What To Do About Abdominal Separation (Diastasis Recti)

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You may not have heard of it, but diastasis recti, which is the separation of the abdominal muscles, is a fairly common result of childbearing. As the baby (or babies) and uterus grow larger, the muscles of the abdomen, the rectus abdominus, can separate right down the middle. If you imagine these muscles as a six-pack, three of the pack might go to the right and three to the left to make way for baby. This separation can result in lower back discomfort or it may mean that your belly looks different than before you were pregnant. Some people get frustrated that the belly remains puffy, even as they lose weight and exercise postpartum, and diastasis recti could be the culprit.

It’s even possible that you might be able to feel the gap between these two sets of muscles. You can try lying on your back, and then put a couple of fingers on your tummy above your belly button. If you gently press your fingers down while you do a small crunch, you might feel muscle under them, or you might feel the edges of muscle with a gap in between.

If you suspect that you might have an abdominal separation, you can talk with your doctor or midwife. They likely will check your abs at your six-week postpartum visit, but if you are past that visit and still have concerns, it’s a good idea to give your care provider a call. They might confirm your thoughts and refer you a physical therapist who can help you address the issue.

And while physical therapy is one of the best ways to address this issue, there are also things you can try on your own to help make your diastasis go away. For the rest of this blog post, we will discuss some strategies that you can test to improve your symptoms.

This first idea comes from Katy Bowman, who has written a book called Diastasis Recti: the whole body solution to abdominal weakness and separation. If you try the strategies discussed here and think they help, you should also check out her book. In this blog post, Bowman gives instructions for an exercise that will help you activate your transverse abdominals, the muscles that run along either side of your torso. You can do the exercise while you are pregnant or after pregnancy.

Briefly, start on hands and knees and relax your belly completely toward the floor. You don’t have to keep your lower back straight; instead, you should let it relax into its normal curvature. Stay there for a bit, feeling your belly, low back, and pelvis be completely relaxed. Then, without moving your pelvis, draw your navel toward your spine. Continue to breathe normally, feeling a deep contraction in your belly—that’s the activation of your transverse abdominals. [1]

The next exercise comes from this NPR article about diastasis recti and is not dissimilar from the exercise recommended by Bowman. First, sit on the floor with your legs crossed and put your fingertips on your belly near your belly button. As you inhale, let your belly soften and expand all the way, but keep your back strong. Then exhale and draw your belly in toward your spine. Take small breaths and with each exhale, bring your belly closer to your spine. Do this for two minutes and then change positions until you’ve completed 10 total minutes of exercise. You can do the exercise lying down, standing with bent knees, or lying on your side. [2]

The final suggestion is not a special exercise, but a way of habitually moving your body to improve your diastasis in little ways throughout every day. These suggestions, along with really great photos and illustrations to go with them, appear in a post from the blog Diastasis Rectified. All of the habits focus on moving through your day without thrusting your ribs, hips, and belly forward. By keeping your ribs down, aligning your hips under your ribs, and untucking your tailbone, you prevent your belly from thrusting forward and increasing your abdominal separation:

  • Instead of leaning on the bathroom vanity while brushing your teeth, stand straight with your weight in your heels.
  • Sit on the floor with your legs crossed or out in a straddle, instead of leaning back on the couch with your hips jutting forward.
  • While using the toilet, support your feet with a stool or yoga blocks instead of letting your feet rest all the way down to the floor.
  • If you must sit in a chair, move your hips to the edge instead of leaning back.
  • Squat to pick things up from the floor, rather than bending over at the hips.
  • When you’re carrying your baby on the hip, use your arms to hold baby and don’t let your hip jut out to the side.

References:

  1. Katy Bowman, What a Waist
  2. NPR, Flattening The ‘Mummy Tummy’ With 1 Exercise, 10 Minutes A Day
  3. .com, Changing Habits for Diastasis Recti Healing
Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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