There are a lot of things you can expect to change about your body after pregnancy—breast changes, stretch marks, and hair loss among them. But one of the things that isn’t spoken about as often is a condition called Diastasis Recti, or Ab Separation. It can cause weakness in your core muscle strength (as if pregnancy and birth doesn’t make you feel weak enough!), can impact control of your posture, and can change the appearance of your stomach muscles and cause a ‘pooch’ that makes some mamas feel self-conscious. Here are a few things to know about Diastasis Recti—including how to know if you have it, and how to treat it.
What is Diastasis Recti and Why Does it Happen?
As your baby grows, your uterus continues to expand and push against the stomach wall. And sometimes, this can cause the connective tissue between your abdominal muscles to widen (typically in the second or third trimester when your baby is growing like a weed). The end result is abdominal muscles that are left with a space down the midline of your stomach.
Diastasis recti affects about half of all pregnant women—and there are a few factors that could increase your chances of developing it, including older maternal age and the number of pregnancies you’ve had. For most mamas, ab separation resolves itself during the first few months postpartum.
What Are the Symptoms of Diastasis Recti?
Some people don’t experience any symptoms, and their ab separation is relatively painless. However, some people notice the following:
- Discomfort or difficulty doing certain activities
- Feelings and appearance of flabbiness in the stomach muscles
- Weakness through the midsection
- Low back, pelvic or hip pain
- Poor posture
- A gap or divot greater than two finger widths when engaging your muscles (such as when sitting up)
- Doming or tenting of the middle of your stomach during actives like lifting, rolling over, or sitting up
How is Diastasis Recti treated?
If you suspect that you have ab separation that hasn’t resolved itself after your pregnancy, your best bet is to see a physical therapist who specializes in Women’s Health. Ask your provider for a referral if needed. Your therapist will feel your stomach muscles to assess if it your abdominal muscles have separated, and will also evaluate factors such as your posture, breathing, flexibility and overall muscle strength.
Your therapist can then help identify which movements or activities to modify or avoid (such as traditional sit-ups and crunches) as you work to heal your diastasis recti, as well as how to get back to normal activity once your body is ready. They may even teach you the best way to lift and carry your baby to support your strength and healing. Your therapist will also help you learn to engage your deep core muscles through posture and breathing, help address muscle imbalances, and may even recommend a brace to help you use your core muscles safely.
If you’re currently pregnant, it’s never too early to start seeing a physical therapist in order to get ahead of stabilizing your core and pelvic floor during and after pregnancy. Physical therapy during pregnancy can help in managing certain conditions like diastasis recti, but can also help to improve your pregnancy, labor and delivery, and even your experience and mobility after giving birth. Chat with your provider if you have concerns about diastasis recti, or for a referral for a women’s health physical therapist.