Diastasis Recti: The Postpartum Belly Issue No One Talks About

If you’re wondering what Diastasis Recti is, you’re not alone. Even though it affects at least 60% of women postpartum, it isn’t something generally discussed until you’re already dealing with the issue. So, what is it exactly? In short, it’s the separation of your stomach muscles and can occur during pregnancy or after childbirth.

To learn a bit more about Diastasis Recti and how it can be treated, we spoke to Lisa Schoenholt of Control D.

Diastasis Recti: The Postpartum Belly Issue No One Talks About | If you’re wondering what Diastasis Recti is, you’re not alone.
Image via Mayo Clinic

What should people know about Diastasis Recti?

LS: Diastasis Recti is the separation of the right and left halves of the abdominal wall. These halves meet together at the midline, called the linea alba, which is made up of mostly connective tissue. As a baby grows during pregnancy, the tissue stretches out, the rectus abdominals move further apart and sometimes separate. There are four layers of the abdominal layers, the rectus abdominis, the external obliques, the internal obliques, and the transverse abdominis. Each layer of the abdominal muscles is covered in fascial sheaths which all connect together at the midline. This condition sometimes presents as ‘doming’ or ‘pooching,’ but it can also present without a bulge, where the skin sinks into the gap. Sometimes, the gap is shallow, possibly only affecting the most superficial layer, the rectus abdominis. And sometimes the gap is felt very deeply, affecting multiple layers of the abdominals.

The first step in addressing Diastasis Recti is getting evaluated to see if you have it. Usually, an OB can diagnose it, or a fitness professional trained in pre/postnatal exercise. Once it is diagnosed, that person should find some resources to learn more about it, whether that be from a book, or a person trained in Diastasis Recti repair. There are exercises that will help promote healing and closing the gap, but lifestyle needs to be looked at as well. Alignment, posture, current workout routines, and even sleep and nutrition can play a part in healing.

Long-term issues vary based on the severity of the diastasis. Very commonly, clients have low back or hip pain, and some may have abdominal pain. It is also common to have an umbilical hernia. Most moms with diastasis often complain of an overall feeling of being weak in their core, having an achy back and shoulders, and can often have some pain or discomfort when picking up their child. When there is a separation in the abdominals, other muscles tend to overcompensate, which may result in extreme tightness in the glutes, hips, or shoulder muscles.

What are some of the methods you recommend for repairing Diastasis Recti?

LS: Once I see a client with diastasis, we start with breaking down their lifestyle. What is their current workout routine? Are they doing exercises that are a contraindication for closing diastasis like crunches, planks or major extension?

Next, we address alignment and posture. What is their posture when walking? When sitting? When feeding their baby? How are they picking up their baby?

Next, we go over breathing exercises. Do they only breathe into their belly? Are they able to breathe laterally into their ribs? What shape are their abdominals making? Are they tensing or contracting their abs all the time? Do they notice their belly making a dome shape? If so, can we modify the movement so it doesn’t make that shape?

Then, we get to the set of Control D exercises. All of them are small, gentle, subtle, and focused movements. The goal is to rebuild their abdominals from the inside out. Then, we make an achievable home program, no more than 20 minutes, that can be done a few times a week.

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How did you develop the Control D program?

LS: Control D has evolved from a decade of working with women who have Diastasis Recti. My background began with a BFA in dance and then I became certified in pilates 20 years ago. My early training did not include specific practices for Diastasis Recti. Right around the time, I was having my own children and I adjusted my practice to specialize in prenatal and postnatal pilates. Taking lessons from other experts, becoming a movement analyst and doing my own research helped me develop my own program. My first client with diastasis came for lessons after going to multiple practitioners. I developed a program for her that made sense based on my experience teaching pilates. Within a few weeks, we saw improvement and her gap began to close. Word got out and more clients with diastasis began to take lessons. One by one, clients started to completely close their gap, returning to their desired functionality. Pretty soon, word got out that I was helping people and that was the beginning of Control D.

