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Everything Pregnant Moms Should Know About Diastasis Recti

Diastasis recti, or abdominal separation, can occur during pregnancy (usually the second half) or postpartum. It is when your rectus abdominis (six-pack muscles) separate in the middle from being stretched. When you engage it, a dome or bulge can form in the middle of the abdominal muscles.

How to self-check for abdominal separation?

  • Lie on your back with your knees up and heels on the ground
  • Place your fingers just above the belly button
  • Lift your head and shoulders up from the floor and see if you can feel a gap in between your 6 pack muscles
  • Repeat this for just below the belly button
  • If you feel a gap that is >1 finger below or above the belly button, you may have a separation

You may also notice a “dome” in the middle of your stomach as you raise your head and shoulders, which indicates abdominal separation.

It is recommended that you seek a professional, such as a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist trained in abdominal separation management, to check for you.

What causes abdominal separation?

  • Stretching along the front abdominal region during pregnancy
  • Weight gain
  • Hormonal changes during pregnancy

What increases risk?

  • If your core muscles are too strong – this can create excessive tension in the abdominal region
  • If you have had more than one pregnancy
  • Short torso length
  • Having twins or triplets
  • If you are >35 years old

What can you do to prevent abdominal separation during the second half of your pregnancy?

  • Getting on and off the bed from your side
  • Avoiding lifting weights above your head
  • Avoid curl-ups, v-sits, front planks, bicycles—basically, any core exercise that overly engages your six-pack or oblique muscles!
  • A pregnancy-specific deep core strengthening program (as long as you do not have tension in the pelvic floor aka muscles down there)

What to do in the first 6 weeks postpartum if you suspect you have abdominal separation?

  • Get on and off the bed from your side
  • Buy an abdominal wrap that is NOT a waist trainer, which has a LIFTING effect on the pelvic and lower abdominal area, especially if you had a vaginal birth. You should not feel increased symptoms of leaking or pressure down there when wearing the wrap.  
  • Do not lift heavier than your baby
  • When you lift anything, exhale out of your mouth as you imagine you are pulling your belly button towards your spine. This will engage your deep core muscles, reducing stress on your abdominal separation.
  • Do gentle deep core exercises with diaphragmatic breathing 1 week postpartum – inhale open the belly, exhale imagine you are blowing out of a straw and pull your belly button towards your spine. Do this 30 times a day.

Abdominal separation can go away by itself for some individuals within the first 6 weeks postpartum. Up to one-third of women postpartum will report still having abdominal separation a year after giving birth.

After 6 weeks Postpartum:

It is recommended that you seek the guidance of a pelvic floor physiotherapist at 6 weeks postpartum to provide you with individualized deep core exercises to treat abdominal separation. Doing core exercises that are too hard for your deep core can make abdominal separation worse. Furthermore, if you have any pelvic floor tension issues, core exercises can increase tension down there!

Main Take Aways:

  • Diastasis recti or abdominal separation is when your 6-pack muscles separate in the middle from being stretched during your pregnancy or postpartum
  • There is a way to self-check for abdominal separation. However, it is recommended you seek the guidance of a pelvic floor physiotherapist 6 weeks postpartum
  • You want to make sure you do not have tension in the pelvic floor aka muscles down there before you start on any corrective loading exercises for your abdominal separation, as deep core exercises also tend to engage your pelvic floor and can make tension issues worse
  • A gentle deep core exercise that can help with abdominal separation one week postpartum involves using diaphragmatic breath. On the inhale, open the belly, and on the exhale, imagine you are blowing out through a straw while drawing your belly button towards your spine. Do this 30 times a day.
February 29, 2024
3 min read
Ellie Hong