Diastasis Recti Cases and Photo Guide — From Mild to Extreme Cases
Let’s talk about the most common postpartum body problem no-one openly talks about — diastasis recti. You might recognize it as the stubborn jelly belly after pregnancy.It’s a condition resulting from the abdominal muscles stretching and separating at the midline to accommodate the growth of your baby.
If you're reading this article, chances are you or someone else in your life has a diastasis recti. Not to worry–you're not alone! The condition is very common, especially among women who have given birth and/or experienced weight fluctuations.
How common is abdominal muscle seperation?
The likelihood of developing diastasis recti in the third trimester is as high as 66%.What it looks like is an unwanted belly “pooch” that can last even after you’ve lost the pregnancy weight. And in rare, severe cases, diastasis can evolve into a painful abdominal hernia.
This isn't surprising when you consider how much abdominal muscles are taxed during childbearing and childbirth—not only do they have to work hard to support the growing baby, but they also have to stretch to accommodate the ever-expanding uterus.
While this condition is commonly referred to as "tummy pooch" or "mummy tummy" by women who've been through pregnancy, abdominal muscle separation can be a serious matter. Muscle weakness can lead to back pain and other musculoskeletal issues—and it can even make it more difficult for you to lose weight after the baby comes.
So, what does diastasis recti look like, what is normal, how do you know if you have diastasis recti, and what are effective treatments for postpartum women? We’ll get into all of this and more in this article.
- Beneath The Skin: What Exactly Is Diastasis Recti?
- Narrow-Normal Diastasis
- Open Diastasis
- Open Above Navel Diastasis
- Open Below Navel Diastasis
- Completely Open Diastasis
- What Increases The Risk Of Diastasis Recti?
- Is Diastasis Recti Dangerous?
- How To Check Yourself For Diastasis Recti
- How Do You Treat Diastasis Recti Abdominis Without Surgery?
- Avoid Heavy Lifting Or Straining Exercises
- Practice Good Posture
- Strengthen Your Core Muscles
- Nourish Your Body With Whole Nutritious Foods
- Bellefit Postpartum Girdles And Corsets For Treating Diastasis Recti And Abdominal Separation
- To Sum Up: Diastasis Recti
Beneath The Skin: What Exactly Is Diastasis Recti?
It's helpful to have an understanding of what's happening under the skin to safety treat abdominal muscle seperation. We'll start with a comprehensive and brief anatomy lesson and dive into the different case types of diastasis recti.
Your abdominal muscles protect your vital organs, allow trunk movements, and support the spine. In the center of your trunk is the muscle group called the rectus abdominis — a.k.a, your six-pack muscles. It runs from beneath your pectorals to your pelvic region.
There's a left and a right side of the rectus abdominis, and holding these two sides together is a white connective tissue called the linea alba (Latin for white line). Its job is to keep the two sides of the six-pack muscles at a certain proximity from each other.
Around the third-trimester, this line may appear on the skin as a darker line, sometimes called the linea nigra (black line). The reason it darkens is due to pregnancy hormones that can cause hyperpigmentation. It should fade on its own in a few months after the baby is born.
Women's bodies are incredible. Those same hormones also allow muscles (notably, your abdominal wall) connective tissues, and joints extra flexibility to house your growing baby, especially in the third trimester.
Diastasis recti happens at the linea alba midline around the belly button, above or below the navel, and in some severe instances, postpartum women may experience completely open diastasis recti.
The linea alba can stretch about 1 – 2 inches, so you can understand how pregnancy can extend past the limits of the abdominal rectus, causing an opening at the midline. Diastasis is not exclusive to pregnant women.
There is a common misconception that diastasis recti, also known as abdominal separation, is only a problem for women. While this condition is most common among women who have had children, men can suffer from it as well. Diastasis recti can be caused by trauma to the abdominal region — such as when a person lifts heavy weights with poor form, yo-yo diets, or suffers an injury. It might sound like a serious issue, but in many cases, diastasis recti can be treated with exercises to strengthen the core muscles and other simple lifestyle changes.
Newborn babies can also have diastasis recti, but this is a result of the underdevelopment of abdominal muscles, and it will correct itself on its own. Before they reach full maturity, infants are unable to control their core muscles. Therefore, their growing belly can protrude outward (and cause the appearance of an umbilical hernia), and their belly button can be retracted because it is being pulled inward by the two separated muscle bellies. Once a baby begins to develop control over their deep core muscles (at around 4-6 months), the muscles will slowly come back together and the baby's belly button will start protruding outward again.
