If you’re a new mom, it’s likely that you’ve experienced some changes to your body over the past several months. It’s totally normal – it takes your body a good year at least to get back to where you were before you got pregnant, and sometimes, things will never be quite the same.
But some women (many women) experience a stomach pooch that just never seems to go away, no matter how much time they’re putting in at the gym. This is called diastasis recti.
What is Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis recti happens when your growing baby stretches the muscles of the abdomen, causing them to separate. It causes a bulge in middle of the abdomen, and can often make it seem as if you’re still pregnant, even when you aren’t.
Why does it happen?
The most common culprit for diastasis recti is having a baby, but certain factors may make you more likely to develop one. For instance, if you have had more than one baby, you have twins, triplets, or more, you’re older when you are pregnant, or if you have weak core muscles to begin with, you may be more likely to have a diastasis recti.
Increasing hormones during pregnancy can also cause your muscles and ligaments to become looser, leading to the possibility of muscle separation.
How do I know if I have a diastasis recti?
It’s normal for there to be a little separation between your ab muscles (for both men and women) so how do you know if you actually have a diastasis recti?
For starters, you may have noticed that “pooch” that just doesn’t seem to go away, even if you’ve lost all the baby weight. You also may notice weaker stomach muscles, or even a small buldge near your belly button when you’re sitting up from lying down.
You can do a check yourself (or enlist your partner to help you) to see if you have a diastasis recti. Lay on your back with your arms at your sides and slightly life your head to engage your abs (as if you are moving towards a crunch). Using your fingers, feel around your belly button area. If you notice a deep separation that is more than 1-2 fingers wide, right in the middle of your abdomen, it’s very possible that you have a diastasis recti and you should make an appointment to see a pelvic floor specialist for an evaluation and treatment plan.
Of course, the best thing to do is to try to prevent diastasis recti from happening in the first place. This means ensuring you’re building a strong core and pelvic floor prior to even getting pregnant.
In addition, some women actually can develop diastasis recti after they give birth, by doing improper exercises too soon before their body has had a chance to heal. Putting too much strain on muscles that are already weak and stretched thin can be a recipe for disaster.
Precautions if you have it.
If you do have a diastasis recti, it’s important to note that certain moves and exercises such as crunches, sit-ups, pushups, and even some yoga moves should be avoided, as they may end up putting increased pressure on the muscles, causing them to separate further.
You should also avoid doing anything that puts extra strain on your abdominal muscles, including straining when using the toilet, or lifting heavy objects.
First things first – if you think you have a diastasis recti, it’s important to seek medical assistance as soon as possible, especially if you are considering having more children. Getting your condition in check prior to additional pregnancies can prevent it from becoming worse down the road.
A pelvic floor physical therapist is an ideal choice, as they can give you a full exam and identify your specific areas of weakness. They’ll also show you breathing techniques and moves that can help improve strength. Your doctor may recommend things like pelvic tilts or bridges which can help to pull the muscles back together.
If rehab simply doesn’t work for you, and the separation is too much for you to live with, you can consider surgery to fix the issue (also known as a tummy tuck).