How an Unexpected Diagnosis Taught Me to Love My Pregnant Body

"Diastasis What?" That was my reaction when, at 25 ½ weeks pregnant, I first came across the term Diastasis Recti.

What is it?

In every human body, the centre line fascia that runs from the breastbone to the pelvic bone is called the Linea Alba. Diastasis Recti means that the right and left halves of the Rectus Abdominals, the abdominal muscles that run vertically along this line (up and down the stomach), have spread apart, leaving a gap in between the abdominals.

This most commonly happens to women during pregnancy, as the baby grows and needs more room in the belly, but can also happen in non-pregnant women and in men with extreme yo-yo dieting and exercising.

Throughout my entire pregnancy, I focused on doing everything “right.” I ate cleaner than I ever had in my entire life, I exercised regularly to build strength and prevent unnecessary weight gain, I avoided processed food entirely, steering clear of sugar and caffeine, and I got plenty of rest.

Aside from a bit of dizziness at the beginning, pregnancy was a breeze for me, and I credit a lot of this to how well I took care of myself. So when I went into my 23-week appointment with my midwife, took out my list of questions, and confidently asked, “Can you please check to see if I have Diastasis Recti?” I was convinced that after assessing my belly she’d say, “Nope!”

Lesson number one in pregnancy: it’s good to be confident, but no one, even the healthiest woman, can predict what’s going to happen.

That afternoon, while assessing my belly, she said, “Yes, you’ve developed a mild case of Diastasis Recti. Stop doing any exercises that put strain on your core and take extra care of your belly going forward to prevent it from getting worse.”

Hearing that news was like taking a bullet. “But I’m doing everything right!” I told her, fighting back tears. “I’m following second trimester workout guides, I’m taking SUCH good care of myself, how did this happen?!”

The moment the appointment ended, I obsessively researched Diastasis Recti — what causes it, how to fix it. After some browsing, I thought maybe the planks I was doing caused it. But other websites said I was doomed no matter what because all pregnant women get develop it. I also read that women with a weak core and little to no abdominal strength are prone to developing it.

Flustered, upset and defeated, I booked an appointment with my physiotherapist and went to yoga to decompress.

I had been seeing a local a pelvic floor physiotherapist, Jaime Wheaton, since the early stages of my pregnancy. Since she works mainly with pregnant women, I knew she’d be able to help me with this.

In the extensive research I had done prior to my appointment, I read that with the proper exercises and treatment, Diastasis Recti can be corrected before the baby is even born! I went in hopeful, excited for the news I was going to get and feeling confident about fixing this ‘problem.’

Once again, I was disappointed. And this time I couldn’t hold back the tears.

Jaime told me that every single woman she sees has Diastasis Recti and that it’s just "one of those things" that happens during pregnancy. She told me that there’s a million different things one can read online, but in the research she’s done, both scholarly and throughout her daily practice, 100% of women get it and it’s easiest to spot in petite, fit women.

“It makes sense,” she said, “the belly needs to open up to make space for the baby so the abdominals push apart as the uterus grows. There’s no way around it.”

Of course, this makes sense. But I was still upset by it. I had read that the abdominal gap creates the ‘mama pooch’ after the baby has been born and that it can be almost impossible to get rid of. She didn’t deny or confirm this, but rather told me that every woman is different.

She then provided me with some exercises to strengthen my Transverse Abdominal muscles (the ones on the side that pull the abdominals together) and re-assured me that together, her and I will do everything we can to heal my belly, post-baby.

You may read this article and think, “Oh, the vanity! Your body made a baby, it’s a miracle!” And that’s right — it is a miracle!

One of the biggest challenges for me, though, and for many women, is parting with our pre-baby body and accepting that how the post-baby body will look remains a mystery.

Some women bounce back immediately after birth, some take longer and others will never look the same.

For me, pregnancy was a constant reminder to practice self-love, grace and acceptance — even when it’s incredibly difficult to do so. Especially then.

For more information on Diastasis Recti, check out the comprehensive and informative YouTube video that my physiotherapist made. It’s meant for fitness instructors but can be useful for anyone interested in the subject.