- Sep 21, 2023
If you’ve carried a full-term baby in your belly, chances are you’ve experienced some degree of abdominal separation. It is very common as the baby is growing and hormonal changes affect the connective tissue, allowing it to relax. Your core changes dramatically in pregnancy and healing the postpartum core must be done with a gradual, methodical, and safe approach.
Remember that time you nearly congratulated someone on their pregnancy only to realise they has already had the baby? Diastasis Recti is often the culprit for a "Mommy Tummy" - the appearance of your abdominal organs, pushing and dropping forward where the abs are not joined.
Here’s what to know about abdominal separation and what can be done to heal your core.
What is abdominal separation (Diastasis Recti)?
If you never knew this was a thing that might happen on your pregnancy and postpartum journey, you’re not alone. We’re here to help you understand and heal if this happens to you.
So, here’s a bit about how abdominal separation can occur. Your abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis or your “six-pack”) are two vertical bands that run all the way from your breast bone down to your pubic bone. They are attached to thin muscle tissue that runs right down your midline called linea alba. The linea alba holds all of your ab muscles in place.
When you’re pregnant, hormones soften your ligaments, muscles and joints to make room for your baby and prepare for labour. That includes your linea alba. Typically, your ab muscles will lengthen vertically first, but when they reach their max the linea alba stretches to give baby more room as she grows. During pregnancy, this doesn’t cause pain and you won’t even be aware that it’s happening. Your ab muscles are already in two parts, but if needed the space between the muscles increases to create a larger space. The separation will begin at your belly button and depending on how you carry the baby it will either extend up or down as necessary.
Statistically 98% of women have a diastasis – separated abdominal muscles – after delivery. Diastasis is more common the more pregnancies the woman has, if she is over 35 when pregnant, or if she has a heavy baby or twins, triplets, or more.
Repairing Diastasis Recti after birth is key, as it not only helps with your “mummy tummy” but getting your core strength back is essential to prevent permanent damage to your lower back & spine.
How to tell if you have Diastasis Recti
It’s pretty safe to assume that every mum experiences some degree of abdominal separation during pregnancy. In some cases, it can be detected while you are still pregnant around the 25-week mark either on an ultrasound or during an exam but becomes more difficult to diagnose later in pregnancy. If the muscles stay separated after birth, they won’t be properly aligned to support your back and posture which could lead to back pain.
The separation (diastasis) is exactly what your body is supposed to do when it’s pregnant if it needs to. The issue is only when it doesn’t snap back together in your postpartum months.
You might feel a general weakness in your core or you might notice a protruding belly. You might even continue to look like you’re four months pregnant. Some women experience continued incontinence past 8 weeks postpartum. In other cases, back pain might be present. Many of these symptoms are common post-partum issues, so abdominal separation is often not diagnosed.
How to check for Diastasis Recti
Checking for Diastasis Recti at home is a straightforward process. This self-assessment can help you determine whether you may have this condition. Here's how to do it:
1. Find a comfortable position
Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. You can also do this while lying on your side if it's more comfortable.
2. Locate your abdominal muscles
Place your fingertips horizontally, just above your belly button, with your palm facing your abdomen.
3. Engage your abdominal muscles
Gently lift your head and shoulders off the floor, as if you were doing a mini crunch, while keeping your abdominal muscles relaxed.
4. Feel for a gap
Using your fingertips, feel along the midline of your abdomen, moving up and down from your belly button. Pay attention to any gap or separation between the two sides of your rectus abdominis muscles.
- If you feel a gap that is about two finger-widths or more wide, it's a sign that you may have Diastasis Recti.
- If you can feel the edges of your muscles but no noticeable gap, that's a positive sign.
5. Note the depth
Additionally, take note of how deep the separation feels. A shallow gap may be easier to address than a deeper one.
Remember that it's normal to have some separation during pregnancy, but the goal is for this gap to gradually decrease as your body recovers. If you suspect Diastasis Recti based on this self-assessment, it's essential to consult with a healthcare professional, such as a physical therapist or a physician, for a more accurate diagnosis and tailored guidance.
Diastasis recti repair: non-surgical option
First, if you do have abdominal separation (Diastasis Recti), don’t panic. The body will start to repair some of the separation on its own.
But, strengthening your deep core (the transverse abdominis (TA) - your body’s natural corset) and pelvic floor with gentle exercises helps to properly realign the muscles. Here are five tips:
1. Practice deep belly breathing
Practice deep belly breathing to activate the entire core musculature: Keep in mind the gentle abdominal exercises that are best to help your core heal after pregnancy aren’t intended to get your heart rate up.
2. Log rolling to get up
Don’t jackknife up out of bed or when you’re laying down. This just adds pressure to the tender muscles you’re trying to heal. Instead, continue log rolling like you did while pregnant.
3. Avoid crunches, sit-ups, abdominal twists and leg lifts
You might think more aggressive and traditional forms of abdominal exercises would get you results faster, but your priority needs to be strengthening your transverse abdominis first. If you attempt more traditional ab exercises and notice any “pooching” or “doming,” that’s a clear sign that your core hasn’t healed enough yet to do these types of exercises.
4. Brace for good alignment
Brace for good alignment when in forward-leaning positions: Whether you are buckling baby into the car seat or bending from the hips to pick up a laundry basket, your abs can experience additional pressure when in forward-leaning positions so you must be intentional about using a breath to brace your core.
