Do you still “look pregnant” months after your delivery? You might have what is called Diastasis recti.
It is an extended flab (instead of abs) formed when there is extra space between your left and right belly muscles. Although this “pouch” is usually harmless, it is fairly undesirable.
It’s most commonly seen in pregnant women and sometimes even newborns. But it usually goes away after a while in both cases. You may also notice it in women who gave birth to more than one child, have twins, or get pregnant past the age of 35.
What Is Diastasis Recti
Each of us has rectus abdominis, which are long and flat muscles running vertically on either side of our abdomen. These are crucial because they provide core strength to our body and hold in the internal organs.
When pregnant, the rectus abdominis muscles expand and separate vertically down the middle to make room for the baby. In addition, your pregnancy hormones enable the tissues to relax and expand.
Usually, rectus abdominis heal on its own four or six months postpartum. In other words, they come back into the same pre-pregnancy vertical position. However, in many cases, there is a possibility that these muscles do not come back to their original position.
In such a scenario, you end up with a “pouch” that looks like a pregnant belly. Sometimes, you may need surgical intervention.
It may also look like an unsightly ridge protruding from your tummy and look prominent when coughing. But not every type of belly fat is Diastasis recti.
Is Diastasis Recti Common
Diastasis recti is actually pretty common. It’s estimated that up to 80 per cent of women have some degree of separation between their abdominal muscles. That’s because we have a lot of connective tissue in our body and it’s meant to be able to stretch with us as we grow and change shape during pregnancy and beyond.
But when too much force is applied, such as during heavy lifting or intense exercise, that connective tissue can tear or weaken—which can cause diastasis recti.
Diastasis recti: all you need to know
What Does Diastasis Recti Look Like
Diastasis recti mean that your stomach muscles are separated into two large bulges on either side of your belly button. These are called “lines of separation.” Diastasis recti can be small or large, depending on how far apart your abdominal muscles have stretched.
The condition usually goes away after you give birth. Still, if it doesn’t go away after giving birth, it may indicate another problem, like weak pelvic floor muscles or connective tissue disorders.
Diastasis Recti Symptoms
Diastasis recti is a condition in which the connective tissue that connects your abdominal muscles separates, causing a gap between the two sides of your stomach. This can be caused by pregnancy, weight gain, or other factors.
While it’s possible to have this condition without any symptoms, most people who have diastasis recti experience some of these symptoms:
- The skin around the belly button is more taut than usual
- You can see a bulge or separation between the two sides of your stomach when you look down at your belly button
- There’s difficulty in wearing tight-fitting clothing or belts because they press into your belly or feel uncomfortable
- You have back pain or discomfort (especially if you’re pregnant)
How to Check for Diastasis Recti
Image Source: iStock
A simple home test can check whether your flab is Diastasis recti or fat!
Simply lie on your back, keeping your knees bent and your feet firmly on the floor. Now bring your hand gently over the navel. Make sure it is palm down, and your fingers point towards the toes.
Lift your head and bring it towards your chest. This causes the rectus abdominis to contract.
If you feel a gap of two or more fingers between the two sides of your abdomen, you have Diastasis recti. But worry not. It is not harmful in any way. However, you may need medical intervention to get rid of it.
When Is Diastasis Recti Considered Severe
Diastasis recti may be mild, moderate, or severe. If you have a mild case, you might not even notice that you have it. Moderate cases are noticeable when you look at yourself in the mirror and see that your belly has more space between your internal and external obliques than it used to have.
Severe cases are obvious when there’s more than an inch of space between the two muscles.
Can Diastasis Recti Lead To Other Health Complications
While Diastasis recti mainly affect the abdomen and may be harmless in most cases, sometimes it can also affect the functioning of other organs and body parts.
- Chronic backache: Women with Diastasis recti may suffer from chronic back pain (because of excess flab in the front that refuses to go).
- Urinary incontinence: They may also have urinary incontinence, which occurs when loose muscles are unable to keep urine in control and prevent leaks.
- Postpartum constipation: In some cases, women may also suffer from postpartum constipation. It may take a few days for you to pass stool and feel bloated most of the time.
