What’s it like to have surgery to fix your diastasis recti?
In many places surgery is promoted as the only way to fix diastasis recti. It’s seen as the fast and easiest way to fix your mummy tummy after having babies.
While I don’t agree that surgery is the only answer, it is good to have the option available for those people who need it.
But is surgery for abdominal separation really a fast and easy fix?
I sat down with my friend and client Cecilie, 3 years after her surgery, to get the inside scoop on what it’s like.
Cecilie owns a dance studio and spends hours everyday teaching dance classes. She uses her core all the time while she’s teaching.
So when she ended up with a severe diastasis recti after the birth of her twins, she knew she needed to fix it.
Let's start at the beginning. What kind of problems did your abdominal separation cause you?
I had a lot of back pain.
Every time I lifted the kids, I was only using my back muscles to support my body.
My back muscles got so tight that I ended up with problems with my breathing.
I was hunched over and tight in my upper body because my stomach muscles were too weak to support me when I carried the twins.
If I tried to run, I would pee myself and I was in constant pain from my c-section (caesarean) scar. It felt tense and tight, like it wasn’t healing.
When did you decide to have surgery to fix your diastasis?
I tried everything before deciding on having the surgery.
As a trained dancer I tried all the techniques I knew to strengthen my stomach muscles. I spent ages scouring YouTube trying to find exercise videos to help.
Nothing worked and my stomach was still really big and hanging in front of me.
I thought I was fat, so I tried to lose weight, but I ended up skinny with a big belly.
In the end, I waited a total of 3 years to have my diastasis surgery.
After the birth of twins, I was put on a waiting list, and I got pregnant and had another baby in the meantime. This made my diastasis recti a lot worse, and I ended up with an abdominal hernia as well.
Every time I lifted something, the hernia popped out.
What was the surgery and recovery like for you?
I didn’t have a good surgery and I had no follow up or help with my recovery.
I was told that I could teach dance classes again 5 days after the surgery.
The doctors were crazy.
They have no idea how hard it is to heal and get strong again after the surgery.
Five days after the operation, I still couldn’t get out of a chair by myself. I had to shuffle to the toilet bent over like an old lady because I couldn’t stand up straight.
(It took me a month before I could stand up straight and I couldn’t go back to work for 6 months.)
The first month after surgery I had to have someone else look after my children because I couldn’t do anything.
I couldn't even lift my legs to put my pants on. My mother had to dress me.
I couldn’t cough and it was too painful to lie on my back in bed to sleep. I had to sleep on my side.
My whole body felt out of balance after the surgery.
My back pain got worse because I couldn’t stretch and move to relieve the stiffness in my muscles.
I also developed problems with my hips because I couldn't lift my knees. I had to walk with baby steps and shuffle around so as not to pull on my stomach.
This made my hips feel tight and locked up.
Going to the toilet was also a nightmare. Especially if you had to poop.
Constipation is really common after surgery, and you are not allowed to push at all when you need to poop.
It was the most painful operation.
I would rather give birth 3 more times, than go through the recovery process from diastasis surgery again.
I’m sure everyone is wondering, what does the scar from the surgery look like?
The scar is bigger than a c-section scar. It goes right across from above one hipbone to the other.
It actually looks like a smile.
The good thing is it’s below my trouser bikini line, so it doesn’t show when I wear a swimsuit in the summer.
To help with healing and support my scar, I wore an abdominal brace after the surgery.
But the nurse at the hospital taught me the wrong to wear it so it did more harm than good. .
I only found out I was wearing it wrong at my first checkup 2 months after the surgery.
I liked wearing the brace because I felt that it protected me while I was looking after 3 kids.
You can wear it too much though, then it weakens your abdominal muscles even more.
Did the surgery fix your diastasis recti?
No, I wouldn’t say it fixed everything.
My core was still as weak as before, only now the gap was gone.
I still needed to retrain how I loaded my stomach muscles and strengthen my core.
I haven't totally reached my goals.
I’m about 85% better than I was when I started.
I had SO much to heal from. Not just my core and stomach, but my back and hips were mucked up as well.
How do you feel now?
When it comes to my stomach, I have so much more control.
This summer I could jump for ages on the trampoline without leaking. I’m absolutely thrilled about this.
I’m so happy I found you after my surgery, and that I've been able to work with someone who knows how to help moms heal from diastasis recti.
I think all moms should have proper core and pelvic floor training after giving birth to get back being the best they can be.
As far as my hernia goes, I can still feel it if I use bad technique and push out against my diastasis repair. If you don’t learn to work with your core pressure, then you can break the repair and have the hernia come through again.
What advice would you give to someone considering having the surgery? What do you think they need to know?
It’s a hard surgery. It’s much easier to recover from a C section.
They lift up the skin on your stomach to sew stomach muscles together. They sew in a mesh for support, so make sure you ask about what kind of mesh they would be using.
If they can’t lift up your skin, then they cut you up your stomach, which is more to heal and makes for a harder recovery.
It's a long recovery- it takes 1 year before you are completely recovered. I don’t think the doctors do a good enough job of telling us that.
It's incredibly painful. You need to be in a good place physically, emotionally and mentally to deal with the recovery. Everything hurts all the time- even combing your hair is painful.
You need a good support system in place. Little kids don’t understand why you can’t lift them on your lap to cuddle them. So having someone to help take care of you and your kids for the first few months is a must.
Having everything you need to help you go to the toilet without straining is important. ( You might need a laxative or something to help you poop without pushing).
You will also need a lot of pain killers, so make sure you have a post-surgery kit ready for yourself at home.
You will need some type of rehab after the operation. Your stomach will still be very weak and you’ll need help to strengthen your stomach, and your whole upper body. I also needed help for the pain and tension in my hips and pelvic area.
You need to get help from a specialist who knows how to help you heal your core and pelvic floor.
Thank you so much for sharing your experience so other moms have an insight into what this surgery is like. You are so brave sharing all the important but personal details of your surgery. I’m sure that it will help people make a better-informed decision if they are considering having surgery.