I was teaching my prenatal & postpartum core essentials class earlier this week and we were talking about minimizing diastasis recti (or abdominal separation) IN PREGNANCY. Everyone was so shocked that there could be a solution before the problem even exists, because all we hear these days is how to fix diastasis recti after it’s already an issue.
What if you could minimize your risk of diastasis during your pregnancy? And what if it were so simple, you could do it anywhere?
Guess what. You can, and it IS!
Why diastasis recti happens during pregnancy
The main cause of diastasis (ab separation) during pregnancy is pressure from the growing baby which forces your abs – and the connective tissue between your abs – to stretch. It’s good to know that almost all pregnant women get some level of diastasis, but the extent to which you get it can vary.
But there is another aspect of pregnancy that creates a breeding ground for diastasis – the way you breathe.
Check this out – pregnancy posture is typically like this:
Ribs out, chest out
Lower back deeply curved
Hips tilting forward
If you stand in this posture for a few minutes, you’ll immediately feel tightness settle into your mid-back muscles, right around your bra line. Now take a deep breath. Does your mid-back feel stuck and hard to budge? It’s super hard to take a deep breath standing like this!
The issue with this breathing pattern: if you can’t send the breath into your mid-back, the pressure from your diaphragm trying to expand to get air into your lungs is going out through your stomach too – and right into your diastasis.
Obviously this all-hanging-out posture is known as ‘pregnancy posture’ because it’s the easiest way to stand as the baby grows bigger. But easiest doesn’t always mean best.
The more we stand this way, the further the abs stretch, the more locked down the back becomes, the more we have to breathe into our front ribs, the more pressure goes into the abs, and the more the abs stretch. It’s a vicious cycle.
Here’s what you can do:
The goal is to create more space in your mid-back so your diaphragm (and breath!) can expand out and back into your low ribs. This will keep the pressure even between your front ribs and back ribs, and minimize the forward pressure on your abdominals. Then, concentrate on sending your breath into your mid-back when you inhale.
2 exercises to try:
Move #1: Back-rib breathing
Put your left hand over your right lower ribs and around toward your back. As you inhale, think of sending your breath into your back, expanding your bottom ribs back and out into your hand. Exhale and release it. Try it again with your right hand over your left lower ribs. Does it feel different than your usual breath? Does it feel different from one side to the other?
Now, frame your low ribs with your hands, letting your thumbs rest on your back. As you inhale, expand your bottom ribs back and out into your thumbs equally on both sides. Think of 360 degrees of rib expansion, so your breath fills up your lungs equally in the front, sides and back. Exhale and release it.
Why it works:
Using your hand as tactile reference can signal your brain to move your ribs out when you inhale. It’s also easier to tell what your ribs are doing (or not doing!) if you have one hand on them. Can you take a deeper, fuller breath with this focus on breathing into your back? If not, try move #2 and then come back to this breath.
Move #2: Side rib deep stretch
If you’re getting stuck in your back body breathing, this is a great stretch for you to do every single day.
Lift your right arm overhead, taking a side lean to the left. Rotate your right shoulder toward the floor slightly, and then put your left hand on your lower right ribs with your fingers wrapped around toward your back. You might feel an immediate stretch. Now breathe and send your inhale into your hand, feeling all of the muscles stretching between your ribs (the intercostals) and between your shoulder blade and ribcage. Take 5-10 breaths on each side.
Why it works:
Stretching while you’re breathing encourages more movement between the rib bones, and lets the breath go even deeper.
I challenge you to try this every day for a week and see how you feel in 7 days. Do you feel more expansion? Does your belly feel less tension? Can you take a deeper breath? How is your energy? How is your mood? It’s all connected!
Give it a try and let us know how it works for you!
Ready to get deeper into your breath? We’re launching our prenatal yoga classes online very soon, complete with breathing techniques, and core and pelvic floor work for pregnancy. You won’t want to miss it!