- Pain during sex: Another problem that Diastasis recti causes are painful sex. You may have pelvic pain during sex and clubbed with urinary incontinence, intercourse can be difficult initially.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms and want to know whether or not your diastasis is severe, consult a doctor.
What Can I Do About My Diastasis Recti
The bad news is that once the connective tissues of the rectus abdominis muscles stretch out, it is difficult to put them back together. Traditional crunches may also render useless because they may strengthen the stretched tissues in the same position. So the gap remains.
The good news is that abdominal rehabilitation can help you get rid of Diastasis recti.
In an abdominal rehab, you essentially work with a physical therapist who suggests specific exercises to strengthen and tone weak abdominal muscles.
Here’s what you can expect in an abdominal rehab:
1. Strengthen rectus abdominis.
You may have to perform mini crunches while wearing a belt or a sheet tightly wrapped around your waist. This will strengthen your abdominal connective tissues and prevent them from stretching further.
2. Strengthen transverse abdominis.
You may also be taught to work on strengthening your transverse abdominis. This part of the abdomen acts as a corset and protects and provides strength to the core. When you say ‘shhh’ out loud, you’ll be able to feel your transverse abdominis. You may also be recommended the Tupler Technique for this purpose.
3. Daily exercises:
Your therapist may show you how to use abdominal exercises and incorporate them into your daily activities, such as getting up from the bed, sitting on a chair, or picking up objects from the floor.
To start the abdominal rehab, you’ll have to wait for a minimum of six weeks in case of normal delivery and eight weeks for a caesarean section.
The other thing to remember is that surgery may be the next best option if your Diastasis recti are severe (if you can feel a gap of three or more fingers between your right and left abdomen). This is especially true if you do not plan to get pregnant again.
What Happens in a Diastasis Recti Surgery
In a Diastasis recti surgery, your abdominal wall muscles are stitched back together down the middle of the abdomen. While this is a more common method, a laparoscopic procedure can also be performed in certain cases.
Here, a small camera is inserted in the abdomen through tiny incisions, and the stitch is made.
In case of severe Diastasis recti, doctors may even perform open abdominal surgery (abdominoplasty). This usually involves a larger incision in the belly. However, remember that the latter is cosmetic surgery so you may have to discuss with your insurance provider if this can be covered in your plan.
But there is always a 50-50 per cent chance for all this to work.
How to Fix Diastasis Recti Years Later
You’ve had your Diastasis recti for years, and it’s time to fix it.
Here are 4 steps you can take to do so:
- Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
- Use a ball to roll out the muscles in your abdomen at least twice a day.
- Use a foam roller on the back of your body (the same way you would use it on your legs) to release tension in the muscles that hold together your abdominal wall.
- Get a physical therapist who can show you how to do crunches without aggravating the separation of your muscles.
Based on your therapist’s guidance you may have to perform mini crunches to recover from a severe Diastasis recti
Exercise for Diastasis Recti
Exercises for diastasis recti are important because they help your body regain strength and balance. These exercises also help you to establish a habit of exercising regularly.
When doing these exercises, you should always consult your doctor or physical therapist before starting any new exercise routine. If you have any pain or discomfort, stop immediately and seek professional advice from a medical professional.
Exercises for diastasis recti include:
- Pelvic floor exercises, which strengthen the muscles around your pelvic floor and abdominal wall
- Respiratory endurance training, which helps you increase the amount of air that you can take in without coughing or gasping for breath
- Core stabilisation exercises, which focus on strengthening your core muscles through repetitive movements like situps or pushups
Will I Ever Get My Pre-pregnancy Abs Back
Each body is different, and its requirements and healing process also differ. So while a few weeks in abdominal rehab may work for some women, others may need surgery to recover from severe Diastasis rectus.
In addition, you may also want to lose pregnancy weight, so it may take time for your entire body to get back into its previous shape and size. It is important to take it slow, trust your body and not overexert.
Updates from Pheona Ilagan
Here at theAsianparent Singapore, it’s important for us to give information that is correct, significant, and timely. But this doesn’t serve as an alternative for medical advice or medical treatment. theAsianparent Singapore is not responsible for those that would choose to drink medicines based on information from our website. If you have any doubts, we recommend consulting your doctor for clearer information.