Many birthing people notice that their stomachs don’t look or feel the same after birth, and not just because of changes in weight. Care providers may dismiss it as a purely aesthetic concern, but dealing with the poorly-named “mom pooch” or “mummy tummy” is more than just an attempt to return to the look of a pre-pregnancy body. If you feel like you can no longer connect to your core muscles, diastasis recti could be the culprit. Yes, it causes a bulge in the midsection, but it can also lead to low back pain, pelvic pain and incontinence. And moms are not the only ones to have this condition—men and babies get diastasis recti, too!
Luckily, whether you are pregnant now, gave birth weeks or years ago, there are ways to heal diastasis recti and bring your abdominal muscles back together again. Below, you’ll find more information, tips and tricks to stay ahead of diastasis recti and care for your core muscles throughout your reproductive journey.
If you’re concerned you have DR, talk to your care provider and seek out a specialized pelvic floor physical therapist for the most well-rounded recovery!
What is diastasis recti and how do you know if you have it? Doctors diagnose the condition when the distance between the two sides of the rectus abdominis muscle is two centimeters or more, though it is commonly measured in finger-width distances. The finger-measuring technique makes it easy enough to check yourself for DR. There’s a great description of the DIY diastasis recti test here.
The separation of your abs is caused by the overstretching of the linea alba, the tissue at the center of your six-pack muscles AKA the rectus abdominis. While being pregnant can certainly put too much pressure on the linea alba and lead to DR, people who exercise improperly, people with large bellies, and children can all have diastasis recti as well.
It’s believed that about 60 percent of women have diastasis recti six weeks after giving birth. However, there is no standardized screening for DR in postpartum people, meaning it is likely underreported and undertreated. The best way to know for sure if you have diastasis recti is by visiting a care provider that specializes in pelvic health, like a physical therapist or urogynecologist.
CAN I AVOID DIASTASIS RECTI?
There’s no surefire way to avoid DR, and worrying about it is an unnecessary stress on you and your body during pregnancy. The best things you can do for you and your core muscles during pregnancy are:
Avoid doing crunches or sit ups.
Always roll to one side when you get up from lying down. Do not lurch forward.
If you do have diastasis recti during your pregnancy (which about 33 percent of pregnant people report around 21 weeks gestation), those weaker core muscles can lead to low back pain and may impact baby’s position. Factors that make it more likely that you will have DR after birth include carrying large babies or twins, having super-rigid ab muscles before pregnancy or giving birth multiple times.
WHAT CAN I DO TO HEAL POSTPARTUM?
Our bodies are intelligent and a natural reversal of the abdominal separation begins to happen around 4 weeks postpartum. Any separation remaining after that must be managed with targeted ab exercises, which do NOT include crunches or sit ups as those can make the separation worse. And while you will be busy with a new baby, simply ignoring your diastasis recti postpartum could result in back pain, weak core muscles, pelvic pain and weakness, and incontinence later on.
After birth, continue to roll to one side and avoid lurching forward, as well. Focus on reconnecting with your core muscles (which include your diaphragm, pelvic floor, lower abs and postural muscles along the spine) to give you that increased stability necessary for caring for baby and yourself long term. Do not rush back into a postpartum exercise program without connecting and engaging abs properly, as this can worsen DR and lead to problems like prolapse in the future.
When you are cleared and ready for exercising again, we rehab our core muscles in postnatal yoga, with safe abdominal breathing and other super targeted exercises. (The belly pulls practiced at Love Child are some of the most helpful exercises you can do!) A pelvic floor professional will likely also prescribe a regime of exercises to help improve your diastasis recti.
To keep reading and learning about diastasis recti, here are a few resources:
When It All Comes Together: Diastasis Recti, Healed
The Do’s & Don’ts of Diastasis Recti