Self-Test: Do You Have Diastasis Recti aka "Mommy Tummy"?
The major reason diastasis occurs is because of a distended belly, almost always due to poor core function. It happens when the abdominal muscle connective tissues stretch and weaken at the midline or linea alba. The left and right sides of the abs look and feel separated. Poor alignment and doing the wrong abdominal exercises only make it worse. Some hints that you may have a diastasis include low back pain, “mommy tummy” that you can’t seem to heal, and loss of control of your pelvic floor.
66% of women who have diastasis recti also have problems with their pelvic floor function.
Dysfunctions include at least one of the following:
- Low back pain
- Pelvic floor pain
- Weak pelvic floor
- Urinary incontinence
- Fecal incontinence
- Pelvic organ prolapse
The gap will become most noticeable when you lie down and relax. The loose skin above or below the bellybutton may seem to sink into the center gap. There may be a jelly like texture to the skin instead of a solid abdominal wall. When you lift your head and shoulders slightly from the floor and engage the abdominal muscles more deeply, you’ll see that the midline or linea alba gap will reveal itself to be deeper and wider. If your fingers are not pressing into the gap, it may seem to protrude outward, as if the inner contents are pushing out of the midline.
Checking for Diastasis Recti:
- Lie on your back with feet on the floor and knees bent. Arms should be by the sides.
- Place your two finger pads horizontally into the stomach just above and below the navel (pointing down towards the toes).
- Then exhale as you raise your head just off the floor.
- If there is a gap, the fingers will sink into the abdominal cavity.
- One to two fingers’ width soon after birth is normal and will tighten over time with some modifications to exercise.
- If the gap remains or is three or more fingers’ width, means steps must be taken to close the gap.
In this case, core rehabilitation is necessary before returning to regular exercise because it can make the DR worse.
An internal pelvic floor assessment with a qualified physical therapist is a very effective starting point. Ask your midwife or OB/GYN, or your doctor if it’s been many years, for a referral. Many of the postnatal health issues in the US can be prevented and treated with this foundational care. It is standard procedure for postnatal mothers in the UK, France, the Netherlands, and Australia. You can find out specifically how to support recovery including whether your pelvic floor is too tense/tight or weak/lacking tone and (whether and which) kegel exercises will help you come back to balance.
Proper breathwork techniques are the first and foundational exercise. They can help to gently rebuild and realign the core and pelvic floor muscles. Breathing should be fluid and not too extreme (neither too expanded during inhales or constricted during exhales). Fit For Birth, a leading organization in the prenatal/postnatal fitness world, encourages breath work as the beginning of diastasis and all core rehabilitation.
Some basic breathing exercises:
- Extended inhales
- Extended exhales
Avoid exercises that put pressure on your already separated, therefore weakened, abdominal muscles. This includes excessively heavy lifting as well as planks, push-ups, sit-ups, heavy twists, and running. A postnatal corrective exercise professional is an excellent and effective way to ensure that you will get the customized tools you need to rehabilitate your core and come back stronger and healthier than ever!
I’m certified by Fit For Birth as a Core and Diastasis Consultant. I offer my programs in Core Recovery & Strength Coaching in S. Orange County, California as well as online via private sessions and e-courses in the US and internationally. Fit For Birth is also a great resource for finding a qualified professional in your area.
Your body has worked hard to create, nurture, and give birth to your baby. The process of rebuilding the core and healing diastasis recti can be slow, especially if you have had it for many years, so please be patient with yourself.