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Glow Interviews

Diastasis Recti with Mary McQueen from Baby Bootcamp Oakland

Let’s get right into the Diastasis Recti struggle- firstly, how do we pronounce this word?

Haha, tomayto, tomahto. I have heard people say it both ways - "di-uh-stay-sis" with a long second a and emphasis on the third syllable (which is how I pronounce it), or "di-aa-st-uh-sis" with the emphasis on the second syllable. The Greek prefix Dia- means “through” or “going through” and -stasis means permanent. So, in effect, going through and separating, and then staying that way. Luckily, there are many techniques to modify DR.   

Now that we can discuss Diastasis Recti (DR) like we know what we’re talking about, tell us what it is.

Diastasis recti (DR) is a separation of the connective tissue (linea alba) of our “6-pack” ab muscles (rectus abdominis). If you draw a line from the center of your ribs, down to your pubic bone, directly through your belly button, you are tracing the linea alba. This fibrous band connects all of your abdominal muscles like a corset: your obliques (abs at the sides of your waist, above the hips) and transverse abdominal muscles (our deepest layer of abs, wrapping like a corset).

DR is NOT life-threatening - it is a natural part of pregnancy, delivery, and birth recovery, that is often ignored by the American medical community. Left untreated, DR can seriously impact your quality of life. A severe separation of your abdominal muscles results in a weak pelvic floor, uterine prolapse, inadequate support for your internal organs, and may possibly result in back pain and tight hamstrings. 

How did you learn about DR in the first place?

A couple of years ago, a friend and former Baby Bootcamp instructor got certified in the Tupler Technique. Tupler is another program that works on repairing DRs without surgery. She asked if she could speak to my Baby Boot Camp moms about it and do DR checks for my clients. She checked me, and lo and behold, I had a 3+ finger separation at my belly button, which explains (at least partly), my chronic low back pain! Since then, I have become licensed in Baby Boot Camp’s Core 9 Birth Recovery and Diastasis Recovery programs in an attempt to bring this education to mamas that really need it. 

How can we find out if we have DR and what are the symptoms prenatally, postpartum or even years after birth?

It is easiest if someone else checks you (I check all of the moms that attend my Baby Boot Camp classes), but you can certainly check yourself: 

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground, one hand behind your head. With the other hand, place your index and middle fingers inside your belly button with your palm facing you. Inhale with your head resting in your hand and then as you exhale, lift your head and shoulders an inch or two off the ground, like the beginning of a mini-crunch.

With your head up, you should feel the rectus abdominis muscles harden around your fingers. You then see how many fingers you can fit between those muscles. You will want to measure at your belly button (if you have a DR, it is usually largest at your belly button). Additionally, measure a couple of inches above your belly button, and a couple of inches below.

When I check moms at Baby Boot Camp, I also look for how far down I can push my fingers. Some moms have very shallow separations, which are not as concerning as deeper DRs. Moms that have a 1-2 finger separation can do most exercises; I modify significantly for 3-finger separations. If you have a separation of 4 or more fingers, you are still able to workout and come to class, but you should also see a physical therapist.

If you find that you have a separation, your goal is to strengthen and correctly engage your transverse abdominis muscles (TVA), which will start to bring the rectus abdominis back together. Do not do work that engages your Rectus Abdominus, or 6-pack muscle, it will only further the separation.

Is there any way to avoid DR during pregnancy?

Stay active during your pregnancy and learn how to engage your Transverse Abdominal muscles (TA).

Never sit straight up from a reclining or flat position. Roll to your left side and then press up to seated with your hand every time you get up from bed or mat-based exercises. This way, you avoid putting additional pressure on your abdominal muscles and connective tissue.

We recommend signing up for our Core9 Birth Recovery program a minimum of six weeks prior to your due date. Core9 Birth Recovery provides specialized support specific to where you are at in your postpartum recovery. It begins with essential movements that you can do at home immediately after delivery.  

There are some specific exercises and movements to avoid if you have a DR. You should not do any twisting movements (for example: Russian twist and bicycle) but you can work your obliques by doing a modified side plank instead. 

