It took nine months to grow your precious baby inside your womb and your body experienced many changes. It can take quite some time for your body to recover from pregnancy and birth. If you look in the mirror and wonder why you still look pregnant even though you gave birth months ago, you may have Diastasis Rectus Abdominis.
Disclaimer: This is intended for educational purposes only, not medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns.
What Is Diastasis Rectus Abdominis?
Diastasis rectus abdominis, also known as diastasis recti, is defined as the separation of the rectus abdominis muscles. It is a common condition in pregnant and postpartum women where the rectus abdominis muscles (six-pack muscles) separate during pregnancy from being stretched as the baby grows. The rectus abdominis muscles are divided into two sides and connected in the middle by the linea alba, a band of tissue that runs vertically between the rectus abdominis muscles. Throughout pregnancy, the baby grows and the uterus expands, causing the abdominals to stretch and the linea alba to thin and pull apart. Once the baby is born, the linea alba can heal and retract back to its pre-pregnancy state because it is very elastic like a rubber band. However, if the linea alba is overstretched, it can lose some of its elasticity and cause the gap between the rectus abdominis muscles not to close all the way which results in diastasis recti.
Diastasis recti is a very common condition among pregnant and postpartum women. It affects about 60% of pregnant and postpartum women less than 8 weeks after delivery and about 40% of those women still have diastasis recti six months after delivery.
Symptoms of Diastasis Rectus Abdominis
The ab separation itself is not painful but the overstretched tissue and weak muscles can cause a variety of issues in the core and pelvic floor. The common symptoms of diastasis recti in the postpartum period are:
- Bulge in the mid-section that does not go away even with losing weight
- Coning or doming when abdominal muscles are contracted
- Softness around the belly button
- Feeling weak in the abdominals which can lead to difficulty lifting objects, walking, or conducting typical daily tasks
- Pain during sex
- Low back, pelvic, or hip pain
- Poor posture
- Leaking urine
How Is Diastasis Rectus Abdominis Diagnosed?
Diastasis recti can be self-diagnosed with a simple test or it can be diagnosed by a medical professional. To test for diastasis recti, follow these steps:
- Lie flat on your back with your knees bent.
- Place your fingers on your belly button, pointing towards your pelvis, and press down.
- Lift your head up about an inch while keeping your shoulders on the ground.
- If you have diastasis recti, you will feel a gap between the muscles that is an inch wide (about 2 fingers) or greater. (Source)
If you conduct the test yourself and have concerns, be sure to address them with your healthcare provider for an official diagnosis and treatment plan.
How Is Diastasis Rectus Abdominis Treated?
Diastasis rectus abdominis is most commonly treated with the use of physical therapy and exercise. Surgery is very rarely necessary except for extreme cases where an organ pushes through the linea alba, also known as a hernia, or when a person is requesting surgery to tighten the abdominal area, commonly referred to as a tummy tuck surgery.
There are many exercise programs out there that are tailored to specifically help mothers heal their diastasis recti at home without needing to see a physical therapist. However, it can be beneficial to seek the guidance of a professional to help improve the ab separation.
Tips for Treating Diastasis Rectus Abdominis
Master diaphragmatic breathing before moving on to deep core exercises. Diaphragmatic breathing is a deep breathing exercise that has many benefits such as lowering the heart rate and blood pressure and helping our bodies relax while engaging the deep core and pelvic floor muscles.
- Lie on your back, rest your hands on top of your lower ribcage, and inhale. Allow the diaphragm to make the lower ribs expand into your hands (imagine your ribcage expanding like an umbrella), then exhale and push as much air out as possible (umbrella closing).
- Avoid any exercises that put additional strain on your abdominals and cause coning or bulging such as crunches, sit-ups, planks, and push-ups. You can research modifications if you notice you can’t do a certain exercise without the abdominal muscles coning or bulging.
- Focus on good posture. It can be difficult to maintain good posture while caring for a baby because you are constantly bending over to change diapers or pick the baby up out of the crib. Try to keep your back straight and shoulders back.
- Log roll out of bed. Try not to bend at the waist when sitting up but rather, roll onto your side and then use your arms to push yourself up to a sitting position. Invest in the Momcozy Pregnancy Pillowto support your whole body and help you sleep comfortably while pregnant. Keep it around even after delivery and use it in the postpartum period for back support while breastfeeding in bed or to push against when log-rolling out of bed to protect your abdominals. It has great cooling features that are perfect for pregnancy and postpartum as well!
If you feel like you still look pregnant in the postpartum period, first of all, give yourself grace. Your body worked hard to grow your little one and it can take time for your body to heal and recover. Second, when you feel ready and able, introduce light exercise and core work that focuses on the deep core muscles. Be mindful of your posture and daily activities, engaging your core muscles when possible to reduce further separation and injury. The good news is, diastasis rectus abdominis can be treated and your core can heal which should alleviate any of the symptoms listed above that you may be experiencing. If you are still experiencing symptoms after focusing on deep core exercises, you may benefit from seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist for more assistance.
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