Women often have high hopes that their bodies will “bounce back” shortly after pregnancy — and then they feel disappointed when that doesn’t happen. But the truth is, it took nine months to grow that bundle of joy, and postpartum recovery takes time, Mama. In fact, consider removing “bounce back” from your vocabulary altogether because your postpartum body may never be the same… and that’s okay.
But if you find yourself struggling with the so-called “mommy pooch” for months or even years after delivery, a common condition known as diastasis recti (also known as ab separation) could be the culprit. Here are a few key facts and useful tips to bear in mind.
What is diastasis recti?
During pregnancy, the uterus and the muscles in your abdomen stretch to accommodate your growing baby, which can also be exacerbated by pregnancy hormones that soften the connective tissue. When expectant mamas are in their second or third trimester, the developing baby runs out of room and begins to grow outward, oftentimes causing the abdominal muscles to separate.
When those muscles separate at the midline — which can occur during or after up to 60 percent of pregnancies — it can result in a tell-tale abdominal bulge. In severe cases, it can cause you to still look pregnant long after giving birth. The condition can also lead to back pain, pelvic pain, poor posture, urinary incontinence, constipation, and abdominal pain.
Some women are at a greater risk of diastasis recti, including women who are expecting multiples, petite women, women with poor abdominal muscle tone, women who have had more than one pregnancy or are of advanced maternal age, and women who are obese.
If you feel a gap of more than two or three fingers’ separation, it might indicate diastasis recti. If you’re unsure, your provider can also help make the determination.
Treatment for diastasis recti
The good news? Some women will heal on their own just a few weeks after delivery; wearing a “belly binder” for support can also help. But the majority of women with the condition can close the separation and flatten their abdominal walls with proper rehabilitation that generally involves pelvic floor and deep stomach muscle exercises — just be sure to get the all-clear from your doctor first.
At-home workout programs that strengthen the core can be a plus — but note that traditional crunches, situps, and planks done postpartum can actually make the issue worse, so make sure you are doing the right core exercises. Avoid straining your back and always practice good form. Postpartum group classes such as 4th Trimester Fitness Method and FitwithKG.com which specifically integrate core recovery can also help. Physical therapy can also be an option, where you will be guided through core-strengthening exercises and your progress will be closely monitored.
In more severe cases, diastasis recti may be corrected through surgery, such as a tummy tuck with excess skin removal. This is recommended more as a last resort — and only when you are done having children.
Although diastasis recti is common, it can take some time and extra treatment to heal. If you have any questions or concerns, contact Beaches OBGYN at (904) 241-9775 for more information or to schedule an appointment.