If your stomach still looks pregnant months after giving birth, you might have a diastasis recti.
Diastasis recti occurs when the ‘rectus abdominis’ muscles in your abdomen separate during pregnancy which leaves a gap that allows your belly to protrude outwards.
Your six-pack muscles are a pair of long, flat muscles that run vertically down each side of your abdomen. These muscles hold in your internal organs and stabilise the core. As your stomach grows during pregnancy, the connective tissue gets stretched out, allowing the rectus abdominis to pull apart and separate vertically down the middle.
Sometimes the tissue heals, and the muscles come back together on their own after delivery when your hormone levels return to normal. However, if this doesn’t happen in 3 to 6 months, you can end up with a gap that won’t close without special treatment.
After pregnancy, a diastasis recti looks like a ridge protruding from your midline. The ridge becomes more prominent when you’re straining, from coughing or sitting up and It may disappear or cave in when you lie down or relax your abdominal muscles.
Some reasons abdominal muscles may separate:
- Improper weightlifting and exercise
- Yo-yo dieting
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Stomach cancer
- Being over 35 years old
How to check for diastasis recti
- Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor
- Place your fingers with the palm facing you on your belly button
- Lift your head and neck just slightly off the floor while you press down with your fingers. If there is a gap, that is the diastasis
- Conduct the same test just above your belly button and just below the belly button (as the gap can measure differently in these places)
If your abdominal separation is not large, you can choose to manage it. However, it’s advised that you bring those muscles back together before getting pregnant again.
Once the connective tissue gets stretched out, it can be difficult to rebuild your core strength and bring your muscles back together. Doing traditional crunches can worsen your condition because they tend to make those muscles tighter, pushing them further apart and stretching the connective tissue even more so that it grows thinner and weaker.
You can often correct a diastasis recti with specific exercises and consistent abdominal rehab. Abdominal rehab is a type of physical therapy to strengthen and tone weak stomach muscles.
Your physiotherapist will teach you how to activate the rectus abdominis safely by doing a series of mini crunches with a sheet wrapped tightly around your waist. This strengthens the connective tissue between them so they function properly again to support your core and keep your stomach from pooching out.
Depending on the width of your gap and how strict you are about your exercise regime, you could see significant improvement in as little as 2 months.
Your physiotherapist will show you how to rely on these muscles to support your core when you get out of bed, pick up toys, and do other everyday activities so you do not make your condition worse.
Look below at the types of exercises you need to be doing to get rid of your diastasis recti!