And how to avoid the dreaded “mummy tummy.”
You had a beautiful perfect baby, and you’ve been cleared to work out 6 weeks ago. But you are experiencing lower back pain and having difficulty losing the poochy belly. This, mama, could be a sign that you’ve fallen victim of Diastasis Recti (DR).
Your rectus abdominis muscles, which run down the center of your belly, are colloquially known as the “six pack” and are essentially responsible for your Instagram-ready abs. To keep this part of your body fit and strong, you need to maintain an even stronger core by working your transverse abdominis, internal abdominal obliques, diaphragm and pelvic floor. A weak core puts pressure on your abs and forces your rectus abdominis to take over and compensate, which is when they start to separate. That’s what we call diastasis recti: the separation of your left and right belly muscles and the thinning of the tissue connecting them. It can cause back pain, constipation and urinary leaking.
Not to worry, though. You can (and should) bring those muscles back together. But to do that, you need to know what you’re up against and understand the condition. So here are 5 surprising facts about diastasis recti:
1. Diastasis Recti can affect everyone. We often talk about DR in the context of pregnancy and a woman’s postpartum body. That’s why many people believe that it affects mostly (if not only) women. But gender has little to do with the condition, and both men and women can see their abdominal muscles separate. Babies and children, too, can have diastasis recti. In fact, it’s common for babies to be born with a gap -- though it will naturally and gradually close as they grow.
2. Pregnancy doesn’t cause Diastasis Recti. Pregnancy creates and exacerbates patterns that put a lot of pressure on the midline that connects your right and left abdominal muscles (known as the linea alba). It is that pressure that is at the root of diastasis recti. For example, bad postures, like standing with your hips forward and chest lifted or sucking your belly in, can put pressure on your abs and trigger the condition, whether you are pregnant or not.
3. Being fit won’t necessarily prevent Diastasis Recti. Pregnant women and people who are overweight put more pressure on their abdominal muscles and are thus more at risk to develop a gaping hole. But that doesn’t mean that being fit protects you from the condition. Since diastasis recti stems from physical pressure, over stimulating your rectus abdominis muscles (with exercises like sit-ups and oblique twists), breathing inadequately and working out with bad alignment can stretch and weaken your muscles, potentially worsening the condition.
4. Even those who are at risk may not develop diastasis recti. Diastasis Recti occurs when the abdomen expands quickly. And yes, your belly muscles are more likely to separate if you are pregnant or undergo a C-section. But that doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get the dreaded “mummy tummy.” To lower your risks, avoid wearing your rectus abdominis muscles out -- make sure to work deeper muscles to strengthen your core.
5. You don’t need an expert to diagnose it. How do you measure and decide if you have diastasis recti? Lay flat on your back and place your middle three fingers horizontally along your tummy. As your fingers rest on your belly, lift your head off the floor to do a half sit-up. Feel for your left and right abdominal muscles and see if they come together. Measure in three different spots: above, in and below the belly button. If the two sides are separated by 2 or more fingers, you have diastasis recti.
If you suspect you have the condition, get checked by your doctor and seek help from professionals who’ve worked with postpartum patients (like midwives, personal trainers, chiropractors or physical therapists). They’ll help you sync your breathing to your diaphragm and pelvic floor, keep your alignment and posture in check, and strengthen your core -- all of which are essential to bringing those muscles back together.