“The Mommy Tummy” | Understanding Diastasis Recti

When it comes to diastasis recti (DR), there is a wide range of understanding and emotions. Some reading this may have never even heard of it, some may have only heard of it, and some may have a deep understanding of it because they are struggling with it.

I hope to provide some facts about the condition and as well as provide some helpful resources. There is an abundance of information out there that can make it a bit overwhelming and difficult for women to distinguish what is accurate and beneficial for them personally.

I’ve addressed what I believe are some of the most common questions about diastasis recti.

Diastasis Recti
Photo credit Brianna Battles and Lisa Ryan

What is diastasis recti (DR)?

DR is the separation of the rectus abdominus muscles (or the six-pack abs) at the midline of the abdomen or the linea alba (connective tissue) to make room for a growing baby. This is absolutely a normal and necessary aspect of pregnancy.

Some may have heard this referred to this as the “mommy tummy” or “mommy pooch.” However, it is not just about aesthetics but more about the loss of function of the core, which is our central stability system.

Diastasis Recti

Who gets it?

All women have some level of separation towards the end of pregnancy and some into postpartum.

As many as 68% of women may experience some level of DR postpartum.

According to Dr. Tracey Dalton, Core and Diastasis Rehab Chiropractor,

There are uncontrollable factors that influence diastasis recti. You can ultimately do everything correctly (all those breathing, pressure strategies, avoiding movements that aggravate it) but still end up having DR postpartum. Factors like genetics or a woman carrying (baby) very forward influences how easily someone can get DR.

That being said, there is a vulnerability to the abdominal wall during pregnancy. Postpartum that should be taken into consideration when participating in fitness as well as everyday activities. It is possible to aggravate or worsen DR as well as contribute to a hernia if this vulnerability is disregarded.

Photo credit Brianna Battles

It’s important to avoid movements or breathing tendencies that REPEATEDLY pushes pressure out into the midline (linea alba).

When you see coning or doming of the abdominal wall, that is pressure presenting itself. It’s also critical to understand how to engage the core effectively with pressure management strategies to avoid this coning or doming.

How do you know if you have diastasis recti?

The normal range for DR is considered 1-2 finger-widths between the two muscle bellies.

However, if the separation is beyond that range, it does not mean that the body is now ruined or that it cannot improve. One other important factor is the tension of the connective tissue or the depth that the fingers can sink into the abdomen. However, the most important thing to consider is the function of the tissues and the core as a whole. Dr. Lynn Schulte of the Institute for Birth Healing talks more about functional diastasis here.

If you are unsure of the severity of your DR, you can have your OB or midwife check you, or you can see a pelvic floor/women’s health physical therapist.

There are many YouTube videos out there that can help walk you through a self-assessment. This video here is a good one.

What can be done?

If early postpartum, the body may just need time to be able to heal and recover from pregnancy. Patience is key. Avoid putting unnecessary stress on the tissues during this time.

Whether early on or well beyond six months postpartum, addressing DR and improving function to the core is specific to each woman. Unfortunately, there is NO ONE SIZE FITS ALL fix or program, and it’s not as simple as giving a list of “safe exercises” and exercises to avoid.

Dr. Julie Peterson, Board Certified Women’s Health Clinical Specialist states that,

            Diastasis recti is treatable with the proper training and exercises that minimize straining across the lower abdomen.  It’s important to find the individuals, whether it’s a rehab specialist or an athletic trainer, to help guide you in your return to fitness with DR.

 Improving function to the core system as well as learning to manage the pressure inside the abdomen are crucial factors to any program addressing DR.

Surgery should be carefully considered after conservative therapy options have been exhausted. Ultimately, surgery may be the appropriate option for some, but it is not the first course of action.

If you would like more information or would like to find a rehab or fitness professional in your area that specializes in women’s health issues (including DR), you can visit this directory.

When it comes to dealing with postpartum issues like diastasis recti, there are resources and professionals to provide women with GUIDANCE, SUPPORT, and HOPE for improved function and wellness.

Kim is a California native living in West Omaha. She and her husband, Ben have three kids - Levi (4), Addie (2) and Millie (3 months). They have been living in Omaha for 5 years. Kim is a former army officer and met her husband while they were both on active duty and they have been married for 9 years. She has a passion for fitness and training women of all stages of life. She is a pre/post-natal fitness specialist and runs her own business where she helps women navigate their fitness journey through classes and workshops.