Once you’re pregnant, you start learning about all sorts of things that you’d never thought about before—your pelvic floor, childbirth options, and even diastasis recti. Diastasis recti is such a common part of pregnancy and while it sometimes corrects itself, sometimes it needs special attention. But how do you know the difference and is there anything you can do to prevent it or treat it?
What is Diastasis Recti?
Simply put, diastasis recti (DR) is the separation of the abdominal muscles along the middle of the abdomen. During pregnancy, it happens as a way to create space for your growing baby. As your baby and your uterus grows and expands, your abdominal muscles will slowly separate so your baby has the room they need to grow and develop. There is a thin line of connective tissue, the linea alba, between the two rows of muscle and this connective tissue stretches, allowing the muscles to pull apart. The linea alba will also tighten up and often pull the muscles back together after the baby is born.
How Many Women Are Diagnosed With Diastasis Recti?
All women will have some degree of muscle separation following the birth of their baby, but that doesn’t mean they will be diagnosed with DR. As I mentioned earlier, the body has a system for this and often the linea alba will pull the abdominal muscles back together after the birth. DR is usually only diagnosed if the muscular separation continues beyond 6 weeks postpartum. A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that at 6 weeks postpartum, 60% of moms still had some separation of abdominal muscles, and 32% still had at least mild DR at 12 months postpartum.¹ So while it often resolves, it certainly doesn’t always resolve on its own. Good thing there’s something you can do to help!
Moms who experience DR 6 weeks postpartum.
Moms who experience DR 12 months postpartum.
Can You Prevent Diastasis Recti?
When you’re pregnant, there’s nothing you can do to prevent your abdominal muscles from separating. Your muscles have to move apart to create enough room for your baby to grow. But that doesn’t mean to give up! Maintaining a strong and active core (abdominal muscles, pelvic floor and back muscles) during pregnancy will help your body recover after birth—and I don’t mean do lots of crunches. In order to minimize DR, you’ll want to avoid creating unnecessary intra-abdominal pressure, both during pregnancy and in the immediate postpartum. Exercises like side planks or cat/cow poses are great for working your core in a safe and effective way. Also, make sure you are maintaining good posture during pregnancy. Sitting up straight, bending over at the hips, and squatting to pick things up are great daily habits to keep your core muscles strong.
How Do I Know If I Have Diastasis Recti?
First of all, don’t do this if you are still pregnant or less than 2 weeks postpartum. Then, lay on the floor on your back and bend your knees slightly. Place your fingers in the center of your abdomen just above your belly button. Slightly lift your head off the ground. You should feel your abdominal muscles activate and be able to feel one of two things:
- Two rows of abdominal muscles joined by tight tissue in the middle (you won’t be able to feel between the rows of muscle)
- Two rows of abdominal muscles with a gap in between them. If you have a gap, measure it in finger widths.
Repeat these steps just below your belly button to check for separation there, too.
If you find a gap—don’t panic! This is a very common finding, especially for women who have had a baby and have not done anything to bring their muscles back together. This doesn’t have to be permanent and there is lots of great support and help available!
Is There Anything You Can Do To Help Diastasis Recti?
Of course! Always check with your medical provider before beginning any new exercise program, but the good news is there are many personal trainers who are knowledgeable in postpartum recovery. If finding time to go to the gym is an issue, there are also some amazing online programs that you can do with minimal equipment right in your home that are geared towards helping improve or fix DR. If you are less than 6 weeks postpartum, I recommend working on not breathing into your belly (your ribs and chest should move more with each breath and your belly should not move much at all) and maintaining good posture while you are sitting and bending over, as these simple habits encourage a strong core. Also, the use of a postpartum recovery garment during the initial postpartum period is super helpful at encouraging good posture and bringing your abdominal muscles back together.
- Sperstad JB, Tennfjord MK, Hilde G, et al. Diastasis recti abdominis during pregnancy and 12 months after childbirth: prevalence, risk factors and report of lumbopelvic pain. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2016;50:1092-1096.
About the Author
Rebekah Mustaleski is a Certified Professional Midwife with Roots & Wings Midwifery in Knoxville, TN, where Rebekah promotes evidence-based maternity care for families seeking an out of hospital delivery. She is working to improve maternal outcomes during the childbearing year and to promote a sustainable business model for midwifery practices across the country. Rebekah is co-owner of Roots & Wings Midwifery, LLC as well as Treasurer for the Tennessee Midwives Association.