Diastasis recti: A case of “mommy tummy”

Six weeks postpartum, Kristin realized something wasn’t quite right with her stomach. Learn more about this not-so-uncommon experience.

Kristin Auger 0

If you put the word “mom” in front of it, it’s generally not going to be a good thing.

Mom hair.
Mom jeans.
Mommy tummy.

There’s a little bit of ridicule in the use of “mom” as a descriptor, and no woman — whether she’s a mother or not — wants her physical features to be associated with her status as a guardian of children. 

I don’t know how it came to be that “mommy” anything is a bad thing — but it likely has its roots in the fact that most moms are frantically busy by nature and don’t have as much time to spend on sleek blowouts, perfect jeans and a flat stomach. When you give birth to another human being, priorities tilt and shift and suddenly perfectly groomed eyebrows fall several dozen places on the priority totem pole. It’s just the way it is and, really, probably the way it should be.

I am guilty of shoving my slightly greasy hair under a toque and happily subbing my expensive skinny jeans for a cat-hair inflicted pair of yoga pants (recklessly extracted from under my bed). I don’t have time to spend half an hour perfecting my makeup when there is a miniature human writihing for my attention. But I am not guilty of neglecting my stomach, as a rule, and in the last three years fitness has become a big part of my self identity. This is why I left my six-week postpartum doctor’s appointment last week with tears stinging my eyes: I’d just been diagnosed with “mommy tummy.”

I noticed a few weeks ago that something was up with my abdomen. It hadn’t bounced back to its flat state nearly as quickly as it did seven years ago with my firstborn, when I was not nearly as fit or healthy. It was a bit jiggly. It stood out more than it should, even while the rest of my body bounced back into place.

But I’m seven years older, I told myself. This is a second C-section and it takes the body longer to recuperate the second time around. 

I didn’t want to say too much about my suspicions because, really, I know I have rebounded really quickly in other areas. I fit into my old clothes, my butt is no longer Frisbee-shaped, and in normal t-shirts and zip-ups my stomach looks pretty flat. If I whined to anyone about my slightly protruding stomach, they would have rolled their eyeballs and told me to keep my trap shut tight.

But there was an odd lump in the middle of my belly, and I knew something wasn’t quite right. Sit-ups, pull-ups and heavy deadlifts felt awful. So, I wasn’t surprised when my OB confirmed it: Diastasis recti, three and a half centimetres wide.

I was aware of this condition prior to my pregnancy. Crossfit and a Paleo diet had changed my 2006 muffin top into a 2011 four-pack and I was embarrassingly proud of my tight tummy. I liked it. I wanted to keep it. And I believed that if I worked out throughout my pregnancy, I would be able to bounce back quickly and “get my abs back.” I believed pretty firmly that a careful diet and hard work would enable me to pop out a baby and get right back on with a hard fitness body. I was hyper-aware of doing everything I could to prevent Diastasis recti, which often occurs in women who have given birth to very large babies or twins, or who have had multiple pregnancies.

I am a little embarrassed to admit that I believed that lingering Diastasis recti (also cringingly referred to as “mommy tummy”) was caused primarily by choice and willpower, or lack thereof. And here I am, seven weeks postpartum, with a protruding little pot belly and a nice big pot of steaming crow beside me, waiting to be shamefully devoured. Diastasis recti, three and a half centimetres wide.

I met with a physical therapist today and, besides providing me with some information about kegel exercises and breathing techniques, she spanked me for my overeagerness before sending me on my way.

“We women are too hard on ourselves,” she said after I asked her when I could start doing sit-ups again. “Give yourself time to heal. Three weeks without doing any heavy lifting or anything that will strain your abdominal area. Three weeks to let yourself heal.”

“So no deadlifts?” I asked hopefully upon exiting the ultrasound room.

“No,” she confirmed. “Nothing heavy.” I felt like she’d taken away my long-anticipated piece of candy.

She wants to see me again in three months, to check to see if my kegels are improving (they’re sluggish) and whether my Diastasis recti has closed any (it could take a year or it might never happen.)

I admit, separated abs are, in the grand scheme of things, not a big deal. I have a healthy baby boy and I’m physically strong. Things are pretty good and I am a ridiculously lucky woman.

But I’ll definitely be doing a mad amount of kegels in the next several weeks, trying to close that gap and regain my flat tummy. I’d rather that this “mommy tummy” was flat and hard and I’m going to do my utmost to bring it there.

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