If you’re anything like me, you never heard of diastasis recti until you had it (or suspected you had it). I had strong, taut abdominals my whole life and then . . . I had kids.
Several of them. Big ones.
Enter diastasis recti.
Diastasis recti is a separation of the abdominal muscles (rectus abdominus). Many people think of the abdominals as one set of muscles. Really, it’s more like two sets. There’s a set on the left and a set on the right. They’re joined in the middle by connective tissue called the linea alba.
As the rectus abdominus muscles are stretched and weaken, so does the connective tissue. That can lead to diastasis recti. Naturally, pregnancy is a perfect recipe for this, due to all the stretching involved.
Of course, pregnancy isn’t the only cause of diastasis recti. Lifting heavy weights or performing exercises incorrectly can also cause this separation. Also, some babies, especially premature ones, are born with diastasis recti (that usually corrects itself over time).
Is diastasis recti dangerous?
Let me kindly remind you: I’m not a medical doctor. I’m a woman who’s had four kids and a pretty nasty case of diastasis recti. I’m very familiar with this territory, but I’m not a medical provider. For actual medical advice, you should see one.
In general, diastasis recti isn’t dangerous. It can be unpleasant or uncomfortable, but most of the time it’s harmless.
If the separation is significant though, it can make it easier for things that belong inside your abdominals (like your intestines) to slip beyond them. That’s called a hernia and can be more serious. If you think you have a hernia, you should definitely see your provider. They can best advise you on your next steps.
(For what it’s worth, I have an umbilical hernia due to my diastasis recti. Let’s just say I won’t be winning any bikini competitions anytime soon. Otherwise, mine is currently harmless.)
Can I repair my diastasis recti on my own?
The good news is that, for many women, time and some moderate core strengthening activities will heal their diastasis. You may be able to find success with a specific program or you may be fine implementing various exercises.
Whatever you decide, it’s wise to consult an experienced physical therapist. Just like some exercises can improve and close the separation in your abdominals, others can make matters worse.
Improper advice and techniques for this are all over the internet, so definitely proceed with caution. Make sure you find a provider with expertise in diastasis recti and experience treating postpartum women.
What if exercises aren’t enough to repair my separated abdominals?
For women whose diastasis is more severe, surgery may be the only option for a complete repair.
Assuming there’s no urgent medical need, providers will often advise women to wait until they’ve finished childbearing to undergo any surgical corrections. Additional pregnancies can re-separate the abdominals. If that happens, you’re back at square one (and no one wants to have surgery twice if they can help it).
If your separation is significant and has led to a hernia, a surgeon will evaluate the risks and benefits of repairing it versus a wait-and-see approach.
Learning to live with diastasis recti
Separated abdominal muscles are just one of many body changes caused by pregnancy. You may find that, after the initial postpartum period, you hardly notice any diastasis at all.
On the other hand, you may find your abdominal separation is more significant and more permanent. In that case, there are exercises you can do and actions you can take to increase your comfort level, regardless of whether you ultimately decide to undergo a surgical repair in the future.
Either way, learning to embrace your stomach situation is a process and a journey. Good luck!