Do you have that bloated, achy, and weak feeling in your core since delivery of your baby? Do you feel like you have a “pooch” and still get asked when you are due at several months or years post-partum? Some may have heard the phrase “mommy tummy”, whereas others may have heard its more medical term, Diastasis Recti. Regardless of what you call it, there are physical therapists and exercises that can help get you feeling and looking better!
What is Diastasis Recti Abdominis?
Diastasis Recti Abdominis or “DRA” is a separation of the abdominal muscles that run parallel down your stomach and make up your “six pack”. During pregnancy, the uterus moves up into the abdomen and stretches the linea alba (connective tissue) between the rectus abdominus muscles to make room for the growing baby. More than 98% of women have a diastasis after 35 weeks of pregnancy to allow for the baby to fully develop, however in roughly 70% of women the abdominal muscles will come back together within a few months postpartum. In the other 30% of cases, women may need some extra education on how to properly activate their core and things to avoid while they are still healing post-partum.
How do I know if I have Diastasis Recti Abdominis?
The majority of women will feel some type of stomach bulging, bloating, or weakness throughout their abdomen and they can visibly see a gap between their abdominal muscles that makes them seek out help. However, some may also present with additional symptoms like urinary leakage/incontinence, low back pain, hip pain, difficulty with bowel movements, or pelvic floor pain that can all be associated with Diastasis Recti. You may notice that the diastasis becomes more obvious as you become more physically active or are lifting heavy things like your children. In addition, people may notice an increase in DRA with multiple pregnancies, larger babies, or twins/triplets/etc. You can do a self-check of the abdomen with the below instructions and video to see if you have any abdominal separation. If you feel more than 2 and a half to 3 finger widths between your abdominal muscles it is recommended that you be evaluated by a pelvic floor physical therapist to help you start your healing process.
- Find a comfortable place to lie down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Wear low rise pants and either a fitted tank-top or shirt that can be pulled up to your ribcage to expose your abdomen.
- Place your fingers over your belly button, palms facing down and fingers pointed towards your toes.
- Lift your head and neck just slightly off the floor (keep shoulders on the ground) while you press down with your fingers. If you feel a gap between your abdominal muscles, that is the diastasis.
- Then perform the same test about 2 inches above your belly button and 2 inches below your belly button. Sometimes you will have different measurements in all 3 places, as seen in the picture at the top of this article.
Will my abdominal muscles ever come back together after Diastasis Recti Abdominis?
Whether or not the abdominal muscles fully come back together or become a little closer together than previously depends on several factors, but the biggest being how large of a diastasis recti you have experienced. The most important thing about healing your diastasis recti isn’t fully bringing the abdominal muscle back together (even though that’s what many are worried about initially), but rather building tension between the abdominal muscles to help support the low back and prevent the bowels from bulging out through the abdominal muscles. Regardless of how much the abdominal muscles come back together, many people will feel relief of their symptoms and even extra benefits after a few weeks of focusing on diastasis recti specific exercises.
STAY TUNED for PART 2 to learn about how to start healing your diastasis recti!
Mary Brian Yoffe, PT, DPT
Pelvic Health Specialist, Women’s Health Specialist