Diastasis recti is a mouthful to say. There are high chances that you’ve heard of the term as an abdominal separation rather than its medical name. It’s a condition that happens during pregnancy, usually in the second or third trimester. You’ll know that it’s happened, as you’ll see the abdominal muscles separate as you sit up and use them.
There are a lot of questions women have when they have this condition. Is it dangerous for you or your baby? Will the condition continue after pregnancy? Is this something that happens to everyone and can you prevent it from occurring?
Here’s everything you need to know about diastasis recti. It’s not just about what it is, but what you can do to prevent it from happening during pregnancy.
When Will Diastasis Recti Happen?
This is a condition that mostly only happens during pregnancy. It’s usually in either the second or third trimester but doesn’t happen to everyone. It happens when the muscles within the abdomen separate, so the connective tissue stretches either side. The walls become weaker and the muscles become thinner.
Some women and even men can develop it at some point in life, however, the chances are slim. Pregnancy causes the connective tissues to weaken more due to hormones and the push of bump through the stomach.
You see, the abdominal muscles aren’t just one long strength of muscles across your stomach. They sit in sections. Connective tissues keep the sections together, with some down the center of your stomach area and then connections horizontal in three locations. The diastasis recti usually affect the vertical connective tissues. The muscles move either side of your baby bump, rather than remaining connected over the top.
You won’t always know that this has happened, but there are some signs to look out for. While it’s not initially painful, you’ll see the muscles separate and it looks like the bump is pushing through. You’ll see a small, strange lump in the middle of your abdomen, usually when you try to sit up from lying on your back. Some women won’t realize until after pregnancy that the issue has occurred.
While it’s a common condition, you will want to attempt to prevent it occurring. The diastasis weakens the core muscles and can make it harder to labor properly and push your baby out. If you have a c-section it can affect the ability to recover from that c-section around the abdominal muscles. You can also experience more back and hip pain or weakness, as the whole core strength is negatively affected.
You may also have some incontinence problems. Your core muscles help to protect your bladder and hold urine in. When your muscles weaken, you’ll release urine without meaning to. You may want to wear incontinence pads until you strengthen the core muscles.
Most of the time, the diastasis recti will repair by itself. Your doctor will check to see if it still exists at your six-week postnatal check. This is done by having you lie on your back and placing two fingers just above your belly button. If the diastasis has occurred, there will be the feeling of a gap.
This is something that you can prevent from happening and even repair it. You’ll need to take active steps to repair the damage. If you leave it too long, it will take longer to close, but it is still possible. You’ll need to be committed to a repair program for the connective tissue.
How Can You Repair and Treat Diastasis Recti
One of the great things about this condition is that you can treat it. You can prevent it from occurring if you suffered from it in a previous pregnancy and repair it. It’s also possible to take action to repair it as soon as you notice the problem.
One thing to consider is using compression garments over the abdomen. This is something you can do during pregnancy and afterward. When using them during pregnancy, make sure they are designed for maternity use. You can get compression garments that help to keep bulges in and offer to support your back and core muscles during this time. They can also help to add a layer of cover to your bump when wearing jeans and tops.
Tubigrip bandages can also be beneficial. These aren’t always going to be supportive of your growing bump. You’ll need to make sure you can expand the support as the bump grows, as constriction of the bump can be dangerous for your growing baby. These supports can be good for after the birth, especially if you had a c-section and need to support the core muscles and improve recovery time.
However, the support is just one answer. You’ll want to work on strengthening the core muscles. This is something you can do when you’re both pregnant or postpartum. In fact, your doctor will highly recommend that you perform core exercises to help improve the muscle strength and connective tissues.
You can work on the core muscles while in bed. These are exercises that you can even do as soon as you’ve given birth, whether naturally or by c-section. They require no energy at all. Lay on your back or on your side and pull your pelvic muscles in. It’s as if you’re trying to hold urine in your bladder. Draw the whole abdomen in and hold the muscles for at least five seconds and then release. Work your way up to holding the muscles for at least 30 seconds. However long you hold, repeat the exercise 5-10 times. Do this two or three times a day.
It’s also worth improving the posture. Your posture will weaken or strengthen your core muscles, depending on how bad or good it is. Avoid allowing your spine to curl inwards, weakening the stomach muscles. You want to keep your ribs over the top of your hips.
