Closing the Abdominal Gap: What New Moms Should Know about Diastasis Recti

The term “Diastasis Recti” (DR) is currently having a moment of internet spotlight in pregnancy and post-partum circles and rightly so.  This common postpartum condition can affect new moms and their ability to return to exercise and can even affect daily function, including lifting, rolling over in bed or carrying their new babies.  However, the downside of this newfound internet fame of DR is conflicting information and fear or confusion for new moms about what is safe to do (Will I EVER be able to do planks or sit-ups again!!??) and how to treat it.  Here’s what you should know about DR and how to take control of it.

What is diastasis recti?  

Diastasis recti is a separation of the rectus abdominus (the two 6 pack muscles), often occurring during or after pregnancy. This can be located above, below or at the level of the belly button.  Normally, these two 6-pack muscles connect along our midline (called our linea alba) and create abdominal tension to resist the demands of fitness, motherhood and everyday life. Without this tension,  lifting, carrying, and exercise can become difficult or even painful.

But diastasis recti can be treated and improved.  A trained Physical Therapist, Midwife, or OB-GYN can evaluate for a possible DR.  You may also notice abdominal changes at home that might suggest a DR, including a  gap, a bulge or doming along your midline when you sit up or roll in bed. You may have low back pain with walking, lifting or notice that your abdomen is just not recovering like expected.  All of these signs warrant a closer look to check for possible diastasis.

How is it treated?

There is a lot of fear related to DR as many women are concerned about worsening their separation and as a result, may avoid movement and exercise altogether. But, in order to improve abdominal function, you actually NEED to move and challenge those muscles in a safe and thoughtful way. By doing this, you can reteach all of your core muscles to work together to meet the demands of exercise and daily life. Here are a few treatments that are important in your DR recovery:

  1. Exercise: A trained physical therapist can evaluate your diastasis and develop an individualized exercise program to safely build your core strength and coordination without straining the separation.  This often includes retraining the pelvic floor muscles and deepest layer of your abdominals, called the  transverse abdominis.  As you gain strength, your PT can guide you working into higher demand activities, whether that is running a marathon, weight lifting, or playing tag with your kids.
  2. Posture: Adjusting your posture with lifting, moving, babywearing and caring for your new baby helps protect your low back and abdomen.  Adopting better posture can also help manage abdominal pressure to avoid straining your DR.
  3. Manual Mobilization: During pregnancy, your body undergoes a lot of changes to organs, muscles, joints, and connective tissue. Even your breathing patterns change during pregnancy!  Physical therapy manual treatments can improve any restrictions preventing your abdominal muscles from coming together and can have a huge impact on DR.

Experiencing a postpartum diastasis can have a profound impact on new moms, both emotionally and functionally.  Finding a PT experienced in treating diastasis recti can help you regain control, work toward your goals, and get you back to the most important things in your life.