Updated: Apr 8, 2020
The linea alba is a fibrous structure that runs from your sternum to your pubic bone. If it helps to visualize, when you think of six-pack abs, it’s the line that runs down the middle of that six-pack. The same fibrous structure is what separates each of those abdominals horizontally as well. Everyone has that six-pack structure of the muscles, even if it can’t be seen on the outside. Above is a diagram of the lines alba. The left picture depicts how the linea alba looks without a Diastasis and the right shows how it looks with a Diastasis.
Now, this structure, your linea alba, is what takes on the majority of the stress of your growing belly during pregnancy. It’s just like any other tendon or ligament in your body. Have you ever sprained your ankle or your knee or your shoulder? That ligament or tendon got stretched out of normal proportion and it probably took you a few weeks before you felt like you were back to 100%. You may have even needed to go to physical therapy to help rehab the injured area. The same principle applies to your linea alba in pregnancy, except it’s on a much larger scale as that pressure is put on your linea alba for 9 months! Imagine your ankle getting stretched beyond its capacity for 9 months – you certainly wouldn’t expect to be able to walk normally in just a few days after it had been corrected. Same goes for pregnancy! There is this misconception out there that women should be up and about getting back to completely normal activities and exercise routines within a few days or weeks of giving birth. When comparing your birth to the sprained ankle analogy, hopefully, you can see where I’m going with this: you should not have the expectation that your body – and specifically your core – should be back to normal in a few days or weeks. Just as you wouldn’t expect that after an ankle injury. Your linea alba has been tremendously stretched and it’s going to take time to regain that strength and stability back in your core.
So, your next question might be – well, how can I take care of my linea alba during pregnancy and then help to rehab it postpartum? I’ll give you a few tips for each here:
Focus on proper breathing – take a few minutes each day to really focus on your breathing. Get in a comfortable position and I’d recommend closing your eyes, but you do not have to. When inhaling, focus on filling your whole chest and abdominal cavity with air – not just your chest or shoulders or belly. Relax all of your abdominal muscles and take in as much breath as you can. Then slowly exhale, engaging your core muscles lightly as you do.
Be mindful of the pressure you’re putting on your linea alba – whether it’s posture, exercise, or any other number of movements that you do during the day, you may be putting pressure on your linea alba without really being aware that you’re even doing that. Any time your hips are tucked under and your belly is pushed out in that pregnancy waddle – you’re putting pressure on the linea alba. Anytime you lift a weight overhead and your ribs thrust up and out – you’re putting pressure on your linea alba. Any time you pick up your toddler and set him or her on your hip while it’s kicked out to the side – you’re putting pressure on your linea alba. As you go throughout your day, check in with yourself about how your standing and moving. Keep your ribs stacked over your hips, keeping good posture and optimal alignment.
Ease back into movement and exercise – just as you would go to physical therapy after tearing the ACL in your knee, you need to take your time to re-learn your body in the postpartum phase. Giving birth, whether vaginally or through a C-section, is traumatic on your body and you have to give yourself time to recover. Take things slow and learn to re-engage with your core and build strength before jumping right back into everything you did pre-pregnancy.
Avoid movements that cause coning or pain in your abdomen – you’re going to hear a lot of “experts” online say that there is a list of movements that you have to avoid postpartum. However, every woman is different! Some of you will be able to perform sit-ups rather quickly postpartum without any adverse effects to your core or abdominal wall – some of you won’t. So, instead of following some arbitrary list, pay attention to what’s going on in your own body. If you see coning in your stomach when performing a movement, try something else until you’ve built the strength to perform that movement correctly and without coning. Same goes for pain; if there are certain exercises that exacerbate your already taxed system, then avoid those for a little while. There is no reason for you to push yourself super hard in order to “get your body back” postpartum. In fact, returning to too much too quickly can actually be detrimental to your recovery process.
Whether you are pregnant or postpartum, there are always two things that I will recommend: Find a good pelvic floor physical therapist and a good pregnancy and postpartum coach. Most personal trainers have no idea what needs to change or be modified in the pregnancy and postpartum stages. A pregnancy and postpartum coach does! We are trained to help you modify training and even every day movements to put less stress on your linea alba and then help you gain strength in your core postpartum. It’s not about the number of finger-widths the gap in your DR is – it’s all about the tension that can be generated. That tension is increased through focused core work that is mindful of your specific needs and considerations.
I hope this has been able to shed some light on what’s going on behind the scenes of your DR. The more information you have, the better advocate you can be for yourself. Please, please find a qualified pregnancy and postpartum coach near you or contact me for any questions or help. I am here for you!