Diastasis Recti: Why Ab Separation Happens and How do We Fix It?

Still trying to get rid of your belly after childbirth? I know I am. It may be due to Diastasis Recti. It occurs as a result of pregnancy which causes the muscles of your abdomen to separate to make room for your growing uterus. Afterwards, it leaves a gap allowing your belly pooch to stick out.

In fact, there is a good chance that many of us struggle with this condition in some way, since statistically 98+% of women have a diastasis after delivery (Stats). It seems that diastasis can be more common the more pregnancies a woman has (I can attest to this) or if she has had multiples or already has an underlying abdominal problem.

How Does It Happen?

The rectus abdominis muscles which run vertically down each side of your abdomen, hold in your internal organs and stabilize your core. As your pregnancy progresses, the connective tissue of the rectus abdominis pull apart and separate.

The tissue can heal on its own, and the muscles will come back together once hormone levels return to their pre-pregnancy levels. Diastasis recti looks like a ridge or could look like a loaf of bread protruding from your midline after pregnancy. It can become more prominent if you strain, ie. from coughing or sitting up from the lying down position.

How Can You Tell Whether You Have It?

To check for a diastasis recti, lie on your back, with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Place your hand palm down over your belly, with your fingers pointing toward your toes. Press your fingers gently into your navel area then slowly lift your head, drawing your chin to your chest. This causes your rectus abdominis to contract.

If you feel a gap of at least two finger widths between the muscles as they contract, you have a diastasis. A gap as wide as four or five fingers is considered severe. Repeat the procedure below and above your belly button because the separation may be wider in different places.

Here's a video to perform a self-test:

What To Avoid?

As with many other things, sometimes what you avoid can be just as important as what you do…

Sources agree that many exercises specifically targeted at core strength should actually be avoided if a person has an abdominal separation. Movements like crunches, sit-ups and planks can actually make things worse instead of better.

There have been cases of women who were able to reverse a separation during pregnancy, and there are steps that can help during pregnancy, including:

  • Avoiding any movement like a crunch or situp that isolates the abdominal muscles.

  • Avoiding “rib thrusting”

  • Laying down and getting up with correct posture to avoid strain on the core (by turning onto your side).

  • Focusing on comprehensive movements like squats (with abs engaged) to help strengthen the body correctly.

Physical therapy done consistently and over time is usually enough to correct cases of diastasis recti. Surgical options do exist and may help in very severe cases, but surgery is often unnecessary, and therefore, very rare.

I'd suggest taking a class called Babies at the Barre. This company was founded by a colleague of mine, named Tori Levine. I took this class after the birth of my first child and have been doing the exercises after the birth of my second. I will probably also take the class again pretty soon. It's great because you can even do it at home!