuilding core strength slowly and taking into account the massive changes your body has experienced will encourage stable and long lasting healing/strength.

  • A few days postpartum, start practicing belly breathing. While seated on a chair or cushion, or even lying on your back, sit up tall, close your eyes, and place your hands on either side of your abdomen. Inhale to feel the belly expand a bit, and as you exhale gently encourage the rectus abdominis towards one another with your hands. Emphasis on gently. As the weeks go on, start to deepen your breath, taking longer inhales and slower exhales. You’ll start to “turn on” your core muscles slowly. Try for three minutes, five minutes, maybe even 10 if you have it.

  • Six - eight weeks postpartum, try pelvic tilts. While lying on the floor, bend your knees so the soles of the feet are in contact with the floor. Relax. Notice the space in between the low back and the floor. Place your hands at your hip points. Take an inhale, and as you exhale, gently scoop the pelvis up so your low back presses into the floor (do not lift the hips to do so). Inhale to release. Try five times, then 10. Taking breaks and repeating. This should feel subtle, but enough that you start to feel muscles working that had been dormant for awhile!

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to take it slow postpartum. Prioritizing your healing and a rehabilitation of the core, rather than how quickly to strengthen and tone it, will be much more beneficial for your body. Re-entering into exercise, especially high impact, too quickly can worsen diastasis recti and cause issues like incontinence and prolapse. Think tortoise, rather than the hare, during the postpartum period.

As always, I do love reading your stories. Have you experienced DR? What did you do to heal your abdominal separation? I learn a great deal from you and the students I work with in class. If you’re still seeking support, please find a Pelvic Floor PT to assess your DR, or contact me to create a therapeutic postnatal yoga program. Yes, I am in Rhode Island, but we can also work together via Zoom/Skype! I hope this is helpful to you, dear mama.

With love,
Leanne

Your relationship to your body

Note: This message may be a trigger for those dealing with body dysmorphia or eating disorders; however, it focuses less on that and more about true self-love.


Hey there,

There was a time I was seriously disconnected from my body.

My obsession with my body as a thing outside of “me” didn’t really begin until my mid-20’s. At that time, I had been dealing with chronic stomach pain and overwhelming anxiety. Eventually, I’d get a diagnosis of severe gluten intolerance, but not before I dealt with all the stress through extreme physical exercise and an obsession with “eating clean” (a term I now loathe…but, we can talk about that in a later letter). I’ve shared this before, but both practices affected my fertility and even more than that, they altered my relationship with myself.

When I started to find a healing path, I promised to give myself more grace and to celebrate my body throughout all its stages of life and giving life. It’s been a long road to get here, and I cannot say I look in the mirror every day and don’t find something to critique. But, I can say, after having a baby I truly am more comfortable being in my body than I ever have been before (at least in my adult life…I’m pretty sure my toddler self was in awe of her body). But, it’s not just because of the “having a baby,” but because of the relationship I started to develop with my body over the years. What is your relationship like with your body?

Image from #takebackpostpartum via @nazzie_ox on Instagram

Image from #takebackpostpartum via @nazzie_ox on Instagram

***

Yes, today is a day of romance and love [Happy Valentine’s Day!], but before you radiate that love outwards, can you focus on you? Consider:

What is your relationship to your body?
How do you talk to her?
How do you treat her?
Do you listen to her needs?
Do you know how?
Do believe it’s even important to listen?
What could you do TODAY to show love to your body?

***

Before finally conceiving, I remember realizing that my way towards wellness was to start to believe and embody that joy did not come from my physical looks or even abilities. They are not associated. I could choose to feel joy and happiness, even if I didn’t go for a five mile run, even if my body didn’t look the way I “wanted” it to. I started to find joy in other ways - more yoga (no hot yoga), more long walks, more slowing down to prepare a nutritious meal, more notes on my mirror that said things like “I love and approve of myself” (I’m serious), and really listening to what my body wanted on any given day (rather than what I thought I should do or had to do). I found joy in how my body could feel…and she could feel amazing, which in turn could create feelings of joy.

I promised to take care of myself the same way during pregnancy - to appreciate a growing baby, to move in ways that felt good (more prenatal yoga) + LOTS of walks - and later postpartum - to take my time to heal, practice deep breathing to connect and slowly rehab my core & pelvic floor, get outside, and to try not to judge my belly.

But, I’ve found that it’s really hard to come to this realization when we are disconnected from our bodies. Your body, your mind, and your soul are delicately intertwined and each is trying to talk to you all the time. But, are you listening? I think that’s the first question towards building a relationship: How can you listen to your body more? Take a few deep breaths, close your eyes and ask that question. Note what comes up. And, based on the answer: How can you show your body you love her? Is it rest? More deep breathing and meditation? More warming soups? Getting outside? Patience?

