Has it been a few months since you gave birth? Do you still notice a bulge in your tummy that makes you look like you’re pregnant? If this sounds like you, you might have a condition called diastasis recti. Now the word ‘condition’ might seem a little scary but there’s nothing to worry about. It’s very common and happens to 40% to 60% of women after pregnancy.
What Is Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis Recti is a gap between the left and right abdominal wall muscles that causes a protruding belly. In simpler terms, you look pregnant even though it’s been months since you gave birth.
What Causes Diastasis Recti?
During pregnancy, the change in the levels of hormones causes a tissue called the linea alba (it connects the left and the right of your abdominal wall muscles) to thin out and make room for your growing uterus. During this process, your ab muscles pull apart and separate in the middle. Once you have delivered your baby, your hormone levels will return to normal causing the linea alba to become thicker and your muscles will contract back into position. This should happen 3 to 6 months after you give birth.
However, sometimes, the tissues can have stretched out so much during pregnancy that they lose their ability to shrink back into position, which causes a gap between the ab muscles.
Some factors put you at a higher risk for diastasis recti such as:
- A petite frame
- Carrying multiples
- A previous pregnancy (sometimes the second pregnancy can cause your muscles to stretch again and thus, lose their elasticity to contract back)
- Pregnancy at a later age
- Genetic disposition. In other words, if your mom had it
- Other medical conditions such as umbilical/ventral hernia, pelvic instability
How Do I Prevent Diastasis Recti?
Keep your ab muscles protected during pregnancy. When you get out of a lying position, use the log roll maneuver. This is where you align your head and torso, roll onto your side, and then use your arms to push yourself up. Practice good posture.
In general, preventing this from happening during pregnancy is near impossible. It would be best to do exercises that improve and strengthen your core before you get pregnant. Doing such exercises during pregnancy can be ineffective or impossible, depending on your condition. It has been found that women who were physically active before pregnancy were less likely to experience diastasis recti.
It can be pretty hard to tell that you have this condition while you’re pregnant. Some practitioners even advise waiting for a couple of weeks after you’ve given birth to assess if you have diastasis recti as your body needs time for the hormones to settle down and the muscles to contract back. Meanwhile, it is possible to not have any symptoms at all to indicate that you have it. Sometimes, symptoms can be as mild and simple as a lower backache, constipation, bloating, and poor posture.
You can do a simple test for yourself to check if you have diastasis recti. It would be best to give a month or two after giving birth before you do this test as your body could still be repairing itself and you might find a false positive.
To do the test, lie on your back with your feet on the floor and bend your knees. With your fingertips pointed towards your toes, press them down gently on the midline of your navel. Keep your shoulders on the ground and gently bring your head up into a mini crunch. Feel around for your ab muscles and use your fingers to measure the space between them. If you have a gap of two finger widths or more, you might have diastasis recti. A gap of four to five fingers is usually considered severe. Just remember it might take some time for your muscles to return to their original position and that it’s best to talk to a healthcare provider to have a medical assessment before you form your own conclusions.
As mentioned, diastasis recti should fix itself within a month or two. If it doesn’t, exercise is the best way to go about treating it. Be sure to get the okay to exercise from your doctor first. During exercise, you will be working to rebuild your core strength. However, some exercises such as traditional crunches and sit-ups are a strict no-no. Speak to a physiotherapist to find the exercises that will work best for you. Do keep in mind that not all healthcare providers will understand your need for treatment so be sure to find someone knowledgeable about the condition and willing to guide you back to your best physical self.
Meanwhile, adopt some best practices during your day to day activities:
- Ensure that you are using your deeper stomach muscles and that your back or ab muscles are not strained when lifting weights (including your baby)
- Make sure you are practicing good posture
- Try not to hold your baby on one hip even if it feels more comfortable
- Continue using the log roll maneuver for a few months when getting up from a lying position
For severe cases, surgery might be advised. Having said that, this option should be regarded as the absolute last resort and should only be considered if you’re not planning to get pregnant again.
What If I Don’t Treat Diastasis Recti?
You can afford to wait a few months before treating diastasis recti if you’re still settling into the routine of having a baby. However, do try to give it some attention, especially if you plan to have another pregnancy. The ab muscles protect your lower back and support your spine. If they’re weak, they can no longer do so. Thus, if left untreated, diastasis recti can cause a number of other health problems such as pain in your back, pelvis, hip or all three, pain during sex, incontinence, and constipation.