BUT, I’ve also mentioned that my diastasis recti has narrowed over time, from roughly 4.5 finger-widths to roughly 2, sometimes more, mostly less.
I received an email basically saying “Fine Meredith, diastasis recti advice is more complicated than it seems, but you DID narrow yours, so how the heck did you do it?”
That’s a good question.
First, I need to reiterate that my diastasis recti hasn’t “closed,” probably never will. This is why I say you don’t need to close it. If you function, the size of the gap doesn’t matter. Conversely, surgery may be an option if nothing budges a large or nonfunctional gap (which means contracting your abdominals doesn’t provide stability).
How Did It Narrow?
I take a lot of notes, and I’ve done most of the DRAM programs, so I decided to slog through my records and figure out when things started to change.
I’ve hesitated to do a post like this because the answers aren’t clear. I can’t pinpoint a particular program and say “That was it. This changed it.”
Diastasis recti solutions suffer from publication bias. This means positive results are reported much more frequently than negative results. You’ll see the testimonials and pictures from people who rave, but those who see no results aren’t writing a lot of blog posts, or, if they are, assume the lack of success stems from their inability to “perfect” the prescribed exercises.
No program is a guarantee, regardless of whether you manage to do it “perfectly.” We are all foolishly searching for the diastasis recti Shangri-La, the Holy Grail, the ANSWER.
I also don’t universally trust Before and After pictures, especially if the After pictures were taken right after removing a splint.
Yes, sometimes the After is a result of DRAM closing, which is heartening. I too have grasped at that very real hope.
However, sometimes the After is a result of smooshing (technical term), lost weight, or posture adjustment.
Pictures are hard to interpret. They are helpful, but do not stand in for actual evidence of efficacy.
Now that I’ve told you to distrust photos, I’ll show you some of mine.
I hate posting belly shots because I don’t want the diastasis recti conversation to focus on getting perfect abs (which I clearly don’t have, nor ever will. I’m okay with that).
But I get it. Pictures help. And our bellies matter to us. The pooch is aggravating at best, soul sucking at worst.
You’ll notice my posture fluctuates. I hope you can spot the difference. Read What is Neutral for more information.
Based on my records, my DRAM didn’t get smaller as a direct result of posture changes, but, I have to admit, the posture adjustment makes an aesthetic difference.
I mention the names of programs not to criticize, but because I’ve been asked. This is my experience. An anecdote of 1.
Do not take my experience as indictment or endorsement.
Also, this is not a comprehensive list of everything I tried, but it does include my most diligent efforts.
Like many moms, I started my quest with the Tupler Technique. The first time I tried the program was about 4 months after the birth of my first child. I bought the book, the DVD, the binder in 3 sizes (I go a little overboard). I committed. Big time. I hated doing the squeezes (belly to spine) and head lifts, but I followed along and squeezed and squeezed and squeezed. I wore the binder in August heat. My belly looked better right after removing the splint, but my DRAM didn’t get any smaller.
The second time I tried was roughly 4 months later (8 months after the birth of my first child). This time my efforts were not as intense. I only averaged about 500 pulses a day. I wore the splint religiously. Still, the DRAM didn’t get smaller.
I got pregnant a couple months later and half-heartedly kept up with parts of the program, but eventually tapered off as my morning sickness hit hard. I worried my “failure” was the result of not committing to the 1000 transverse abdominis squeezes.
Therefore, I didn’t give up on it. I decided to really, truly commit one more time. A year later, 10 months after the birth of my second child, I signed up for the online small group program. I had a buddy for support and access to live webinars. By this time, my DRAM was down to around a 3.5, probably just from exercising and trying other programs.
I attended the webinars. Asked questions. Was really involved. Wore the splint. Did all my exercises. And my After pictures were remarkable compared to my Befores. My belly looked smaller. But the DRAM, well, that stayed at 3.5.
Really? I had worked so hard.
Oh, and when I stopped wearing the splint, my belly “reflated.” This “failure” really surprised me and got me down.
I know now the information informing this technique is completely outdated. The TvA is NOT the key. In the free newsletter, I wrote a 2 part series about the Tupler Technique©. Check out the archives to read the series.
In between the Tupler Technique (TT) tries, I dedicated my time to a completely different program called MuTu. The MuTu System was a breath of fresh air compared to TT. I didn’t have to wear a splint, didn’t have to do the same claustrophobic repetitive exercise over and over. The routines varied. My DRAM didn’t get markedly smaller, maybe a smidgen, but it didn’t get bigger.
