Diastasis recti is a common condition among pregnant women and postpartum women. This happens when the rectus abdominal muscles (six-pack ab muscles), separate from being stretched during pregnancy. This can cause a woman’s belly to bulge or stick out for months or even years after giving birth. You can repair it with specific exercises to help close the separation.
Diastasis recti is when a woman’s abdomen expands during pregnancy, creating a gap between the abdominal muscles and the abdominal wall.
Diastasis recti, also known as diastasis rectus abdominis (or diastasis), is the dissection of the rectus abdominal muscles after and during pregnancy. The rectus abdominals runs vertically from the front of your stomach. This is often referred to as someone’s “six-pack abs.” It is divided by the linea alba, a thin band of tissue that runs along the middle. Your uterus expands during pregnancy. The abdominals stretch and the linea alba thins. As the tissue is pushed outward, it becomes wider.
The linea alba can be reattached once your baby is born. It is elastic and can retract back (like a rubber band). The abdominal gap will not close properly if the tissue becomes less elastic from being stretched too much. This is called diastasis recti.
Your belly might appear to protrude just above or below your belly button if you have diastasis. This can make you look pregnant for months or even years after you give birth.
Your abdomen (abs) is under a lot of stress during pregnancy. The abdominal muscles (left and right) and a thin layer of connective tissue (linea alaba) are the main components. To make space for the baby’s growth, they are stretched outward. Diastasis recti is when the linea alba becomes too stretched and doesn’t reattach. The abdominals remain separated on the left and right sides. This is also known as abdominal separation or ab gap.
Diastasis recti is more common in women who are pregnant or postpartum. However, it can also occur in infants and men. Diastasis recti typically will develop during the third trimester. Because the baby is growing rapidly, there is an increase in pressure on the abdominal walls. Most people don’t notice diastasis recti until after birth.
Diastasis recti is very common during pregnancy and after delivery. 60% of patients are affected and it is usually resolved within eight weeks after delivery. Around 40% of diastasis recti sufferers still have it six months after delivery.
Most people don’t notice diastasis recti symptoms until after they have given birth. Diastasis recti can occur during pregnancy. However, it is difficult to identify because your abdomen is stretched.
Common symptoms of diastasis recti postpartum include:
Diastasis recti isn’t painful. While you may feel some side effects of diastasis, the actual ab separation doesn’t cause pain. When you do simple tasks like lifting laundry baskets, you may feel weak in your core. When contracting the abdominal muscles, some people feel a jelly-like texture between their left and right abdomens.
You may have diastasis recti if you notice these signs. A bulge around your midsection is one of the most obvious signs of diastasis recti. This can happen even if you exercise or lose weight during pregnancy. Your belly domes or cones may appear when you sit down on a chair or rise from a bed. Although you can test for diastasis recti yourself, it is a good idea that you consult your healthcare provider about your symptoms.
What are the risk factors of developing diastasis recti?
There are many factors that can increase your chances of developing diastasis recti.
Your healthcare provider will assess if diastasis exists, and if so, where and how severe. Diastasis recti can be found above or below the belly button as well as at the belly button.
To feel for any gaps or muscle tone, your provider may use their fingers and hands to touch the abdomen. For a more precise measurement, some providers may use an ultrasound, measuring tape, or a tool called the caliper. This is usually done at your postpartum appointment.
Diastasis recti is an abdominal gap greater than 2 cm. Diastasis recti can also be measured in finger widths. For example, it could be two or three fingers of separation.
Your healthcare provider might recommend movement for diastasis recti, or refer you to a specialist.
You can also test for diastasis recti. Place your feet flat on the ground and place your knees on the back of your head.
Keep your shoulders slightly above the ground and one hand behind you for support. As if you’re doing a sit-up. Take a look at your belly.
Place your other hand just above your belly button, palms down, and your fingers towards your toes.
Feel the gap between your abs with your fingers. Find out how many fingers you can squeeze between the right and left abdomens.
Talk to your healthcare provider if you feel a gap between your fingers of more than two inches. Your healthcare provider should confirm diastasis recti and recommend the appropriate treatment.
You will need to use gentle movements that engage your abdominal muscles in order to fix diastasis recti. Before you begin an exercise program, make sure it is safe for diastasis recti. Talk to a physical therapist or fitness professional who is familiar with diastasis recti. A treatment plan can be created to ensure you are correct in your movements and that you progress to more difficult movements.
Some movements can make the abdominal separation more severe. There are some changes you can make to your postpartum experience:
It is possible to repair diastasis recti without having surgery. Diastasis recti is not usually treated with surgery. Before recommending surgery, healthcare providers may recommend physical therapy and at-home exercises for diastasis. If a woman needs diastasis recti surgery (a tummy-tuck), or has a hernia (an organ pushing through the linea alba), then surgery is recommended.
Deep abdominal exercises are the best for diastasis recti. Deep breathing and slow controlled movements is the key to help with diastasis recti. Many of the most popular abdominal exercises, such as crunches, can make your diastasis worse. Ask your healthcare provider before you begin abdominal exercises to make sure you are not suffering from diastasis recti.
Your diastasis recti can be further damaged if you move your abdominal wall forward. Diastasis can be worsened by everyday movements, such as getting up from a chair or out of bed. As you go about your day, be aware of how your abdominals are being used.
If you have diastasis recti, these exercise movements should not be performed:
It is normal for pregnant women to experience some abdominal separation. You can take steps to reduce your chances of developing diastasis recti.
Healthy weight gain during pregnancy. Exercise and healthy eating habits to maintain a healthy weight.
Proper posture is key to deep breathing. Stand straight up with your shoulders back. Deep, exhale to allow your ribs and not your belly to expand.
Safe core exercises: After 12 weeks of pregnancy, and after delivery, avoid crunches and sit-ups that place pressure on your abdomens.
Do not strain when lifting: Lifting grocery bags or children’s toys can cause strain to your abdomen.
Log roll when you get out of bed. If you are pregnant or postpartum roll to one side, and then use your arms to push out of bed.
It takes time to heal diastasis recti. This depends on how severe your ab separation is and how consistent you are in strengthening exercises. As your muscles recover strength, the gap should close after several weeks. You’ll notice more progress if you make lifestyle changes and do exercises that are in good form.
Yes, it is possible to heal diastasis recti and have it back. The risk of diastasis recti increases with every pregnancy. The linea alba is like a rubber band that is constantly stretched. The rubber band will lose its elasticity over time. After being stretched through multiple pregnancies, the linea alba may lose its original form.
Your diastasis recti can be repaired at any time. You can repair your ab separation with the right exercises even years after having your last child.
If left untreated, or in severe cases diastasis recti, complications may include:
Diastasis recti is an easily treatable condition. For a diagnosis, consult your healthcare provider if you feel pain or have more than two fingers between your abdomens. Your healthcare provider may recommend that you see a physical therapist and strengthen your abdominal muscles.