When walking, keep your shoulders back and head up. Keep the shoulders over your hips and avoid swaying the lower back when you walk. You don’t want to push the hips forward either. This can be difficult when pregnant, as your center of gravity will change.
Physical therapy can be extremely useful for healing the muscles. Talk to your midwife or doctor about getting into a physical therapy treatment that’s suitable for your needs. Most doctors will start treating you when you’re pregnant because the muscles are so important during pregnancy and labor. There will be some who want you to wait until you’ve given birth, as they may want to carry out exercises that involve laying on the back.
Movements That You Need to Avoid
There are certain movements that will make your abdominal separation worse. You may have already been advised by your doctor to avoid doing any type of sit-up movement, even if you’re trying to get out of bed. Always roll onto your side first and push yourself up. When you do the sit-up movement, you encourage the bump to push further out and you separate the connective tissues even more. It’s possible to make your condition worse. You should also avoid doing crunches. You can do some plank exercises, but talk to your doctor about this first.
It’s important to avoid laying on your back while pregnant anyway. There’s an artery in your back that your baby will compress. You can feel lightheaded and sick, as it’s harder for the blood to flow around the body. When rolling, opt for the left side as much as possible to avoid this artery.
You will also want to avoid other exercises or activities that strain the abdominal muscles. There’s no need to push the muscles forward. This will just lead to the separation to form and get worse. This includes straining while using the toilet or doing any heavy lifting.
Many doctors also recommend that you avoid exercises that involve you being on your hands and knees. This is debated, as some yoga exercises are adapted on the hands and knees for pregnancy and some doctors recommend you go on your hands and knees to help turn the baby. You’ll want to discuss this with your doctor to do the best thing for you and your baby.
Steps to Take Before Your Next Pregnancy
If you had diastasis recti in a previous pregnancy, you will want to take steps to avoid it happening again in a subsequent one. Just because it’s happened once doesn’t mean that it will definitely happen again. It all depends on the steps you take to improve your stomach muscles and the connective tissues.
One of the best things you can do is support your core muscles. Improve the strength before you get pregnant. It can be harder to repair the loosening of the tissues and weakening of the muscles in pregnancy, because of the hormones in your body. Your body wants to get you ready for labor, which means releasing hormones that encourage the hips and core to weaken a little to make it easier to pass the baby through your pelvic area. Before you’re pregnant, you don’t have these muscles, so the core strength isn’t affected by another source.
You can take the steps as soon as you’ve had the first child. Continue the strengthening throughout attempting to conceive your next baby and even in the earlier stages when you’re not sure if you’re pregnant. Your doctor will then discuss the types of exercises you can continue when you do find out you’re pregnant.
Pilates is an excellent type of exercise to do. You can also consider yoga. These are exercises that focus more on the core than other parts of the body. They know the core is essential for all other support, so will make sure your posture and pelvic floor muscles are as strong as possible. You can continue some of these exercises during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester. When you get to your second trimester, look out for a pregnancy yoga class to ensure the exercises don’t involve lying on your back.
Don’t Panic About Diastasis Recti
One thing that is important is that you avoid panicking about the condition. It is very common and isn’t something that will put your baby at a lot of risks. The downside to it is the discomfort and possibly problems during labor. However, most women won’t see any major issues. It’s only if the condition is allowed to get severe that there will be big problems.
If you follow the movements not to do, you will find it much easier to avoid the condition getting so bad that it makes labor and delivery of the baby so hard. By doing your core strength and pelvic exercises, you can help to limit the severity of your condition.
The more you panic and stress, the worse your health will be for your baby. Your doctor or midwife will keep an eye on your stomach muscles. They will help determine when more excessive treatments are needed and will be able to refer you to a physiotherapist. In the majority of cases, they’ll recommend a maternity support band, which will also help to keep your bump looking trim and firm.
This is something that not all women can avoid at all. Their connective tissues may never strengthen to the point where they don’t split. However, you can limit the severity of it.
It’s Time to Act Against Diastasis Recti
While it’s not something everyone can avoid, it is something you can limit. Diastasis recti may be common but it doesn’t have to be an issue that affects your health or makes recovering from the birth of your baby difficult. You can take steps before you conceive to strengthen the core muscles. After you conceive there are still things that you can do.
It’s never too late to start repairing the split in the abdominal muscles. When you start taking the steps, you will find that your core is stronger, you have less backache, and your posture is improved.