Your body is a vessel meant to help you live out your work in this life (familial, professional, etc.), and we certainly want to treat it well. It is an undeniable part of you, but our bodies alone do not hold the key to contentment or love. So, maybe the next time you find yourself getting frustrated with her, you start to build the relationship: What does my body need in this moment? Am I listening? I can promise that with time this will be incredibly healing, and will help you establish more of a connection (and appreciation) with your Self [not a typo].

With love,
Leanne



P.S. This week I’ve been writing about listening to our bodies and also connecting with the deepest layer of ourselves (really our beings), too. You might also like reading this piece on your heart’s deepest desire.

P.P.S. Thank you to all who answered the Q’s from the last email! I will be responding to your tremendously helpful thoughts soon, and am excited for what’s to unfold next for Yoga Dear Mama.

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I share encouraging, informative, and down to earth messages, each with a healthy dose of humor and honesty. Basically, the kind of thing I'd want to read during pregnancy and later postpartum...because gosh motherhood is confusing. When you subscribe, you'll receive my messages on What I wish I would've known before baby & a quick guide on the Yoga poses to avoid during pregnancy.

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Don't forget about the mother.

Hey there,

There’s an interesting shift that happens when you become a mother. It’s been shocking to me, and I never really said anything (until recently) because I felt as though I were whining, needy, or selfish.

Here’s the thing: Mothers need attention, support, and love, too. Mothers are not invisible. Dear Mama, you are not invisible. I see you.

Mothers are doing a great big job that many of imagined, but also didn’t imagine. Raising a tiny human means all of the beautiful things you SEE - the snuggling, the beautiful babies wrapped in soft swaddles, the sweet bathtime moments, the rocking, the first bites of food, the excitement over rolling/sitting up/taking first steps. And, it also means the incredibly messy parts you MAY NOT SEE - the crying because it’s so hard to get baby to latch, the sleep deprivation, the loneliness after your partner goes back to work, the incessant mess of bottles/food prep/your own lunch that fills the kitchen sink.

And, aside from that, mamas are going through a rebirth of their own. I know I felt it. We still have these desires in our careers, in our relationships, for intimacy with our partners, to travel, whatever it may be, while also still trying to figure out how to be a mother. Can we do all things? Can we be all things? Are we the same? And, who can we talk to about it? Who will listen?

This is the kicker. Who will listen? Who will listen to your experience without trying to solve it for you? Who will listen to your struggles and see you still for the grateful, beautiful mama you are? Who will love on your baby, and also engage with you, too?

Even as I write this I feel selfish, silly. I remember when our son was born, how so much attention shifted to him. Of course it does. Babies are so precious, snuggly, cute little beings and they are essentially helpless needing our loving care and attention. I remember desperately wanting someone to ask me how I was doing. And, to really want to know my answer when it wasn’t “fine.” What’s been challenging for you? Do you need to talk about your birth? And, I still want that. I still long to be seen, yes, as a mother, but also as a human.

I still have career ambitions, interests, desires. I want to make friends and deep connections. And, I know little man is pretty cute, but I’m pretty awesome, too. I want to talk about more than diapers and daycare and sleep, and I’m finally realizing that’s totally not too much to ask (although yes I love talking about all of the above, too!).

If you’re feeling this way, maybe slip this message along to a partner or family member or friend. ;) Share with another mama. I think the way to help others feel seen is to practice giving what we want to bring into our own lives. Ask your mama friends questions about them: What are you reading lately? Have you thought about taking a new adventure with or without your baby? What do you want to talk about today? Look into the eyes of another mother when you’re out and about, simply saying hi. That connection is real.

I’m forever grateful to the women in my life who did help me feel seen. Becoming a mother doesn’t mean that’s our only role. It’s that AND. I’m a mother AND a business owner. I’m a baby food making whiz AND I run yoga teacher training programs. I love reading books to my toddler AND I love writing a pretty successful blog. I’m a mom who cleans up poo AND I still love to feel beautiful on date nights with my husband. I’m allowed to be seen. I’m allowed to want to be seen. I am not invisible. You are not invisible. You are incredible.

During pregnancy, you might have been showered with affection and attention (the good and the…not so good). Once baby was born, you may have felt all of that attention turn to him or her. It’s common. But, it doesn’t have to be. We can express our needs. We can get intentional with our relationships. We can be that person for other mothers in our lives. We can remember that all mothers need attention, love, and support, too.

Sending you a big hug today. You’re doing great, mama.
With lots of love,
Leanne

P.S. If you didn’t know: #1. I really love hearing from you. Emails from these letters make my DAY and I respond to every one. #2. In addition to sleep consulting, I’m studying to become a yoga therapist, essentially where we use yoga philosophy, breathwork, and postures to help heal the body and the mind. Yoga Therapy recognizes the link between body and mind, and using both to ease anxiety/stress and find lasting peace and contentment. Why am I telling you this? Because I’m specifically studying how yoga therapy supports women during pregnancy, postpartum, and fertility. If you’d like to continue to read more, send me a message at leanne@yogadear.com and I’ll put you on a special list about Yoga Therapy.