Post pregnancy, you expect a little tummy pooch until your uterus contracts to its pre-pregnancy size. What you don’t expect, though, is a condition called diastasis recti, which causes the so-called “mummy tummy” to never go away. This is a separation of the abdominal muscles. The muscles on the left and right side of the belly become stretched by the constant pressure of the growing baby and they are unable to retain their shape. It is what makes your high waist jeans that fit great before, never fit again even though you return to your pre-pregnancy weight.
SYMPTOMS & CAUSES
Diastasis can cause a host of problems beyond the mummy tummy such as lower back pain, constipation, and urine leakage. The muscle should return to normal after birth but most women report this ongoing condition to at least some extent. Having multiple pregnancies, surgeries, or other abdominal issues raises your chance of having it.
AVOID ABDOMINAL EXERCISE WHILE PREGNANT AND POSTPARTUM
To keep a toned stomach, I often did exercises like crunches and planks before and soon after pregnancy. These muscles are already strained during pregnancy and when done wrong, exercises like these can make matters worse. Although I was one of the few who escaped permanent damage, I have friends who weren’t so lucky. They went on to have protruding stomachs, abdominal issues, and even a hernia (a condition when organs start poking out of the thin band of connective tissue that is left when the abdominal muscles have separated).
A SIMPLE TEST CAN TELL
You can get a good idea of whether or not you have diastasis recti through a simple, at-home test. Diastasis is measured by a gap of more than 2.7 cm between the muscles. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor and place your fingers palms down on your belly button. Lift your head and neck up a little while you press down with your fingers. If there is a gap between the muscles you feel, that is the diastasis.
There are some specific treatment options to help. If you suspect that you have this condition talk to your doctor. They can tell you whether your case is manageable through postpartum exercise or if you need surgery. If you go to a trainer, make sure they are familiar with diastasis or they could make your condition worse. Your doctor might recommend some gentle, at-home exercises or refer you to a physical therapist.
An operation called abdominoplasty or a tummy tuck may be recommended if your condition is bad enough to cause additional problems. The surgery involves stitching together the weakened central ridge. There is a device called a splint or binder that you can ask your doctor about but it’s still up in the air as to whether it is helpful or not.
There are programs online and that provide postpartum exercises that you can do at home to strengthen your core and try to close up that diastasis recti.
If you know that you’re planning to get pregnant, the best thing is to start strengthening your core before getting pregnant to prevent diastasis recti. While pregnant, it’s best to avoid movements that isolate abdominal muscles like sit-ups and instead focusing on overall body strengthening.