People with a diastasis recti (abdominal muscle separation) are often desperate for solutions because the condition can become more severe over time. While abdominal muscle separation in adults won't correct itself, luckily, most cases are reversible without surgery, but it's crucial to get a head-start on your diastasis recti recovery plan.
Let's go over the different types of diastasis.
It's no surprise that growing a baby is extremely demanding on the body — your uterus can grow up to 500 times its pre-pregnancy size!
It's perfectly normal to experience some muscle separation at the midline. Most of the time, these minor gaps (up to 1 inch) are nothing to be concerned about, and it's considered "normal postpartum separation" or "normal diastasis."
In the case of open diastasis, you'll experience a wide (3 finger lengths or more) opening in the abdominal walls around the navel/ belly button.
Open Above Navel Diastasis
This separation is above the navel/ belly button. You will need to do exercises to target the upper abdominal muscles to help close this gap.
Open Below Navel Diastasis
As the name implies, the gap appears below the navel. To close this gap, you'll need to focus on lower abdominal exercises.
Completely Open Diastasis
Completely open diastasis recti means that your linea alba is compromised throughout the midline of your abdomen, making you more vulnerable to a severe case of diastasis recti that can result in a hernia.
What Increases The Risk Of Diastasis Recti?
Contrary to what many people once believed, the mother's age or weight doesn't have a significant correlation with increasing the chances of diastasis recti.
There are a few factors that can contribute to the severity of diastasis recti, and understanding some of these factors may help you better prepare for your post-pregnancy recovery and what you can expect.
- Carrying a large baby
- Carrying multiples (twins or triplets)
- Having a weak abdominal wall
Is Diastasis Recti Dangerous?
Thankfully, most cases of postpartum diastasis recti aren't dangerous.
However, because your abdominal muscles play a significant role in trunk control and function, a compromised abdomen can reduce your strength, range of motion, affect breathing, and weaken your pelvic floor. A weak core can also result in lower back and leg pain, as other muscles compensate for the lack of strength in the abdominals.
Severe cases of abdominal muscle separation in postpartum women are susceptible to herniation of the abdominal viscera. An abdominal viscera herniation happens when abdominal organs or tissues are displaced from their normal anatomical position and protrude through the weak points or holes in the abdominal wall.
Treating severe diastasis recti that result in an abdominal hernia requires laparoscopic surgery. If it gets to this, you can expect a longer postpartum recovery even with the help of physical therapy.
Diastasis recti does not pose a serious health threat, but it can be incredibly uncomfortable. Many of us with diastasis recti have learned this the hard way, with stomach pain that leaves us doubled over and gasping for breath. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic website, "Pregnancy-related diastasis recti is more common and more severe among women carrying more than one baby."
Here are common symptoms that can result from post-pregnancy diastasis recti.
Symptoms Of Rectus Abdominis Diastasis
- Back pain
- Poor posture
- Digestive issues: bloating or constipation
- Bulging belly
- Pelvic pain
- Urine leakage
- Painful sex
- Trouble breathing
- Decreased range of motion
How To Check Yourself For Diastasis Recti
It can be difficult to tell if you have abdominal separation immediately after pregnancy because while there is no longer a baby growing in your belly, you still look about eight months pregnant. Most of this weight comes from your enlarged uterus — that will naturally shrink back down to its pre-pregnancy size — excess fluid retention and healthy weight gain from hormones.
But after a few months, with regular exercising and a well-balanced, nutritious diet, you still find a jiggly tummy pouch, you may be experiencing diastasis recti.
Now that you have a deeper understanding of diastasis recti, and how it can happen as a result of pregnancy, we'll walk you through how you can check to see if you have it.
- Lie comfortably on your back with your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent.
- Take deep breaths and use your three fingers (index, middle, and ring) to feel the firmness of your linea alba (the center of where your six-pack muscles are). Feel up to just under the rib cage to the pubic bone
- Feel for any soft/squishy areas and pay attention to how deep your fingers can push into the muscles (but don't force it).
- Repeat the same examination, but with your chin tucked and your head lifted off the floor to activate the core muscles. Keep your shoulders on the floor, and you can rest your raised head in your hand to avoid straining your neck.
