Most women suffer from Diastasis Recti (abdominal separation) during pregnancy and unfortunately for us the condition often remains post-partum.
Let’s take the medical jargon out. Diastasis Recti is simply the separation of your abdominal muscles.
Diastasis means separation and Recti refers to your rectus abdominis muscles – the most superficial muscles in the anterior abdomen, more commonly known as your abs.
Diastasis Recti can be caused by a variety of factors (and by the way can also affect men and children).
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- The growing uterus during pregnancy. Basically as your tummy gets bigger, the muscles have to separate to accommodate the growing baby and the linea alba (connective tissue that holds those muscles together), stretches with them.
- Weight gain in the abdominal area (ever seen one of those guys with skinny legs and a really round beer gut that look like a big ball?)
- Incorrectly doing abdominal exercises like crunches or sit-ups. Sit-ups are not your friend and you shouldn’t do them if you have Diastasis Recti as they will make it worse.
- Excessive intra-abdominal pressure from lifting heavy weights, bearing down improperly when giving birth or voiding bowels.
Whilst Diastasis Recti is neither life threatening nor dangerous, it can cause a variety of ongoing physical issues including:
- A ’mummy tummy’ or ‘guy gut’ that no amount of diet or exercise will shift.
- Lower back pain – because your core muscles are so weak that your back muscles have to work overtime to compensate.
- Pelvic instability – where your hips ache or constantly feel like they are slipping around.
- Pelvic floor dysfunction – which is the technical term for when you can’t control the wee factor.
- A hernia – when your intestines poke out of your tummy.
- Digestive issues and bloating – often most evident at the end of the day.
The severity of the Diastasis depends on how far the muscles have separated and how thin and weak the linea alba (connective tissue) has become.
Research into exact numbers of women who suffer Diastasis Recti is thin on the ground but more than 80% of the women we see at The Belly Firm who have had a pregnancy have Diastasis Recti of varying degrees.
Diastasis Recti can get worse with subsequent pregnancies which is why women often show earlier in their second or third pregnancies.
A fairly common Diastasis, like the one I had, is about five fingers (cms) wide. This can cause some or all of the symptoms listed above as well as a ‘pouch’ or mummy tummy, which makes some women feel like they still look pregnant years after they had their last baby.
The severity of your Diastasis can vary depending on how you carried during your pregnancy and how many children you have had. Often women who have had twins or multiple births have a very wide separation but whether you end up suffering from Diastasis Recti often comes down to good old-fashioned genes. The good news is, it doesn’t matter how long since you have had your last baby, Diastasis Recti can be healed.
Checking for Diastasis
The purpose of checking for a Diastasis is to determine two things: The distance between the two separated muscles and the condition (weakness) of the connective tissue.
Here are the ways you can check if you may have Diastasis:
- Check your Diastasis in a back lying position with your knees bent.
- With your fingers pointing toward your toes and abdominal muscles relaxed, put your fingers in your belly button and press down.
- Now slightly lift your head and when the muscles first start to move to see how many fingers fit between the two muscles and how deep they go. The number of fingers you can fit into the separation is the approximate number of cms of your separation width.
- Then check 3 inches above the belly button and 3 inches below the belly button. Most women have different widths at different places on their stomach.
- If you see a bulge when you lift your head or you feel pulsing under your fingers, you know the condition of the connective tissue is very weak. This means it may take a bit more work to heal your separation.
- To feel the distance between the two muscles, you may need to use the fingers from both hands.
So how can you fix it?
If you are lucky in Australia, a physiotherapist will come and measure you while you are still in hospital after childbirth to let you know if you have Diastasis Recti and they should also tell you how wide and deep it is. But that doesn’t always happen and many GP’s and obstetricians don’t take the condition very seriously or may even recommend surgery (which is only needed in extreme cases).
The good news is that Diastasis Recti can be healed in most women and usually doesn’t require you going under the knife.
Get a recommendation for a good women’s physio who specialises in the condition.
Did you experience Diastasis Recti? SHARE your experience with us in the comments below.