A hard term to pronounce and an uncomfortable condition to deal with… but what is Diastasis Recti?
Affecting around two-thirds of women during or after pregnancy, diastasis recti is one of the most common conditions you should be aware of. If you are experiencing a hard to ditch “belly pooch,” ridges and bumps down the middle of your abdomen, or abdominal weakness and discomfort, you are not alone.
These symptoms may indicate that you have developed diastasis recti, meaning your abdominal muscles have stretched and separated, resulting in that telltale bulge in your tummy.
Here, we tell you exactly what diastasis recti is, what causes it, and how to manage it.
What Causes Diastasis Recti?
The abdominal muscle causing this weakness is called the rectus abdominis. It is attached to the bottom of your ribs and runs down the centre of your tummy to the pubic bone.
As your baby grows, your abdominal muscles begin to stretch out to accommodate your expanding uterus. Pregnancy hormones relax your connective tissue, including the band of tissue holding the two recti muscles together. If they relax and stretch too much, a gap will appear between the muscle bellies.
Women carrying multiple babies or who have given birth more than once are more susceptible. But this condition can happen to anyone – including men. Other reasons for developing the condition include improper weightlifting and exercise techniques, yoyo dieting, liver cirrhosis, stomach cancer, age, and genetics.
Diagnosing Diastasis Recti
The standard diagnosis for diastasis recti is a gap of around 2.7 cm or more. You can measure this yourself at home, but make sure you see a doctor before self-diagnosing to rule out other issues.
How to check:
- Lie on your back on the floor, knees bent and feet flat.
- Lay the palms of your hands on your abdomen, fingers on your belly button.
- Gently lift your head and neck off the floor to slightly strain your abdominal muscles.
- Use your fingers to feel the gap in the midline of your abdomen.
- If it is wider than two finger widths, you likely have diastasis recti.
As well as the physical separation, which creates a bulge in your abdomen, you may experience lower back pain, urinary incontinence, constipation, pain during sex, or pelvic and hip pain.
Treating Diastasis Recti
In some cases, it will naturally resolve within the first eight weeks after birth. However, for around 40 percent of women, the abdominals remain stretched after three to six months.
Physiotherapists recommend targeted exercises. Incorrect exercises during or after pregnancy can increase your vulnerability of developing diastasis recti.
Severe cases may be corrected using surgery, but this is a last resort and not usually necessary for most women.
After the birth of your baby, wearing grandma-style fitting underwear can help. Choose a style that comes up to your belly button and can help support your tummy. These days most hospitals will give you tuby grip for skin to skin snuggles with your baby. When you’re not using it for skin to skin contact, put it to good use by wearing it around your belly.
Wearing a Smileybelt also gently supports your abdomen during and after pregnancy, helping relieve the discomfort of diastasis recti and supporting your body to heal.
How Can I Prevent Diastasis Recti?
The main way is to avoid heavy lifting during and after pregnancy.
When lifting things like shopping out of the car, or pushing heavy objects, rolling over and going from sitting to standing you need to gently brace your muscles. You do this by hugging your baby towards your spine at about 30% effort. You should also feel your pelvic floor lift when you do this. It is easy to forget to do this, so it is a sensible idea to wear a support belt during your busiest times of the day and in the evening when you are tired.
Avoid exercises that push your abdominal muscles out — like crunches, sit-ups and planks. Instead, focus on those that work to pull your muscles inwards. Consult a physiotherapist for advice on the correct exercises and form.
Using a Smileybelt during pregnancy can reduce the abdominal strain, support your muscles, and promote good posture, all important factors in naturally preventing diastasis recti.
Even though Diastasis Recti is a common condition, it is not something that you have to put up with. There are things you can do to prevent and correct it, and to minimise the discomfort. A Smileybelt is a great first step. Then, take recommendations from a trusted health professional for stretches and exercises that can help to correct the separation.