What is DRA?
On the “simple” DRA is the separation of your abdominal muscles. It occurs in 100% of women during pregnancy (often later stages). On the more detailed: DRA is a natural part of child bearing that occurs when the belly grows to accommodate the size of the baby. The linea alba (the connective tissue that runs down the middle of your abdomen, or “6-pack” muscles), stretches to give way for that growth. As the belly grows, that tissue stretches more, becomes wider, thins out and can impact the ability of your abdominal muscles to function at their best. While DRA can most often correct itself with time in the postpartum stages, there are times when it can’t and needs a hand in doing so.
What are the effects of DRA?
The rectus abdominus (your outermost muscles) support the back and organs. When they separate, the connective tissue then becomes the support system for your back and organs. Thin connective tissue, unlike thick muscles, is far from a good support system for the back and organs. Effects of DRA are most commonly back pain and displacement of your organs which causes gastrointestinal disturbances such as bloating and constipation. The displacement of organs will also cause poor posture. Umbilical hernia is another effect, and diastasis may also cause pelvic floor problems such as incontinence and prolapses.
How do I know if I have DRA?
While it’s best to be assessed by a professional, you can do a self-check at home. This piece on Girls Gone Strong by the amazing Jessie Mundell (video provided) is great in demonstrating how to check for DRA.
My doctor said I have DRA, but not to worry about it if I plan on having more babies.
The problem here, and the problem with doctors giving the all clear to return to full workouts, runs, etc., at 6 weeks postpartum is that these doctors already have a ton of things they need to know and be well versed in in regards to your womanly body and organs – but DRA, and your pelvic floor are not of a high priority. I’ve read countless articles published where OBGYNs have been spoken to on the topic and they all admit that they just don’t have the time to learn EVERYTHING that they need to know in regards to this topic. So, don’t listen to your doctor. If you haven’t already sought out a physical therapist and begun work on DRA or any pelvic floor symptoms, take that 6-week “all clear” as the signal to go ahead and that that step. Pre- and post-natal specialists are in place either in the fitness world, or the physical therapy world for a reason. A specialized fitness professional often has a list of all physical therapists that specialize in women’s health and pelvic health that they can connect you with. That fitness pro and physical therapist have a working relationship that will help you correct that DRA and get your pelvic floor back in functioning order.
Can I correct my DRA?
You most certainly can. Guided by an educated and experienced professional, through breathing exercises and certain movements, you can strengthen that connective tissue and work to close that gap (although closing the gap isn’t as important and imperative as strengthening that connective tissue).
How do I do this?
By finding in your area a physical therapist that is specialized in women’s health, DRA and pelvic floors. Not sure where to start? This information, your OBGYN/Midwife/Doula/etc should be able to provide you. If they can’t? Google can be your friend. Or, maybe you have a fitness professional in your area that is well versed in this area. Reaching out to them is a great starting point.