Overall, I liked it, but, no, it wasn’t the diastasis recti Holy Grail.
Meanwhile, I took some online classes from a well-known alignment guru and obsessed about my lordotic angle and hidden kyphosis for about a year. I even flirted with the idea of getting certified as a whole body alignment specialist. My flirtation eventually turned platonic.
For various reasons, I’ve since become disillusioned with large chunks of the advice. My alignment dalliance also did little for my abdomen. Oh well. I tried. I go deep into things. (You can read some more about that phase here. Or, read Paul Ingraham’s take on posture advice.)
I read her book, tried some of her videos, but I didn’t use it as a program. Overall, I incorporated a few of the moves into my fitness routine, but I don’t have any improvement stats because I never treated it as a stand alone program.
By the time I tried physical therapy, a little over a year after the birth of my second child and after my last TT “fail,” my DRAM was still around 3.5, but sometimes a solid 3. Physical therapy helped a little.
However, my doctor had referred me for my pelvic floor, and we spent most of my time working on that. I left physical therapy a bit smaller, closer to a 3, but sometimes still crept back to a 3.5.
This was the first time I realized paying attention to my pelvic floor was the FIRST STEP in all belly work. I cringed at the memory of the splinted transverse abdominis pulses and the inevitable downward pressure that had exerted.
I’ve worked with a few trainers, but I specifically sought out two because they had advertised their postnatal body expertise. The first trainer’s expertise translated to “wrap a towel around your abs while doing a crunch.”
The second personal trainer was crazy expensive because she advertised as a “functional fitness expert.” From what I can tell, this meant over-analyzing my gait and stance without really knowing what she was talking about and then giving me silly exercises. I commit, so I did the exercises, despite their silliness. Neither trainer helped me close my DRAM, but they both made bank off me.
Doing my Own Thing
After trying TT, MuTu, a private personal trainer, a functional fitness trainer, and physical therapy, I decided to do my own thing. Meaning, I joined a gym (While all this was happening, I got my personal trainer ACSM certification). I started lifting weights (of a reasonable size so as not to aggravate my pelvic floor until it got stronger), and focused much more on my upper body strength. My DRAM fluctuated as always, but stayed closer to a 3, and sometimes got even smaller.
I studied with a private Iyengar yoga teacher for a couple months. By this time, I was more solidly a 3 at max rather than at minimum. The DRAM actually got worse, but this wasn’t the teacher’s fault. I was in a yoga mood, so had been doing some DVDs on my own that involved a ton of sun salutations with upward dogs and cobras. Within a week, my DRAM had increased back to a 3.5/4. This was the only time I had ever seen it change sizes so quickly. I told my yoga teacher, and she was like “What? No. Stop.” I stopped doing those moves, and it settled back to a 3.
Before we tried for baby #3, I wanted to attempt another splinted program to see if I could get the gap even smaller. I found the Mom Bod Fitness online ReCore program. It was 6 weeks long. I wore the splint. The exercises weren’t too strenuous or repetitive, and I liked the personalization. The splint was surprisingly comfortable. At the end, I measured around a 2.5 and was delighted.
This was the first time I had seen actual improvement with a specific program. Though, after I stopped wearing the splint, I crept back to a 3. This wasn’t upsetting. I realized a DRAM can be fluid. Some days it is bigger. Some days, smaller.
My Own Splinted Versus Un-splinted Program
I decided to do an experiment on myself. I would combine the best exercises from the various programs and from other sources to create a splinted versus un-splinted program and see how much of a difference splinting made in my progress. They were 3 weeks each.
Splinting did make it smaller, again back to the 2.5, and it stayed smaller for about 6 days after removing the splint, but then crept up again without it, which made me believe splinting wasn’t a solution, but might help ameliorate pain and achiness in some women.
In the meantime, I kept going to the gym and using weights.
My gap hovered around a 2.5 by the time I got pregnant with my 3rd child, sometimes crept back to a 3, but not bigger than that. My stomach, other than the excess skin, wasn’t obviously pregnant looking anymore, so I knew improvement was possible.
Only problem: I didn’t know what to credit for the improvement.
How It Probably Improved
After looking through my old notes, here are my thoughts.
