One of the most common topics we get questions on is diastasis recti, also known as abdominal wall separation or ‘coning’ during pregnancy. Whatever you call it, it’s a big concern for so many pregnant and postpartum women, and since it is a common condition, it’s really important to be informed on what it is, how to identify it, and how to take care of it!
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of horror stories and misinformation on diastasis recti that lead many women to avoid core exercises during and after pregnancy for fear of causing abdominal wall separation. But as you (hopefully!) know from your time on Baby2Body, building foundational core strength is really important to a healthy pregnancy, and when done properly it can help reduce your risk of abdominal wall separation and actually help you treat it. Of course, when core exercises are done improperly it can increase your risk, but that’s what we’re here to help you navigate!
So let’s break down the most common questions we get about diastasis recti (we’ll refer to it as DR for short throughout this post) and what you need to know about it.
What is Diastasis Recti?
DR is the separation of your rectus abdominis, or the layer of core muscles that form the front of your abdominal wall. These are your “six-pack” muscles, and the two sides of the rectus abdominis normally meet in the middle. If you flex your core right now you should be able to feel an indented ridge just above your belly button that runs vertically down the middle of your stomach.
During pregnancy as your uterus grows it places internal pressure on this wall of muscle and when it is strained enough it can cause that middle ridge to partially or completely separate, leaving a larger gap in between the two sides. This is diastasis recti.
Is Diastasis Recti painful?
The separation of the muscle isn’t generally painful in itself. However since it significanly weakens your abdominal core strength (as those muscles are no longer holding everything ‘together’ as much) this can lead to lower back and pelvic pain, constipation, and even incontinence. It can also make certain movements more painful. Very severe cases or those that go untreated and worsen can lead to hernias as well, where abdominal organs start pushing through that gap in your abdominal wall.
How likely am I to get Diastasis Recti?
DR is common in pregnancy and postpartum, considering you have a human growing inside of you pushing out on your abdomen all hours of the day. Estimates vary, but it’s believed that around 50% of postpartum women will experience DR to some degree, but it really depends on the size of your baby and the health of your abdominal wall going into pregnancy.
If you are over the age of 35, have a heavier weight baby, or are carrying multiples your risk of developing DR does increase.
When is Diastasis Recti most likely to occur?
Abdominal wall separation (if it occurs) usually happens in the late second or third trimester of pregnancy when baby starts getting large enough to put extended pressure on your abdomen. However, it can be tough to identify at these stages as well so it may not be something you’re aware of until after birth. Childbirth itself and the strain your abdominal muscles go under during labor can also lead to DR.
How can I tell if I have Diastasis Recti?
We actually have an audio-guided check for diastasis recti right on the Baby2Body app! During pregnancy, you may notice a slight bulge in the middle of your abdomen, which is why it’s called coning at this stage. This bulge typically indicates a separation of your abdominal wall, and that becomes pronounced after birth and is often referred to as the postpartum pouch. But you can confirm DR with a manual check (this will be easier for our postpartum mamas):
- Lie down on your back on a comfortable surface.
- Lift your head, bringing your chin to your chest and supporting your neck with your left hand to engage your abdominals (you don’t want to “crunch” up, keep your shoulders on the ground. This is just enough of a lift to engage your abs).
- With your right hand, find the ridge that runs down the center of your abdomen, just above your belly button.
- Once you find the ridge see how many fingers you can fit inside. 1 finger’s width indicates a normal rectus abdominis and you likely don’t have DR. 2 finger’s width or more indicates a separation of your abdominal wall and it’s best to avoid regular core routines and resume with DR-repair workouts. We’ll go over those more in a bit!
Can I do anything to prevent Diastasis Recti?
As with anything, there may be some factors out of your control (such as carrying multiples) that can increase your risk of developing diastasis recti. However, there are still several things you can do to reduce your risk of DR!
The research points to regular physical activity and healthy weight gain throughout pregnancy as the best ways to prevent DR from occurring. Additionally, building good foundational core strength when you are trying to conceive and maintaining that safely through pregnancy can also protector against DR, as you’ll be helping build muscle tone to better handle the added strain that a growing baby places on your abdomen.
Will certain exercises make Diastasis Recti worse?
As we mentioned earlier, yes, certain exercises performed in pregnancy or when you have diastasis recti can increase your risk of DR or make it worse. And that’s why safe pregnancy workouts are so important! It’s all about knowing what core routines you should do to reduce your risk of DR, while avoiding core routines you shouldn’t do which can increase your risk of DR.
From the second trimester of pregnancy onwards (once your uterus really starts to expand) you want to avoid core routines that compress and place additional internal pressure on your abdomen (i.e. pressure from the inside pushing out). This includes traditional crunches or sit ups and isometric holds (such as planks) where you’re really having to ‘bear down’ to hold a pose or complete the movement. These are the same moves that you’d want to avoid if you have DR diagnosed in your postpartum recovery.
If I have Diastasis Recti, is there anything I can do to fix it?
Wouldn’t you know it, we have an audio-guided exercise for helping repair diastasis recti on the app as well! The good news is, you can repair diastasis recti and help your abdominal wall come back together. Some very severe cases of DR might have a hard time of fully recovering, and that’s why it’s so important to be aware of DR early on so you can check for it and start taking care of it right away.
If you have DR diagnosed in pregnancy or postpartum, you’ll want to avoid some of the more traditional core routines. But ultimately, exercise is what will help you fix your DR! Routines that pull your abdomen in and build strength in your underlying transverse abdominis (which we can target with abdominal pulls and bird dogs) and also work on pelvic floor strengthening (which of course we have in the app) is key to helping repair DR.
We’ve just launched a Core Restore series on the app for postpartum that’s led by one of our lovely prenatal and postnatal trainers, Laura Lucas. It’s all about taking extra care of those stretched and strained abdominal muscles and helping build muscle tone back in them for a stronger abdominal wall — which means better posture, better stamina, and more success in all of your other postpartum workouts as well. She also has an Ab Rehab workout if you’re specifically struggling with DR postpartum that we recommend doing until you’ve fully healed.
The last thing we want to note is that there are products on the market such as belly binders for postpartum that ‘hold’ your abdomen together (featured in this blog post image!), but keep in mind that these do not strengthen your abdominal wall and that’s what’s necessary in actually repairing DR. Your doctor may recommend a belly binder or wrap to help prevent worsening DR or pain, and make sure to consult your doctor before using any wraps. At the end of the day, simple targeted exercises are what will help you most in your DR recovery.
Want to safely strengthen your core every day this week? Head over to our Instagram to join the AuTUMn Toning Challenge (it’s free!)
Do you have any more questions about diastasis recti? Leave them in the comments below and we’ll be sure to address them in an upcoming post!
All exercises on the Baby2Body app are built to be safe for your specific stage of pregnancy or postpartum, and we’ll always let you know if you should skip certain moves if you have diastasis recti. You’ll also find guided exercises specific to diastasis recti repair, informational videos, and helpful infographics so you can better understand, identify, and treat abdominal wall separation in pregnancy and postpartum.