Lose the Pooch: The lowdown on diastasis recti

By Sawyer Carlton

If you are struggling to lose that last bit of baby fat, we may have just found your answer, and that answer is that it is not fat! The miracle of childbirth is often accompanied by morning sickness, cravings, involuntary urination, and other unpleasant surprises. For some ladies, pregnancy also brings diastasis recti.

This condition is the separation of the rectus abdominis muscles, the two long muscles that run vertically down your stomach that comprise the six-pack. Fatty tissue can push up on the abdominals and cause them to protrude. This is very common amongst pregnant women, but usually heals after delivery. If the condition remains postpartum, it can make it appear as though you are still pregnant or carrying baby weight. However, in most cases a little T.L.C. can help correct the problem.

Causes

Whole humans are expanding and forming in your uterus, and various hormone secretions are preparing your body to accommodate your baby. Estrogen and Relaxin have their hand in weakening the linea-alba, the connective tissue between the two abdominal muscles. Extra pressure also forces the linea-alba to weaken and stretch, pushing the abdominals to the front of the stomach, which leads to diastasis recti.

A woman is more susceptible to developing diastasis recti if she delivers multiple children at a time or is petite and carries a large child. The condition could become more severe with repeat pregnancies as well. A recent study showed that nearly 100 percent of expecting mothers experience diastasis recti sometime during their third trimester; fortunately, the prevalence greatly reduces postpartum.

Symptoms

Although this condition can be present postpartum without exhibiting symptoms, the most common sign of diastasis recti is “the pooch.” According to a study published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the abdominal wall as a whole stretches in diastasis, causing protrusion of the lower stomach. Fortunately, the linea-alba connective tissue can only stretch so far, one to two inches to be exact.

Another common symptom is a reduction in abdominal strength and a possible belly button change. The stretched tissue and abdominal wall weaken the abdominal strength you once had, while extra pressure may cause your belly button to change from an innie to an outtie. If this condition is left alone, it could carry with it the same issues of obesity, such as high cholesterol and heart disease.

Prevention

Although it is impossible to fully prevent this condition as it is a healthy, natural occurrence during pregnancy, there are a couple techniques for keeping it all taut and tight, especially after delivery. According to Dr. Joseph Iobst with All About Women Obstetrics and Gynecology, staying active during pregnancy can greatly reduce the extent to which the abdominals separate. Keeping an active, healthy lifestyle and eliminating body fat are the only proven methods for preventing your abs from separating too much.

Healing

If you believe you have diastasis recti postpartum, consult your OB/GYN. He/she might then refer you to a physical therapist to try and strengthen the stretched connective tissue through specific exercises to tone the muscles. Professionals recommend staying away from situps and crunches as these exercises tend to strain the back.

In some cases, women will have a tummy tuck procedure after they finish having children, which can correct diastasis recti. According to Dr. Iobst, during a tummy tuck, the width of the fascia connective tissue is shortened in order to bring the muscles back together.

At Home Test

Although many cases of diastasis recti come without symptoms, there is a home test to determine if diastasis is responsible for your stubborn postpartum baby weight. One common way of determining if you have this condition is to lie flat on your back with your feet on the ground and knees bent. Then, place your right palm on your stomach with your fingers together and pointing toward your feet. Lift your head and shoulders slightly in order to engage the abdominis muscles while also gently pressing your fingers into your naval. If there is a gap between the two abdominal muscles, then you could have diastasis recti. Be sure to consult your doctor for a true diagnosis.