- Working out helped. Consistently doing some sort of exercise was probably the biggest cause of the narrowing.
- Learning how to contract the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles ensured my workouts weren’t accidentally making the DRAM bigger.
- Working on my back gripping aka Miss America Syndrome might have helped. At the very least, I look better with better posture.
- Resistance exercise, specifically lifting weights and using the TRX, made a difference.
I believe all of these combined to get it down from a 4.5.
When I got pregnant with my 3rd baby, intense morning sickness put a lot of pressure on my abs. My DRAM got bigger again, not 4.5 bigger, but more of a consistent 3. However, after the sickness abated around month 5, I continued my resistance training in a way I hadn’t with the other two pregnancies. I had severe anemia, so my workouts weren’t strenuous, but I kept up the weights and incorporated the TRX. I also wore the Fitsplint (from the Recore program).
I had a scheduled c-section (you can read my story here). This meant my baby wouldn’t get as big as the first two.
Beforehand, I begged my doctor to sew up the DRAM while he was in there. I guess I still wanted a SOLUTION. I begged so much he sent me to a surgical consult. The surgeon listened politely and told me NO. Damn.
However, after the c-section, my gynecologist casually mentioned he had sewn the bottom part of my rectus together, just superficially, but still, I was grateful. My DRAM was always naturally smaller at the bottom anyway, so I wasn’t sure how much of a difference this would make. But as I healed, I noticed a slight reduction. It used to measure close to a 2 at the bottom, but stabilized close to 1 finger-width (just at the bottom).
Also, at the midline, my DRAM was solidly a 2.5/3 right after childbirth, instead of the 4.5 it had been after the first two babies. I don’t know if the superficial sew of the bottom rectus did this, or if working out during pregnancy stopped it from getting to a 4.5 in the first place.
I’m okay with the uncertainty.
I wore a splint for about a month after childbirth to help with stability, but eventually stopped because I felt stable enough and was moving to Guam (Guam is hot).
Before the c-section, I had created a day by day 16 week post birth recovery plan that consolidated a lot of the information I had learned over the years (Did I mention I overdo things?).
After the 16 weeks, my gap was a little smaller, now to about a 2.
It’s never officially closed. I don’t need it to. My 16 week program wasn’t magic. It was a commitment to exercise smartly. I didn’t do 16 weeks of any one exercise. I did gentle resistance training, some ab exercises, and a lot of walking.
What I Learned
- I don’t care about the size anymore. And I don’t put a ton of stock in any particular program, not even the one I made for myself.
- I don’t think the transverse abdominis is a magic muscle, nor do we want to isolate it by pulling “belly to spine.” Sure, it’s important for stabilizing the midline, but it needs to engage ALONG with the rest of our muscles. The rectus abdominis needs to work with the obliques and transverse abdominis, so too much emphasis on pulling belly to spine isn’t doing our bodies any favors. (Here are some cues I like better for activating the TvA.)
- Splinting isn’t a cure, but it can help some women, even if only to provide comfort during pregnancy or postpartum (as long as pelvic floor issues are taken into consideration).
- I believe upper body exercise is under-looked as a means to activate the abdominal muscles without overdoing it.
I’m still working out other thoughts. For example,
- Abdominal muscle contractions pull on the linea alba, not push together, so mechanisms for closing DRAM are actually mysterious. Some practitioners emphasize this pull, while others emphasize compression via splinting. This is what I call the DRAM paradox.
- Clearly, exercise can help. But how? LITERALLY, how? Serious remodeling of very stretched connective tissue is unlikely, no matter how much protein you eat. Is exercise just creating the illusion of a smaller gap? Unfortunately, we don’t have any good why or what DRAM studies.
- We should probably stop obsessing about the size of the gap, but a smaller gap is probably a good thing. Ah, another paradox.
Some final thoughts: If a program doesn’t magically close your DRAM, don’t get too frustrated.
Consider it one more experiment.
Then try something else.
And eventually, if you suffer from functional problems, talk to your doctor about surgery. I’m lucky I can avoid this particular surgery. However, surgery isn’t failure.
Not closing the gap all the way isn’t failure.
There is no such thing as failing at your belly, at any body part.
I remind myself that my belly created actual human life, and that’s freakin’ amazing, pooch or not.
(On cue, one of my “freakin’ amazing” creations just informed me he pooped on the lawn. The beauty of parenthood, like our bellies, can be mysterious).