What is diastasis recti? And what can you do about it?

You may be surprised to know that 100% of women have some form of abdominal separation by the end of their pregnancy!

This is known as diastasis recti, but what exactly is it?

Diastasis recti is the separation of the two sides of the rectus abdominis (the long parallel muscles in your abdomen) as a result of connective tissue stretching. As your uterus expands during pregnancy, the abdominals are stretched and the linea alba thins and pulls apart. This band of tissue gets wider as it is pushed outward.

Although there are many unmodifiable risk factors for developing diastasis recti such as the size of your baby, multiple pregnancy, hormones and genetics, there are some modifiable risk factors! These include your lifting technique, performing weighted abdominal exercises and managing constipation.

What are the signs and symptoms of diastasis recti?

If you have abdominal separation after you give birth, you may be able to see a gap between the two long parallel muscles of your stomach. You can usually see this gap more clearly if you lie flat on your back and lift your head up. You might also notice some coning or doming of your stomach, especially when your abdominal muscles are active. Some women with abdominal separation also experience lower back pain, as the separation results in poor core control and prevents the stomach muscles from supporting the back.

Your GPmidwife or physiotherapist can check how big your abdominal separation is by measuring it with their fingers or a measuring tape, or by doing an ultrasound.

How can diastasis recti be prevented during pregnancy?

If you’re still pregnant, here are some management techniques you can implement now to help reduce the severity of your abdominal separation:

  • Monitor abdomen for signs of doming during exercise and if this occurs, stop doing this particular exercise
  • Monitor abdomen for signs of doming during daily movements (carrying groceries, picking up your other kids etc) 
  • Manage constipation and avoid straining on the toilet
  • Avoid valsalva breaths (holding your breath) during exercise

Can diastasis recti be repaired?

Abdominal separation usually resolves after birth. With that being said, up to 1 in 3 women report problems with abdominal separation 12 months after birth. The best window of opportunity for improvement of the separation is in the first 3-6 months after birth. The following management techniques will help you repair your abdominal separation: 

  • See a women’s health physio for individual assessment 
  • Focus on rest and recovery for the first 8 weeks post birth
  • Wear medical grade compression shorts/tights day and night during those first few weeks post birth
  • Manage constipation 
  • Avoid heavy lifting for 6-8 weeks until you get clearance from your physio then start with light weights to slowly build up your core strength
  • Avoid crunches or any movement that causes doming of your abdominals until you have clearance from your physio and you are able to control the movement without doming
  • Avoid valsalva breaths (holding your breath) until given clearance from your physio 

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