Identifying and Treating Diastasis Recti
Pregnancy and childbirth come with a lot of changes in the body. The process of growing another human in your body places a demand of stretching and growing to accommodate your baby. Additionally, the increase in hormonal levels causes laxity of certain muscles and ligaments to support your gestation journey. However, most new moms are ready to get back into their pre-baby body shape a few weeks after childbirth. Although it is possible to achieve this within a short period, you should also give yourself enough time to heal and return to normal.
This article will explore one of the lingering effects of pregnancy on the body and how to treat it. Some women are left with a stretched-out belly after pregnancy. This condition is often a result of diastasis recti, which is the separation of the abdominal muscles. Asides from the aesthetics effect of this condition, it is also accompanied by other discomforts.
Let's dive right into identifying and treating diastasis recti after pregnancy.
What is Diastasis Recti?
Naturally, your body will take its time to get back to normal after going through pregnancy stress. Notwithstanding, it might be frustrating to watch your body go through the motions, especially if you have been doing everything by the books.
As you go through pregnancy, one part of your body you should expect definite changes in is your abdominal muscles. This is expected since the abdominal muscles expand with the growth and stretching of your abdomen and uterus. This increasing pressure force on your abs might cause a separation in the parallel muscles that run along your belly. This condition is referred to as diastasis recti.
Inlay terms, diastasis recti is the separation of the rectus abdominis, which is the group of parallel muscles that run on both sides of the abdomen. Although common after childbirth, diastasis recti can occur in anyone. In fact, newborn babies usually have mild diastasis recti, although this resolves within a few weeks. Furthermore, it is a common condition in individuals who are prone to carrying heavy weights incorrectly.
During pregnancy, especially in the third trimester, you might notice a thin white line that runs vertically down your abdomen. This is usually a tell-tale sign that your rectus abdominis muscles have separated to accommodate your growing baby. While this might resolve on its own soon after childbirth, depending on the extent of separation, you might need to start some exercises targeted at restoring your abs' tone and shape to correct this condition.
How Common is Diastasis Recti?
Just in case you can see some of the signs of diastasis recti and you are quite bothered, rest assured you are not in this alone. According to research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, roughly one in every three pregnant women will develop diastasis recti in the third trimester of their pregnancy. According to this research findings, about 60% of women will have diastasis recti six weeks postpartum. Although some of these cases resolve on their own, about 45.4% of patients will persist to six months postpartum, while an estimated 32.6% of women will have diastasis recti 12 months after birth.
While these figures might look frighteningly, some factors play in to produce them. There is an increased susceptibility to diastasis recti if you have a child after 35, carried twins or multiples, or have had more than one pregnancy.
What Causes Diastasis Recti?
The proverbial “mom pooch” is usually a result of increased hormone levels, especially relaxin and estrogen. Additionally, increased intraabdominal pressure from your expanding uterus will cause a stretching and possible separation of the rectus abdominis muscle. During pregnancy, the linea alba thins out as a response to the maternal hormonal changes to accommodate the growing uterus.
Asides from the linea alba, the abdomen's muscle groups stretch out for this exact reason. These physiological changes are vital for the baby to develop in utero. Immediately after childbirth, there is a slow but steady decline of these hormonal levels to their pre-pregnancy state. Nonetheless, the tissues might have been so stretched that they lose their tone and elasticity and will not retract naturally.
Diastasis Recti Symptoms
The most common and distinct sign of diastasis recti is a bulge or pooch in your abdomen. This bulge is commonly pronounced when you strain or contract your abdominal muscles. However, diastasis recti have more than aesthetics effects on the body. It could also present with other associated symptoms such as:
- Lower back pain
- Poor posture
Most women report differences in the symptoms of this condition in pregnancy and after childbirth. This is often linked to differences in hormonal levels in both stages.
There might be very slight changes in your abdominal muscles throughout pregnancy till the second trimester and third trimester of pregnancy. At this stage, it is common to notice a ridge below or above the navel, which is most noticeable when you contract your abdominal muscles while sitting, standing, or lying down. However, if you experience sharp or extreme pain around the abdomen, pelvic or back, you should immediately schedule an appointment with your doctor. While it might be a symptom of diastasis recti, it could also signal an underlying condition.
However, after childbirth, diastasis recti appear as a bulge in the abdomen, which might give the impression that you are still pregnant. There are DIY methods that you can use to assess the extent of the muscle separation. Your doctor and Physical therapist can assess diastasis recti using a measuring caliper or ultrasound, which provides an accurate measurement. However, you can self-check by pushing your fingers through any gap between your abdominal muscles while lying on a flat surface. Although this test is subjective, it will give you a rough estimate of the separation's extent.
Diastasis Recti Treatment
There are tons of information on how best to treat diastasis recti since it is common in most women. The muscle separation in the abs weakens the core and might cause severe back and pelvic pain. Hence, it is recommended that women treating diastasis recti should wear a binder, or soft abdominal corset, usually Tubigrip, during the day. Asides from exercise recommendations from physical therapists, women treating this condition are also advised and recommended to take the necessary steps in:
- Desisting from lifting heavy weights, which could cause more strain to the affected muscle groups.
- Providing support for the lower back, especially when sitting and getting out of bed.
- Exercising during pregnancy can also be targeted at the core muscles, but they should be modified for pregnancy safety.
- Practicing good posture.
After childbirth, targeted exercises at strengthening and restoring tone to the abdominal and core muscles will correct diastasis recti. These exercises can either be performed at home or supervised by a physical therapist. The diastasis recti treatment model usually combines a series of exercises, such as deep abdominal muscle and pelvic floor exercises, and posture modification. However, if you decide to do these exercises unsupervised in your home, ensure that you consult with your doctor to ascertain its safety and how effectively your condition can be monitored.
Ensure to avoid exercises like crunches, planks, and sit-ups after childbirth until your diastasis recti have entirely healed. This is because any of these exercises can worsen the case and prolong your recovery time.
Diastasis Recti Side Effects
The side effects of diastasis recti are often the noticeable systemic symptoms observed in most women. Asides from the prominent bulge in the abdomen, there is associated back and pelvic pain. This results from laxity in muscles and ligaments and a general weakening of the core muscles, vital for back strength.
Due to increased intraabdominal pressure, which results in this condition, there is often a corresponding loss of elasticity and tone in the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor consists of muscles that support the abdominal and pelvic content. The loss in tone and elasticity results in urine leakage, bladder, rectal, or uterine prolapse. Although this is not a definite side effect of diastasis recti, there is an increased risk of developing pelvic floor prolapse. Pelvic floor dysfunction can also be corrected entirely through a series of individualistic exercises recommended and supervised by a physical therapist.
Other common side effects of diastasis recti include:
- General core weakness
- Posture damage
Diastasis Recti Prevention
The sad truth about diastasis recti is that you may not be able to prevent it, especially in pregnancy fully. However, some practices can help minimize the severity of the separation and speed up recovery time. Before pregnancy, practice core strengthening exercises and imbibe the habit of good posture. Strengthening programs should include exercises targeted at the pelvic and oblique muscles and not only the abs. Additionally, learn the ergonomics surrounding carrying your baby, and practice the proper way of carrying heavyweights.
As earlier said, this might not completely prevent you from developing diastasis recti; you will be able to manage it effectively and shorten your recovery period.
We understand that the changes in the body during pregnancy can be frustrating, but it is vital to remember that they are natural and expected. While you go through the recovery journey, remember to be gracious to yourself – growing another human isn't as easy as it looks. However, you owe it to yourself to be in a state of optimal health.