A Diastasis Recti Can Persist Postpartum
Some degree of diastasis recti during pregnancy is unavoidable. 100% of women have one at full term of pregnancy. However, wrong exercises, movement patterns, breathing patterns, and poor pressure management can make the diastasis worse both during pregnancy and postpartum. In some women, the diastasis resolves within a few weeks postpartum. However, 60% of women still have a diastasis recti 6 weeks postpartum. 30-40% of women continue to have a diastasis recti 6 months to 1 year postpartum.
If you continue to have a diastasis recti at that point, it is unlikely that the muscles will come back together on their own. Thus, there will always be a weak point in the middle of these muscles, and you may be more likely to develop a hernia in this area. When stretched out, our abdominal muscles cannot work as efficiently. This can lead to back or abdominal pain during lifting, pushing, or exercise, as other muscles have to work overtime.
What is a Diastasis Recti?
We have 4 layers of abdominal muscles. The most superficial of these is the rectus abdominis – the “6 pack” abs. The two sides of the abdominal muscles connect in the middle on a line of connective tissue called the linea alba. As baby grows during pregnancy, the linea alba thins which widens the gap between the two sides of the rectus abdominis. This gap is called a diastasis recti. It can occur above, below, or around your belly button, as well as at all of those locations.
Do I Have a Diastasis Recti?
A diastasis recti is measured by checking the width and depth between the two muscle bellies of the rectus abdominis. Check out this video below to learn how to check yourself for a diastasis recti.
You should check for a diastasis recti at your belly button, 2 inches below your belly button, and 2 inches above your belly button. A diastasis can occur at one or all of these locations, so it is important that you assess each location.
A diastasis recti is defined as having >2 finger widths between your rectus abdominis muscle bellies. Additionally, as you press your fingers down, it should feel springy and firm, not squishy. If your fingers sink in, this is another indication of a diastasis recti.
Avoid Abdominal Binding for a Diastasis
Immediately postpartum, abdominal binding may be helpful to support the abdominals. However, you should wean from using it as soon as possible. Binding can create more pressure downward onto the pelvic floor, which can lead to other issues such as incontinence. Your abs need to figure out how to function again, and do so best without a crutch.
How to Fix Your Diastasis Recti
1. Improve Breathing Patterns
As baby grows during pregnancy, your diaphragm has less room to expand downward as you breathe in. Thus, many pregnant women breathe in a shallow pattern (shoulders moving up and down), especially in the third trimester. It can take a while after giving birth for your diaphragm to figure out how to fully expand again. Using shallow breathing patterns places extra pressure on your abs, as well as your pelvic floor. This extra pressure outward onto your abs can lead to delayed healing of your diastasis recti. Learn how to breathe deeply again with the video below.
2. Avoid Coning, Doming, or Lower Belly Pooching
Both while pregnant and postpartum, it is important to manage your intra-abdominal pressure well. If you see lower belly pooching, coning, or doming in your abdomen during exercise or lifting, you are placing too much pressure out into your abs. This can either worsen the diastasis or delay healing. Working on correct breathing patterns and correct abdominal muscle recruitment can help you avoid coning, doming, or pooching.
3. Focus on Posture
Keep your ribs stacked over your pelvis and stay tall. Avoid flaring your ribs out, sticking your butt out, or slouching forward. Having good posture will put your abs in a better position to function properly and heal.
4. Get Your Abdominal Muscles Firing
All of our abdominal muscles need to be equally active to have a balanced core. If you have a wide diastasis recti but it’s firm, you should focus on strengthening your rectus abdominis. Here is a great exercise to start with that targets this muscle.
If your diastasis is both wide and squishy, work on strengthening both of these abdominal muscles.
5. See a Physical Therapist
If these tips do not resolve your diastasis, it’s time to see a physical therapist. There are other factors that can delay healing of a diastasis recti, such as a wide rib angle, muscle tightness, or weaknesses in other areas of your core or legs. We will help fix your diastasis recti by addressing all the factors that are contributing to your diastasis and ensure proper abdominal muscle function.