- Feel for the left and right sides of your abs coming together and make a note of any gaps.
- If you feel pain or anything out of the ordinary, stop the self-examination and contact your OBGYN.
For a more, in-depth explanation for checking to see if you have abdominal separation as a result of pregnancy, we have an article for you.
How Do You Treat Diastasis Recti Abdominis Without Surgery?
Avoid Heavy Lifting Or Straining Exercises
Avoid movements that strain your abdomen, forcing it to protrude. Some exercises like crunches, planks, sit-ups, and lifting heavy objects can worsen the condition, increasing the length of recovery time.
Practice Good Posture
You want to practice good posture, whether sitting or standing. In essence, it's being mindful of your body's positioning and making sure you're carrying your body in the best alignment to reduce the symptoms of diastasis recti like lower back and pelvic pain.
Practicing good posture certainly isn't always easy. Wearing a corset improves your posture without you having to think about it. It helps to keep muscles, ligaments, and bones aligned, so you can stabilize the core and pelvic muscles in your everyday movements.
Strengthen Your Core Muscles
One of the most effective treatments for diastasis recti is exercise to rebuild strength and the integrity of your abdominal muscles. A strong core reduces back pain and diminishes the stubborn mummy tummy.
When exercising, many women find it helpful to wear a postpartum girdle to feel supported in their foundational movements.
A postpartum girdle can be helpful whether you're planning on getting back into your pre-pregnancy exercise routine right away, or if you're recovering more slowly. It can improve posture, help with returning your body to its proper alignment while you're exercising, and help with building up abdominal muscles again after they've been stretched out by pregnancy.
Using one of these garments can also be an important first step when you have absolutely no motivation to work out at all or you're having trouble getting yourself into gear for exercising for some other reason—the physical support it provides can make it easier for you to move around in the way that's necessary for working out without increasing your anxiety about how you look doing it.
Traditional ab-strengthening exercises are out of the question when you've got postpartum diastasis recti, but several abdominal strengthening exercises are safe and ideal for treating abdominal separation.
We recommend consulting a physiotherapist who specializes in postpartum diastasis recti correction for a customized abdominal strength workout that's safe for your recovery.
Nourish Your Body With Whole Nutritious Foods
All recovery treatments should include an element of nutrition. Eat plenty of fresh, whole foods rich in protein, healthy fats, and collagen to support skin and muscle elasticity.
The linea alba is made from connective tissues, so eating foods rich in vitamin C can also help ramp up the body's production of collagen to build new tissues.
Collagen is found in connective tissues throughout the body, but it's most predominant in the skin. Our body produces mainly type I collagen and a little bit of type III, but the primary reason for this imbalance is because of our diet. Type I collagen is made from proline and lysine and can be found in foods like fish, chicken or turkey, spinach or nuts. Type III collagen is made from hydroxyproline and glycine, which are usually found in beef, pork and dairy products. To help keep the body's production of collagen at optimal levels, it's best to make sure your diet consists of adequate amounts of both types of collagen building blocks.
Bellefit Postpartum Girdles And Corsets For Treating Diastasis Recti And Abdominal Separation
Bellefit postpartum girdles are FDA-approved and doctor recommended.
Bellefit's North-star as a company is to provide women with support and comfort post-pregnancy with high-quality postpartum garments.
While you have many options on the Internet, we want to point out a few features you should look for when shopping for a postpartum girdle to support your recovery.
- Medical-grade compressions
- Non-irritating, breathable, flexible fabric
- Adjustable compression
- Available in a wide range of sizes, as you may need to size down as you continue to lose baby weight
The Bellefit postpartum girdles and corsets tick off all the boxes above — best of all, they come in eight styles from sizes XS – 3XL.
The full-coverage girdles and corsets are excellent for wearing days after delivery as they offer the most support and can accommodate heavy-flow pads for leaking.
The post-baby period is a time of recovery and readjustment, but it's one that can be eased a bit with the right undergarments. Some women will even choose to buy two girdles — one for up to three months following childbirth when swelling is at its peak and another as they size down months later.
The best girdle for pregnancy provides support, control and comfort (and has a zipper in the side for easy access!). It also helps to improve posture by providing increased support for the back and bust, which helps you feel more confident during this time.
Many moms will choose to buy two girdles — one for up to three months following childbirth when swelling is at its peak and another as they size down months later.