FULL DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional and this is not medical advice. I highly encourage you to visit with your obstetrician, physical therapist or other trained professional before you proceed to heal your diastasis recti (DR).
Every time I mention my DR (abdominal separation) I get a million questions and emails. Ok, not a million, but a lot. I was actually going to show you some “before” pictures but then I decided the Internet didn’t need to have those forever. Amen? Amen.
A Little History
After my first four babies, I bounced back pretty quickly to pre-pregnancy weight, not really giving much thought to how much of a beating my core was taking. After giving birth, via emergency c-section, to my fifth child and then subsequently trying to train for a 10k (seriously, I must’ve been on illegal drugs) I learned the hard way that I was nuts and my body was in bad shape. Two years after giving birth to the preemie, I started running in earnest while cross training with Jillian Michaels via DVD. Who knew that doing all those planks and crunches were making things worse??
Then, I got pregnant with baby number six and gave up on exercising.
I did a brief stint with the Tupler Technique when she was seven months old. Honestly? I could not keep up with the regimen and the belt I had to wear just wasn’t practical for my lifestyle herding six busy kids. #moneyiwishicouldgetback
Then, I broke my knee cap.
Seriously, y’all. I can’t make this crazy up.
Finally, after spending months in physical therapy (PT) rehabilitating my knee and subsequently gaining weight because I was sitting on my ***, I asked my PT if she thought I could correct my DR with physical therapy. YES! was her enthusiastic reply. But, she encouraged me to find a women’s health PT as they would best be equipped to help me. I do think it’s worth mentioning I consulted a plastic surgeon and asked her opinion. I was suffering from lower back pain and almost no pelvic floor control. While she said she could, indeed, correct my DR with a permanent stitch in my abdominal wall/tummy tuck she said I would have to promise not to get pregnant again or I could do permanent damage. That was a promise I could not keep. But, she did believe I could correct it through PT, so off to Google I went.
Finding the Right Path to Heal my DR
First, I was first amazed that there was even such a thing as a women’s health PT. Who knew?! While I was on a mission to find the right PT, I started looking for a good workout regimen that would help in my final stretch to rebuild the quad I lost when I broke my kneecap. A friend posted on Facebook about her awesome experience with Pure Barre and her results really had me intrigued. At the same time, I finally found a women’s health PT office that I thought could be a winner. I read reviews on Yelp and doctor sites, stalked their social media pages and consulted insurance to see if therapy was covered. It was! I started both PT and Pure Barre the same week, back in June 2016.
Fast forward six months and here I am. This was me at my 100th Pure Barre class!
The Nitty Gritty of Healing My DR
My initial PT appointment we talked about alllll the uncomfortable things that come with pelvic floor, bowels, back, stomach and birthing babies. For my Austin friends, I used Sullivan Physical Therapy.
Then, there was an internal exam. Thank God I read the paperwork and knew that was coming. To be fair, however, it was necessary. It gave us the complete picture of my true baseline. Your back, abs and pelvic floor work together like a sling to hold your core together. If one, or more, is weak, the others suffer. Hence, the reason for my weak floor, my lower back pain and my bulging belly that I could not get rid of to save my life. I initially measured with an open DR (bottom left) at a 3-4-3 (upper-middle-lower). There are lots of ways to measure your DR, but I was grateful to have a professional mark those numbers down. At my worst, back a few years ago, I was at a 4-5-4.
My PT gave me some exercises to do and told me to come back in two weeks. I’ve chosen not to link to the exercises I did for PT as those are highly personalized depending upon your type of DR. I would hate to lead you down the wrong path. I also shared with her some of the exercises I was doing in Pure Barre and she either banned some – not many – and modified a lot more. It did make me feel a little self conscious in Pure Barre class when everyone else was on the floor planking and I was leaning against the bar, barely at an angle, doing my “pushups.” But I kept at it and just got over myself. Benefit of being 40-ish. I also contacted the owner of the Pure Barre studio and we visited in person for about a half hour before my first class. Many of the modifications she gave me are ones her prenatal clients use to ease the stress on their abs.
This process continued throughout the summer: PT, home exercises and Pure Barre 4-5 times a week. There were so many times I wanted to give up, but the physical changes I was seeing and how good I felt kept me going.
Where I Am Now
Four months after I started, I went in for my final PT appointment and measured an amazing 0-1-0. While it’s highly improbable I’ll get to be 0 all around, I am 100% happy with that measurement. More importantly, I feel good. My lower back pain is gone, I don’t have pelvic floor issues and my core is so much stronger. I have a ways to go to get where I want to be, but I’m getting there. Hour by hour.
It also didn’t happen without the support of my family. Being gone for five hours a week doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is. You mamas feel me. We’ve had to adjust our family schedule a bit but I’m coming home happier, Mr. Whitaker is liking the results and the kids are seeing a mom who is putting her physical health first. That’s an important legacy for me.
What This Means for You
While Pure Barre worked for me, it may or may not be your cup of tea. However, my best advice is this: go talk to your OB/GYN and a PT trained in women’s health before you make a decision on how to heal your DR. It might be severe enough that surgery is required. Maybe you need intense therapy and a new routine for how you engage your core in a healthy way. Or, maybe you need a combination of PT and exercise under the direction of your therapist. But, you won’t know what is – and Google can’t tell you – until you talk to train medical professionals that can guide you.
I think you also have to be honest about the season you’re in – financially, physically and emotionally. All that helps dictate what you can feasibly do without everything around you falling apart. While I am an advocate of putting mom first, there were many years I didn’t for various reasons. This is my season to heal DR, yours may be different.
Brighter days are ahead, I promise! Whatever questions you have, feel free to put them in the comments, or email me if you’d rather keep them private. This is a tough topic and I get it. I will try to be as transparent and honest as I can!