Avoid a full plank position until you bring your DR down to at least a 2 finger separation, and this includes push-ups. These should be done with your upper body elevated or with your knees on the floor, and possibly not at all, depending on the severity of your DR. And NO sit-ups!!! Please!

If you take one thing away from this interview, mamas, no more sit-ups, no more crunches, no more roll-downs! I never do any of these in Baby Boot Camp classes - they can make your DR worse. We are socially conditioned to do crunches and sit-ups when we hear it is time for “mat work” or “ab work.” Not only is this not the most effective way to work your core, but it can make your DR worse, and all of that flexion and extension can be really harmful for your back. Did you hear that the US Army is phasing out sit-ups because of spine injuries?! 

There’s so much pressure on mamas to get “back into shape” within a couple months of giving birth - how does this impact your clients’ health?  

Sara, I see this all the time, and I completely understand - most of us have a very limited amount of time off of work with our newborns, and our goal is to LOSE THE BABY WEIGHT! I get it! But things take time. Through Baby Boot Camp, I’m really trying to shift the focus more towards long-term health, safety, and longevity. Boot camps can be really great, but there is a danger in throwing yourself back into exercise and not listening to your body’s signals to pull back.

A physical therapist that specializes in pelvic floor issues spoke at the last Baby Boot Camp conference and she said that because of the relaxin still in your body (a joint loosening hormone), you should not run until you have stopped nursing! Now, I understand that sounds a bit extreme, and there would probably be a mutiny if I told my mamas that, so we have compromised and instituted the 6-16 week rule - moms can come to my classes 6 weeks after a vaginal birth and 8 weeks after a c-section, but from 6-16 weeks, we HIGHLY encourage moms to take the low-impact modifications and to power walk instead of run. You will still get a great workout, trust me!

You might feel really great after having your baby (and I hope you do!); but, use me as an example: I felt great and wanted to get back in shape and went back to teaching way too early, and I’m dealing with issues that I can trace back to my compromised core strength almost four years after I had my last baby!

How would you recommend that a new mama ease her way back into health, what’s your ideal plan from birth to 12 weeks?

I love this question!

About a year ago, we created a program called Core9 Birth Recovery. The program involves weekly supportive emails, movements and stretches you can start doing from week one postpartum, easy and nutritious recipes, and in-person Diastasis Recti checks for 0-9 weeks postpartum.  

I would recommend using a postpartum belly binder during exercise and movements. Walking is great if you’re ready for more movement, and the no-impact core movements that are outlined in Core9 Birth Recovery are great for general core strength, but also to aid in repairing a DR.

I also highly recommend coming to Baby Boot Camp classes once you are cleared by your doctor and either 6 weeks postpartum (vaginal birth) or 8 weeks postpartum (c-section). You will get a great workout taught by nationally certified instructors, that are also well-versed in the appropriate postpartum modifications.

Read this great article by one of my colleagues that outlines safe exercises for newly postpartum moms, as well as what to avoid.

Do you have any other resources mamas should know about? 

Indeed! Baby Boot Camp classes are taught by nationally certified fitness professionals. You will get a fantastic one-hour workout that is safe for newly postpartum mamas, all in a fun and supportive environment.

I am also licensed and certified in Core9 Birth Recovery and Core9 Diastasis Repair. Core9 Birth Recovery is for moms 0-9 weeks postpartum and is NOT an in-person program. It consists of weekly emails with safe and effective movements and videos that moms can do at home in the early postpartum weeks, plus two in-person DR checks.

Core9 Diastasis Repair, on the other hand, is an intensive in-person four-week workshop. I run 3-4 workshops per year, and have one coming up in June. We work on repairing DRs through safe and effective movements, while also improving posture and strengthening the pelvic floor.

The Fitness Center on the Baby Boot Camp website also has some great articles on DR, birth recovery, and postpartum exercise, in general.

Here are a couple articles that are particularly relevant to our conversation:

Early Postpartum Birth Recovery
Birth Recovery and Diastasis Recti
Birth Recovery and Running


Mary is mom to Liam (5/07), Sinead (6/10), and Jameson (7/12), and has owned Baby Boot Camp Oakland since April 2009. She has a B.A. in English and French Literature from U.C. San Diego, is an ACSM-certified personal trainer, and certified in Group TRX Suspension Training. You can reach Mary by email or phone at 510-418-8599.

