Pregnancy is a beautiful thing, but sometimes it leaves its mark on the body (we’re not talking stretch marks), that affects more than just physical appearance. At 29, Ashley Leonetti had a beautiful baby girl. Shortly after, she began noticing her body wasn’t healing as it should. A super healthy woman—she’s a nutritionist, yoga instructor and health coach by trade—she was wondering what could be wrong. Turns out she suffered from diastasis recti, which affects two-thirds of pregnant women. Here’s her story.
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“Diastasis recti is an fairly common condition that typically results due to pregnancy and occurs when the right and left side of the abdomen spread apart due to the pressure of the growing uterus. Between the force created by that pressure and the pregnancy hormones that soften and relax the connective tissue, the muscles begin to spread apart at the linea alba. Some separation is likely, but it become problematic when the split it larger than 2 centimeters wide.
I actually noticed mine in the months after pregnancy due to the increased laxity of my abdominal wall, which was most likely brought on by my new life that included lifting a baby and a heavy car seat multiple times a day. After keeping an eye on it, I noticed things didn’t seem to be healing as they should. Once I started getting back to physical activity, I saw a a ‘tenting,’ or bulge, along the midline of my belly. In addition to a pretty severe umbilical hernia, which was pretty obvious, I was also having some digestive issues and back pain. With my fitness background, I was aware of diastasis recti and I knew how to test for it (lay on your back with your knees bent, roll your upper body up, lift your head and feel across the midline of your body). If DR is present, you will notice a nice-size gap between the right and left side. Mine was 3-4 finger-widths wide!
Quite frankly, it looked as though I was still six months pregnant. When I laid down, I could actually feel things moving in my belly. I remember explaining to my husband that it felt like my organs were settling back into place, as odd as that sounds. There were times that I could actually see things moving too. It was very odd.
For treatment, I visited a women’s physical therapist who specialized in post-partum women. After meeting with her, she also discovered some pelvic floor weakness. I saw her almost every week for two months and did corrective exercises on my own between sessions. I was instructed to avoid exercises that would put more pressure on the abdominal wall, like sit-ups, crunches, push-ups and planks, as well as running, especially on pavement. I focused on less-intense workouts and mindful exercises like yoga—I also focused on my breath to connect with my core and further strengthen my abdomen.
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I ate a diet that included lots of veggies, quality protein and good fats! Protein is essential for healing, so during this time, it was more crucial than ever. In addition to being sure that I was taking in adequate calories and enough water to support healing, I also supplemented my diet with collagen peptides and bone broth, which both contain extremely important vitamins, minerals and protein for healing. Not to mention, it did wonders for my hair!
My doctor said that if it did not improve, surgery (some form of a tummy tuck) would be the next option, but to wait until after I was done having babies, because if not, it would most likely happen again. Once I started seeing a physical therapist regularly, it took about two months to heal. Keep in mind, I was also 10 months post-partum before I actually saw someone seriously, and I think at that point, my body was READY to heal and my hormones started to normalize a bit.
Overall, the process was hard! I wanted my ‘body back’ so badly. Even with the knowledge that I have and the experience instructing other post-partum women to take things ‘slow’ and let your body heal, it was hard to follow my own advice in this situation. I truly believe that my desire to jump back into my pre-baby routine so quickly and not allow my body time to heal exacerbated the problem. Some women (not all!) need more than the prescribed six weeks post-partum recovery. Every woman and every pregnancy is unique, and I think it’s so important for women to understand that post-partum recovery is not only about the body, but also the mind and emotion. There are many ups and downs during that first year, so practicing patience and being gentle are key!”