Pregnancy is a miraculous journey that brings about numerous changes in a woman’s body. One common condition that many women experience during and after pregnancy is Diastasis Recti. Diastasis Recti is the separation of the abdominal muscles, specifically the rectus abdominis (abdominals) which are between the ribs and the pubic bone at the front of the pelvis due to the stretching and pressure exerted by the growing uterus. In this blog, we will explore the causes, symptoms, what action to take, and effective management techniques for diastasis recti in pregnancy, providing valuable insights for expectant and new Mums.
Causes of Diastasis Recti
Pregnancy and Hormonal Changes
The rapid expansion of the uterus during pregnancy, coupled with hormonal changes that soften connective tissues, can contribute to the separation of the abdominal muscles.
Women carrying multiple babies are more prone to diastasis recti due to increased pressure on the abdominal muscles as their belly has to stretch further to accommodate their little ones.
Ab separation is more common in women who are obese or who have been pregnant more than once, because of the muscles have been stretched. Genetics play a part too so if your Mum had this condition, you’re at a slightly greater risk of developing it as well.
Poor Core Strength
Weak abdominal muscles, especially the deep core muscles like the transverse abdominis, can increase the risk of diastasis recti.
Symptoms of Diastasis Recti
Diastasis recti isn’t often detectable in the beginning of pregnancy. Later on, the uterus may bulge through the abdominal muscles – though you are most likely won’t notice anything is wrong until after you have given birth.
Visible Abdominal Bulge
A noticeable ridge or bulge running along the midline of the abdomen, particularly when performing certain movements like sitting up or doing a crunch.
Weak Core and Pelvic Floor
Difficulty with core stability, lower back pain, and pelvic floor dysfunction, including urinary incontinence.
Some women may experience constipation, bloating, or a feeling of abdominal weakness.
Prevention and Management
Proper Body Mechanics
Learning and practicing correct body mechanics during pregnancy, such as avoiding heavy lifting or straining, can reduce the risk of developing diastasis recti.
Core Strengthening Exercises
Engaging in Prenatal exercises that target the deep core muscles, with a focus on the transverse abdominis, can help improve muscle tone and support the abdominal wall. If you are in your third trimester and your bump is particularly big and your abs feel loose or strained, you may want to consider wearing a baby band for extra support.
Maintaining proper posture throughout pregnancy, including standing tall and avoiding excessive arching of the back, can help minimize abdominal separation.
A physical therapist with expertise in women’s health can provide tailored exercises and techniques to strengthen the abdominal muscles and promote healing. Your physical therapist can help you target lower back, hip and diaphragm muscles which can help support the affected areas of your stomach.
Diastasis Recti Specific Exercises
Specific exercises such as deep ab activation to engage the transverse abdominals, pelvic tilts. Avoid doing crunches, sit-ups and stretching exercises in yoga such as full wheel and facing upward dog as these will put extra tension on your muscles.
Pregnancy support belts is a reinforced fabric belt, that sometimes have multiple straps that wrap around your lower back and tummy and lift it up slightly. They help relief pressure on your back and pelvis and even improve your balance or abdominal support garment during pregnancy and postpartum can provide external support to the abdominal muscles. A support band is slightly different as just a single loop of material that rolls down over your baby bump that provides gentle support as your little one grows.
Avoid exercises and movements that exacerbate the separation, such as traditional sit-ups or crunches, and focusing on gentle, controlled movements that engage the deep core muscles.
Being mindful of posture and alignment during daily activities, including sitting, standing, and lifting, can help protect the abdominal muscles and promote healing.
Diagnosing Diastasis Recti
Once you’ve given birth, some experts suggest waiting a few weeks during postpartum to check to see if you have diastasis recti, since so many hormonal and physical changes are happening. During this time the gap may close on its own. But when you are ready you can just carry out this quick self- assessment.
- Lie on your back, knees bent, soles flat on the floor
- Support your head and shoulders with pillows and rest your arms flat at your sides
- Raise your head slightly
- Feel for a soft lump, where your fingers can compress down into the vertical line above and below your navel, it may indicate a separation. You can tell how big the space is by counting the finger widths between the muscles. One or two finger widths is normal, three or more could be a sign if diastasis recti.
Healthcare Provider Evaluation
Consulting with a healthcare provider or a specialised physical therapist for a professional diagnosis will evaluate if diastasis is present, where it’s located and how severe it is and will provide personalised treatment plan for your recovery.
Patience and Time
It’s important to remember that diastasis recti takes time to heal. Be patient with your body and let nature take its course and allow yourself the necessary time to recover through a combination of specific exercises, physical therapy, breath work and good nutrition to help support you physically as well as mentally and emotionally.
Postnatal Massage Therapy
It is so important to support your body’s natural healing process which can feel difficult when adjusting to a new routine and looking after a new baby. Post-natal massage therapy can help with stress, muscular aches and pains, C- section scar discomfort and diastasis recti recovery.
Gradual Return to Exercise
After receiving clearance from your healthcare provider, gradually incorporate gentle exercises that focus on strengthening the core and improving overall body strength.
Utilise postpartum support garments or abdominal binders to provide additional support to the healing abdominal muscles.
Posture and Body Mechanics
Keep maintaining good posture and practice proper body mechanics during daily activities to avoid placing unnecessary strain on the abdominal muscles.
Consider Professional Guidance
If you’re experiencing persistent or severe symptoms of diastasis recti, seeking the guidance of a specialised physical therapist or women’s health professional can provide personalised support and guidance in your recovery journey.
Diastasis recti is a common condition that affects many women during and after pregnancy. Understanding the causes, recognising the symptoms, and implementing preventive measures can significantly reduce the risk and severity of abdominal muscle separation. With the right management techniques, including exercises, postural awareness, and professional support, it’s possible to improve core strength, promote healing, and restore the abdominal muscles to their pre-pregnancy state. Remember to consult with your healthcare provider or a specialised physical therapist for an accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment plan. By prioritising self-care and taking proactive steps, you can navigate diastasis recti and embrace a healthy and strong postpartum body.