Lean Sideways with Mary McQueen from Baby Bootcamp Oakland

What inspired you to start Baby Boot Camp in Oakland?

I was actually about 35-40 pounds overweight before I got pregnant with my first son, Liam, and then I put on an additional 50 pounds during that pregnancy; so, all told, I had about 90 pounds to lose.

Having a baby really awakened me to my need to get healthy. My father passed away suddenly from a heart attack when he was 49 years old (I was 20) and his father passed away from a heart attack when he was only 38 (my dad was 17)! So my family history of heart disease is so strong, and I realized that I did not want to follow that same sad path and not be around to see my children grow up.

After I had Liam, I thought I could make these changes on my own, so I started doing some light cardio - run/walking around Lake Merritt, pushing Liam in the stroller. I realized about 9 months in, though, that making these big changes on your own can be quite challenging. I was yearning for a support system. It was my younger sister, actually, who found out about Baby Boot Camp - she does not have children, but she did have her personal training certification, and she answered an ad for an instructor on Craigslist.

So I started going with her as her “plus one,” and I instantly fell in love. I loved the workouts, I loved that I could bring my (sometimes screaming and cranky) baby along, and I especially loved the camaraderie with the other moms. I lost the rest of the weight as a participant of Baby Boot Camp, and I thought, “Hey, I did it. I can show and encourage other people to do what I did.”  

The previous owner of Baby Boot Camp was going on maternity leave and needed another instructor, so I got my certification and taught for her for about 6 months, and then she asked me if I was interested in buying the business. I jumped at the opportunity - I saw such potential in the program, and I wanted to help people make positive changes in their lives. I had no interest in returning to my previous job - I went on maternity leave and then just never went back! So, I was definitely looking for the next step in my life, and this just sort of fell into my lap! 

How did you find the courage to bring your life into its current state and what have been the rewards of that investment?

Ha! Talk about taking a risk - I bought the franchise when the classes were very small, in April of 2009 when the economy tanked; and the same month that I bought the business, my husband, a carpenter, lost his job! I knew it was all a little crazy, but I have always dreamed of owning my own business- I was drawn to having time freedom, being my own boss, and, above all, hopefully making a difference in people’s lives. I saw the potential and I knew that what Baby Boot Camp had been for me, could be for someone else that really needed it - whether it be the need to lose weight, the need for companionship, or the need to help combat the “baby blues.”

When I bought the business, I had also taken on some part-time work as an Administrative Assistant for a wonderful network of psychologists in Oakland that do really meaningful and important work for children in the Richmond school system and the juvenile “justice” system in Oakland. So I didn’t make a complete and clean break with regards to my career change - I most certainly eased into it. The CEO and COO of that company were awesome, and, by this time, I had just given birth to my daughter, and they let me bring her into the office with me, nurse at the office, work from home with her...And I really supported and believed in the work that they were doing.

But there came a time when I needed to focus on my own business if I wanted to be able to reach more moms and families, so I gave my notice. I was really nervous about my decision, but it has absolutely been worth it. I think that if you are passionate enough about something and if you have a really authentic experience with that vision and passion, you can find a way to make it work!  
And I see this more and more with the moms that I teach in Baby Boot Camp. There are definitely a lot of moms that go back to full-time work, but there are also a significant number that do things a little differently - working part-time, working from home, freelancing. It is less “lean in” and more “lean sideways” - we are navigating new territory in this way, I think.

What is the simplest, most fundamental way a woman can take care of herself postpartum?

Move your body (even if it’s just for a walk around the block) and make connections with other moms. Honestly, I was really in denial about how isolating being a new mom can be. There is no easy segue into motherhood, no course on how to do this - you really are just thrown into it; and that is true for each baby, at least in my experience. Being a first-time mom is so different from being a second-time mom, which is different from being a third-time mom. And it can all hit you like a brick sometimes.  