5. Using Core Support Bands
While your abs are healing, core support bands help stabilize your abs, support your back and improve your posture. You can wear a core support belly wrap up to approximately three months post-partum.
If you suspect you might have Diastasis Recti, don’t despair. Check out Lola&Lykke Core Restore Postpartum Band, designed specifically to stabilise your core and help repair Diastasis Recti. Whether you gave birth by c-section or vaginally, our postpartum belly binding is recommended by physiotherapists to alleviate the strain on your weakened core muscles after pregnancy and labour.
7 exercises for Diastasis Recti healing
In addition to the recommendations mentioned earlier, incorporating specific exercises into your routine can play a crucial role in healing Diastasis Recti. These exercises target the deep core muscles and help in realigning the separated abdominal muscles. Remember to start with gentle exercises and progress gradually. It's essential to avoid any exercises that cause pain, bulging of the abdominal muscles, or discomfort.
1. Pelvic Tilts
Start by lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Gently tilt your pelvis upward, engaging your abdominal muscles, and then release. Repeat this movement in a controlled manner, focusing on the contraction of your deep core muscles.
2. Transverse Abdominis Activation
This exercise involves drawing your belly button toward your spine while maintaining normal breathing. Imagine pulling your abdominal muscles inward. Hold this contraction for a few seconds, then release. Repeat several times throughout the day.
3. Kegel Exercises
Kegels strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which are closely connected to the deep core. To perform Kegels, contract the muscles you use to stop the flow of urine. Hold for a few seconds and release. Repeat multiple times daily.
4. Bridge Pose
Lie on your back with knees bent and feet hip-width apart. Lift your hips off the floor, creating a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Engage your core muscles during this movement. Lower your hips back down and repeat.
5. Cat-Cow Stretch
Get on your hands and knees, arching your back like a cat and then arching it in the opposite direction like a cow. This gentle stretch helps with spinal mobility and engages the core.
6. Leg Slides
Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Slide one leg outward along the floor, keeping it in contact with the ground, and then return it to the starting position. Alternate legs and repeat.
7. Wall Angels
Stand with your back against a wall and your feet about six inches away from the wall. Slowly raise your arms overhead, sliding them along the wall. Then, bring your arms back down to shoulder height. This exercise improves shoulder mobility and engages the core.
A balanced diet and hydration helps, too
Proper nutrition plays a vital role in overall postpartum healing and recovery. A balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrients is essential for tissue repair and strengthening your core. Ensure that your diet includes:
Protein: Protein is crucial for tissue repair and muscle recovery. Include lean sources of protein such as poultry, fish, beans, and tofu in your meals.
Vitamins and Minerals: Vitamins like Vitamin C and minerals like Zinc support collagen production, which is essential for tissue healing. Incorporate fruits, vegetables, and whole grains into your diet for these nutrients.
Fiber: Adequate fiber intake aids in digestion and prevents constipation, which can be uncomfortable postpartum.
Hydration: Staying well-hydrated is essential for overall health and tissue healing. Aim to drink plenty of water throughout the day.
Healthy Fats: Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish like salmon can reduce inflammation and support recovery.
Diastasis Recti FAQs
1. How can I tell if I have Diastasis Recti while pregnant?
Diagnosing Diastasis Recti during pregnancy is possible, typically around the 25-week mark. You can perform a self-assessment by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Place two fingers right above your belly button and raise up like you’re doing a crunch. If you feel a gap larger than two fingers or notice muscle bulging, you might have Diastasis Recti. Consult your healthcare provider or a fitness professional for confirmation.
2. When is Diastasis Recti considered severe?
The severity of Diastasis Recti can vary from person to person. It is generally considered severe when the gap between the abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis) measures more than 2.7 cm or if you are experiencing significant symptoms such as persistent pain, noticeable protrusion, or functional limitations. Consulting a healthcare provider or a physical therapist can help determine the severity of your condition.
3. What doctor should I see for Diastasis Recti?
If you suspect you have Diastasis Recti or are experiencing symptoms, it's recommended to consult with a healthcare provider. An Obstetrician/Gynecologist (OB/GYN) is a good starting point. They can assess your condition, provide guidance on managing Diastasis Recti, and may refer you to specialists if needed.
4. Should I use a waist trainer for Diastasis Recti?
While waist trainers are popular for shaping purposes, they are not recommended for managing Diastasis Recti. In fact, using a traditional waist trainer may worsen the condition by putting unnecessary pressure on your abdominal muscles. Instead, opt for a specialised postpartum support band like the Lola&Lykke Core Restore Support Band, designed to provide gentle compression and support specifically for Diastasis Recti.
5. How to fix Diastasis Recti years later?
Diastasis Recti can be addressed even years after childbirth. The key is to focus on strengthening the deep core muscles, particularly the transverse abdominis, and the pelvic floor. Incorporate specific exercises, such as those mentioned in this article, and consider using a postpartum belly wrap to aid in your recovery. Consistency and patience are essential, and it's advisable to consult a fitness professional or physical therapist for a tailored plan.
Remember that every individual's experience with Diastasis Recti is unique, and seeking professional guidance is crucial for effective management and recovery.
by Lola&Lykke Team
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