Pregnancy is a truly wonderful time for all women that experience it. Unfortunately, it does harbor some common female health complaints too, such as Diastasis Recti or bleeding after a pap smear.
For many women, diastasis recti during pregnancy are quite concerning. Diastasis Recti is the partial separation of the rectus abdominis, otherwise known as your abdominal muscles, resulting from increased strain on them as they are naturally stretched apart during pregnancy.
This is a very common occurrence, affecting up to 60% of pregnant and postpartum women combined. However, while it is common, it may still pose problems for you including the continued separation of the muscles, a weak core, poor posture, developing a hernia, and even making a vaginal delivery more difficult.
While there are no guaranteed ways to prevent developing Diastasis Recti during your pregnancy, there are several ways to reduce the possibility of it occurring.
Diastasis Recti During Your Pregnancy
Even though this problem can affect anyone ranging from overactive males to babies, it’s most common in pregnant women. As your baby grows your uterus stretches to accommodate it, putting increased forward pressure on your stomach muscles.
This forward pressure makes it harder for your abdominal muscles to keep their original shape, therefore separating down the midline, an imaginary vertical line through the middle of your body.
Women over the age of 35 have an increased risk of developing Diastasis Recti during their pregnancy, especially if they have previously already had a child. In addition, if a woman has multiple pregnancies close together this will also increase her risk the same way having multiple babies like twins or triplets will.
To summarise the following factors may increase your risk of developing abdominal separation:
- Women over the age of 35.
- Pregnancy with twins or triplets.
- Substantial weight gain during pregnancy.
- Multiple pregnancies within a short time frame.
What Causes Diastasis Recti
As your belly grows the left and right sides of your abs may begin to shift and move, causing the linea alba – the tissues connecting both sides of your rectus abdominis to stretch, leaving only a thin layer of these connective bands.
This leaves your internal organs like your uterus and bowls with only a thin layer to secure them, allowing them to bulge out due to the separation and loss of protection. In rare cases, Diastasis Recti can lead to hernias, which occurs when the organ pushes through the abdominal wall.
Diastasis Recti After Pregnancy
Some signs are easier to notice than others because the development is usually apparent, like symptoms such as constipation and lower back pain. You may also find your stomach hasn’t returned to its postpartum shape, leaving the appearance of a “pooch”. Women may also be able to see a developing bulge around their belly button during their second and third trimester.
Diastasis Recti also referred to simply as abdominal muscle separation is usually diagnosed on the basis of a gap of around 3 cm in the central portion of the stomach region, between the abdominal muscles known as the rectus abdominis.
How To Self Check For Diastasis Recti
There’s a quick and easy way for you to check for the separation of your abdominal muscles from the comfort of your own home.
Step One: Find a comfortable spot on the floor and lay on your back with your feet pressed firmly against the floor. Keep your knees bent, like in a crunch position.
Step Two: Slowly raise your shoulders off the floor into a position like you’re about to do a half crunch. Making sure to support yourself as to avoid undue strain, lift your upper body up to get a visible view of your stomach.
Step Three: Slowly move your hand up and down the center of your stomach, applying firm pressure, trying to see if you can fit any fingers between a gap in your abdominal muscles.
Step Four: If you are able to find a gap or see a bulge you most likely have Diastasis Recti.
Symptoms Of Diastasis Recti
Some symptoms that you may notice besides the ones mentioned above is urine leaking, often when laughing or coughing, poor posture and bloating. The bloating is usually harder to tell as you may think you just haven’t lost the weight gained during the pregnancy. Other common symptoms include the following:
- Swelling of the abdominal area.
- A gap of more than 3 cm when the rectus is fully contracted.
- Visible separation of the abdominal muscles.
How to Prevent Diastasis Recti During Pregnancy
Exercise has many benefits, whether you are pregnant or not, it helps burn calories, keep your heart healthy and can lift your mood by stimulating the release of endorphins in your brain.
However, during pregnancy, it’s important to be aware of the type of exercises you ought to be doing and which you should avoid completely, especially if you want to limit the chances of developing Diastasis Recti.
It is recommended that you avoid doing strenuous exercises that put undue pressure on your abdominal muscles, like crunches and lifting heavy weights. This can worsen or increase your risk of developing Diastasis Recti during pregnancy.
Maintaining proper posture while performing these exercise and throughout day to day life is also a good way to reduce your risk of developing Diastasis Recti. To help with keeping good posture you can use belly support, a band that wraps around your lower midsection to help support the pressure of the growing baby.
You should also concentrate on your posture during pregnancy, as this can have a major role. Poor posture can weaken the abdominal muscles and the strength of your core. A great trick to improve your posture is with the use of a full midsection wrap, or if this isn’t your style Kinesthetic tape can be used.
When applied to painful and overused muscles it helps lift the layers of the fascia, connective tissues that enclose and separates organs and muscles, allowing increased blood flow to the area. This is a common practice in physical therapy helps reduce the inflammation of muscles.
To maintain a healthy posture during pregnancy remember to keep your butt sticking out and your pelvis in. This will provide your back with the adequate support it needs during pregnancy and ensure no unnecessary strain is placed on your abdominal area.
Diastasis Recti Exercises During Pregnancy
The best thing you can do is to strengthen your core before you get pregnant since exercise will be limited once you are pregnant. There are some exercises you can do that help prevent Diastasis Recti, including specific exercises that target your transverse abs, these are the ones below your rectus abdominis and your obliques, which are located on the side of your stomach.
Some recommended exercises to do prior to pregnancy that can help with prevention are variations of the plank, the single leg stretch, and the bird dog. Doing these exercises slow and in proper form is vital, as poor posture tends to increase your risk of developing Diastasis Recti. It is very important to listen to your body since there is no better indicator than how you feel.
However, throughout your pregnancy exercise should be kept light and to a minimum, perhaps around 15 – 20 minutes each day and should include cardio, as opposed to strenuous exercises that involve your abdominal area.
Diastasis Recti Exercises Post Pregnancy
Post pregnancy is the best time to get back into shape, but it’s important to take it easy and allow your body some time to revert back to its pre-pregnancy shape. Sometimes, your muscles will remain weak for some time and will require intensive training to gain strength and tone. The best way to achieve this is with the help of a certified trainer or another specialist who has lots of experience and knowledge of diastasis recti.
The Tupler technique is often seen as the best fitness program to treat the diastasis condition post pregnancy. Other exercises that will help gradually strengthen your core include pilates and yoga. The bottom line is to find something right for you and take it slow, as you don’t want to injure yourself.
When To Seek Medical Attention
While lower back pain can be a common side effect of Diastasis Recti, if this pain becomes increasingly severe it is your cue to go get it checked out by your Doctor.
Another sign that something could need professional treatment is if this pain is also occurring throughout your abdominal and pelvic area. Therefore, if you have any concerns always seek advice from your doctor.
Equally, if you find that you are seeing no improvement after exercise and a considerable amount of time post pregnancy your doctor may advise an operation to correct the condition. But remember, refrain from strenuous exercise, heavy lifting and take it slow and steady with your postpartum exercise routine.