When I had my first son, I was only 25, which is rare for the Bay Area. None of my friends were even close to having children yet. I had already made the decision that I wasn’t going to go back to my previous job, and I had also decided that I wanted to get back into shape, but I thought I could be a mother and make these life changes on my own. It took me several months to realize that not only does it “take a village” to raise a child, but it takes a village to raise a mom and to help support her with these big life changes. I did start losing weight and getting healthier on my own, but, to be honest with you, I was pretty miserable, and I felt really alone.

I joined Baby Boot Camp when my son was about 9 months old, and everything changed. I found a community of women I could really talk to and who knew exactly what I was going through, it got my babies and me out of the house, and as my children have grown up as “Baby Boot Camp kids” it has helped set a healthy example for my children, whether they see me exercising, participate in the class themselves (which they love to do during the summer when they are off from school), or tear it up on their bikes and scooters and skateboards while I’m teaching.

So my advice would be to find your tribe - whether that be through a mom support group, Baby Boot Camp, a music class you enroll your children in, whatever! Just find a group that is going to help support you in this transition.

Why is it so important that a woman who is tired, potentially nauseas and physically uncomfortable consider her own fitness during pregnancy?

There are a couple of things going on here. First, it is so important to consider YOU. When we are pregnant, so much of the focus is on our bellies and that little baby growing inside of us, and we forget to put ourselves as a priority (and things only get more extreme after that baby is on the outside). It is certainly easier said than done, but it is so important to put time and energy and care into ourselves in order to support all of the caring that we do for other people. So move your body in a way that feels really great - take a dance class, take a yoga class, go for a walk or hike. Your body and your baby will thank you for taking that time for yourself!

Second, I was so much more active and my nutrition was so much better with my second and third pregnancies, and I think it made a huge difference in my deliveries and recoveries. And I’m not the only one - I have spoken to many of my Baby Boot Camp mamas that say the same thing. They took Baby Boot Camp classes after they had their first baby, got pregnant a year or two in, and they felt so much stronger in their second pregnancies and deliveries.  

You’ve recently widened your focus to diastasis recti prevention and repair. Why is it important to find out about your DR status and how common is it?

Oh my goodness, it is SO common! Over the years, the VAST majority of moms that have come through Baby Boot Camp have a diastasis recti (DR) and did not know it. It is very important to know that this is NOT a life-threatening condition, and it can absolutely be healed without surgery! 
DR occurs during pregnancy when our bellies are growing - it is the natural separation of the rectus abdominis (our “six pack” abs, so to speak). A lot of women think that because they had a c-section they wouldn’t then have a DR; but the DR starts happening at pregnancy. Our abs separate during pregnancy, the tissue between the two sides of the rectus abdominis called the linea alba gets stretched thin, and in an ideal world, everything comes back together after we have our babies.

This does not typically happen, however, and after we have given birth, our rectus abdominis does not come back together. This can lead to lower back pain, incontinence, and in extreme cases, can contribute to uterine prolapse.
I measure all new moms that come to class for a DR - we measure finger width at the belly button, above the belly button, and below the belly button. Moms with a 1-2 finger separation at the belly button are good to go in class (it probably won’t close beyond a 1); for moms with a 3+ finger separation, I make a lot of modifications for them during class, and I also recommend that they attend my 4-week intensive Core9 Diastasis Repair Workshop (I have another workshop scheduled for June).

In general, it is so important for ALL women - not just recently postpartum and not just those of us with a DR - to strengthen the transverse abdominis (the deepest layer of abs muscles) and the pelvic floor with pelvic floor lifts (use it or lose it - yikes!).

Please join us next month to talk about diastastis repair in more detail! We’re just scratching the surface here.

I will be more than happy to join you for more DR talk - it is one of my favorite topics, and it is such a important and overlooked part of postpartum care!


Mary is mom to Liam (5/07), Sinead (6/10), and Jameson (7/12), and has owned Baby Boot Camp Oakland since April 2009. She has a B.A. in English and French Literature from U.C. San Diego, is an ACSM-certified personal trainer, and certified in Group TRX Suspension Training. 
You can reach Mary by email or phone at 510-418-8599.