Over the next few years, I refined my program and started creating my own method. I drew upon my background as a dancer, pilates instructor,  knowledge from my Master’s in Dance Education, and the various somatic modalities I had researched at NYU, such as Alexander, Feldenkrais, and Klein technique. A few years later, I studied at the Laban Institute for Movement Studies where I became a certified movement analyst (CMA).

After the birth of my first child, I also became a doula, which really enhanced the techniques I was already creating and I also continued to study from various experts in similar fields.

My business is currently almost all prenatal/postnatal diastasis repair and my program has helped hundreds of women close their gap and feel strong in their body.

Can you tell us a bit about how your career started and what’s next for Control D?

The Control D program combines pilates concepts and principles, Bartenieff Fundmentals, Laban Movement Analysis, and knowledge from my doula training to look at the body comprehensively and holistically. I wanted to create a method that strengthens and heals from within and that women can practice anywhere – even lying on the floor next to their babies crib at night. There are no props needed, no materials, even a mat you can do without. Control D is about connection within the body, centering, control, quality of movement, breath, and gaining awareness of how we function daily.

For the past decade, I’ve been training instructors privately in prenatal and postnatal pilates, but it wasn’t until last year that I decided to create a brand and write a comprehensive curriculum to hold group trainings and certify instructors in the Control D method.

I teach a lot of continuing education to other pilates and yoga instructors, personal trainers, and physical therapists. Last year, I certified four teachers in the Control D method who are currently working in Brooklyn and New York City. I hold only one training per year and my next training will be this fall in Westchester, New York.

Even though I’ve been helping women for the past decade, I’m just getting started on my overall goals and starting to spread this invaluable information. The past eight years, I’ve really focused on creating my family, (and surviving!) and now I’m finally ready to certify more professionals in this method. I just created my first two videos that clients can do from home and am currently working on producing more in the future. My next goals include doing more partnerships with doctors and midwives on how to prevent some of the diastasis from happening in the first place.

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What training did you go through to become certified to address Diastasis Recti?

Before becoming officially certified in Diastasis Recti repair, I had already created my own program and had been helping mothers close their diastasis for about seven years. I continued to study with various experts in postnatal fields, as well as other fields that I believed would be a complement. Learning from experts like Marthy Eddy, Irene Dowd, Ellie Herman, Deb Goodman, and Kelly Kane were an inspiration and then I officially became certified in pre/postnatal exercise and diastasis repair from Carolyn Anthony’s program, the Center for Women’s Fitness.

It seems like this is an issue that many women face, but is not often discussed openly. Why do you think that is? 

Ha! This is such a loaded question for me that can be added to the list of all of the other mommy issues that no one talks about or prepares you for.  

Overall, I think society places so much value on the baby, and we lose focus on the mom and what she is going through. We tend not to focus on ourselves and our self-care in general. It certainly doesn’t help that social media and magazines run stories about how a celebrity lost her baby weight and looks amazing in a bikini three-months after giving birth.

We want to give the appearance that everything is great and I think when some women discover they have diastasis, they may feel like their body failed them. Or possibly, they are so grateful for having a baby, they think of this as their battle scar and it probably can’t improve, so why talk about it. Overall, I also think a lot of mothers tend not to be fully honest about how difficult this parenting thing is generally, so the fact that they have diastasis may get swept under the rug with everything else that may be a current obstacle in their life.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Clients often tell me their doctor told them there is nothing they can do about diastasis and I have even heard movement professionals say diastasis is only closeable by surgery. This could not be further from the truth. While it is true that each body and each person’s diastasis is different, everyone is capable of change. No matter when you are starting your healing journey, whether it is three months postpartum or 10 years postpartum, every single person is capable of making improvement, making their gap more narrow, building up depth, increasing strength and decreasing pain. All bodies can heal, and all bodies can change.

For more information on Lisa and the Control D method, visit https://www.brooklynembodied.com/ or follow her @brooklynembodied.

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