After nine months (or more!) of carrying your little one, it’s only natural that it’ll take time for your body to bounce back.
If you’ve been doing everything by the book, however, such as following a proper diet, regular exercise (approved by your doctor, of course!) and core strengthening, it can be very frustrating if you have a belly pooch that just doesn’t want to go away.
While our bodies go through quite a metamorphosis during pregnancy and after childbirth, one aspect of pregnancy that you might not expect is the toll pregnancy and childbirth will have on your abs.
“As you can imagine, your uterus and abdomen are expanding so your abdominal muscles are also stretching to allow space for your baby,” said Nichole Mahnert, MD, an OBGYN at Banner University Medicine in Arizona. “This pressure can cause separation of the rectus abdominis muscles (the two muscles that run parallel along our abdomen) called diastasis recti.
For some postpartum women these muscles will move back into place, but for some with diastasis recti, you may be left with an annoying pooch and weak core muscles.
To better understand this relatively common condition, we spoke with Dr. Mahnert.
How do I know if I have diastasis recti?
While a protruding belly may be a tell-tale indicator, Dr. Mahnert said you can perform a self-test to determine if you have it.
- Lie down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Place your fingertips just below your belly button in the middle.
- Bring your head and shoulders up into a sit up or crunch. For some women, you may actually just see a bulge in the middle when you do a sit up.
- If you can feel a gap of two finger widths or more, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician, OBGYN or physical therapist for a definitive diagnosis.
How can I treat diastasis recti?
Although diastasis recti isn’t necessarily painful, it can be a painful blow to your self-confidence. While there are a ton of tips out there on how to self-treat your diastasis recti, don’t treat it on your own. Sometimes things like crunches can actually make it worse. Dr. Mahnert said to talk to your doctor first.
“Sometimes the diastasis recti goes away on its own and sometimes it improves with exercises and physical therapy,” Dr. Mahnert said. “But all women should see a pelvic floor physical therapist or specialist following delivery to evaluate the pelvic floor and abdominal wall muscles and to work on strengthening and aligning. Some women require surgical intervention, but this is less common.”
What things can I do to prevent it from happening again?
While we know a growing baby in our belly will cause things to shift, it’s not clear which pregnant women will or will not develop diastasis recti.
“Exercise is one of the best ways to prevent this from happening both before and during pregnancy but sometimes it is beyond our control,” Dr. Mahnert said. “Ask your doctor for exercises that are safe to perform to help strengthen the pregnant abdominals and prepare you for childbirth.”
Schedule an appointment
If you believe you have diastasis recti, don’t self-treat. Contact your primary care provider or schedule an appointment with a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor rehabilitation.
To find a Banner Health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.