New moms are often surprised by how their bodies change after delivering a baby. Even after losing weight, their stomachs may not look and feel like they did pre-baby. Diastasis recti, a common condition in postpartum moms, can be a culprit.

Allison Abramson, a physical therapist with Adventist HealthCare Rehabilitation, discusses the condition and what moms can do to fix it.

What is diastasis recti?

Diastasis recti is a separation of the left and right bellies of the abdominal muscles, or more specifically, a gap of 2.7 centimeter or greater.  Diastasis recti is most commonly caused by the thinning and widening of the midline tissue between the abs, from the uterus pushing on the abdominal wall or hormonal changes during pregnancy.

Some abdominal separation is normal during pregnancy.  Problems can begin when the separation doesn’t go back together and the muscles cannot adequately contract.

How can I tell if I have diastasis recti?

For many women, diastasis recti has no symptoms or discomfort.  Some women may feel lower back pain, abdominal cramping or muscle spasms during activity, or an overall feeling of weakness in their core.  You can perform a quick test at home to see if diastasis recti is possible.

Lie on your bed with your knees bent and your feet firm on the surface. Place the fingers of one hand over your belly button, with the fingertips facing toward your pelvis.  Place your other hand behind your head.  Lift your head and shoulder blades off the bed, similar as if doing a mini crunch, to bring your rib cage toward your pelvis.  While you are lifting, check for a gap in your abdominals at, above and below your belly button in the mid-line.  Typically, diastasis recti is present if you can feel a separation that is greater than two finger-widths.  You may also see a small protrusion along your midline.

What are risk factors for diastasis recti?

Women who have had previous pregnancies are more at risk for developing diastasis recti. Other risk factors include: delivering via caesarean section, advanced maternal age, excessive weight gain during pregnancy, or carrying multiples.

What can I do to fix this condition?

If you have diastasis recti, work with a physical therapist. The correct exercises will improve the tension in your abdominals from their deepest layer, minimizing the risk of abdominal and lower-back pain in the future.  It is also important to learn what movements and exercises to avoid, so that the abdominal separation does not increase. In extreme cases, surgery may be required, but only when conservative measures fail and symptoms persist.

Adventist HealthCare Rehabilitation offers physical therapy for postpartum conditions, including diastasis recti, as well as pelvic conditions. Call 240-864-6202 or click to learn more.