It's a rare mother who hasn’t looked at her postpartum body without wondering “What happened???” (And, obviously, we do know what happened, and yet we still wonder!)
It's impossible not to notice the loose abdominal skin and pooch that is left once the baby has been born. Even the most fit moms have this loose skin immediately after birth and often for months afterward. Don’t believe everything you see on Instagram!
Sometimes, though, that belly sticks around far longer than we even expected and we start to ask ourselves if there is some underlying reason why our belly hasn't tightened up even if our legs and waistline have.
Diastasis Recti is one condition that can cause belly bulges, domes, or cones and make it look like you're carrying around excess weight in your midsection, even if you're fit.
And while we do want to focus on loving this incredible body that takes care of us and builds humans, it’s ok to want to get some inches off the waistline or whatever your goals may be!
Determining if you have diastasis recti vs. belly fat can help you progress in your fitness programs, reduce aches and pains, fit back into your old clothes, and feel more in control of what is happening with your body.
The two conditions require different approaches for maximum effectiveness. Understanding which one you're dealing with means you can tailor your approach to your specific needs.
What is Diastasis Recti?
The Rectus Abdominus muscles run down the middle of our torso; forming that elusive "6-pack" of abs. The term 'Diastasis Recti' is used to describe a split in the tissues connecting the two sides of the Rectus Abdominus muscles. Diastasis Recto is actually an abdominal separation or tear that is very common in pregnancy and can occur at any point along the midline of your belly, from the pubic bone all the way up the bottom of the rib cage.
These connective tissues are normally tight, helping to hold the abdominal organs in place. What this looks like is a smooth, but not necessarily flat, tummy. When tissues are weakened or torn due to pregnancy and childbirth, the abdomen can bulge outward, creating a dome or cone-shaped "mummy tummy" that diet alone can't fix.
Other problems associated with diastasis recti beyond the belly bulge are: pelvic floor dysfunction and pelvic prolapse, lower back pain, or abdominal pain.
A Quick Test For Diastasis Recti
So how do you know if you have diastasis recti or belly fat? A simple test can give you some idea of what you're dealing with:
- Get down into a crunch position.
- Place your hand palm down against your belly bulge.
- Do a sit-up or crunch.
You should feel tension from the underlying muscles as they are activated. If you feel a physical gap or softness with muscles on either side, you may have diastasis recti. If you can feel the tensed muscles underneath your pooch, then you're probably just dealing with some belly fat. The good news is, most cases of diastasis recti are temporary (and belly fat can be temporary too!).
Minor cases of diastasis recti, particularly those that occur due to pregnancy and childbirth, just need some time to heal*. Your connective tissues can regain their strength, improving their function, over time.
Diastasis Recti is fundamentally a core problem. A weak core puts additional pressure on the abdominal wall and sometimes, when that pressure gets to be too much, the muscles tear and Diastasis Recti is the result.
Core exercises that target the entire core - back, sides, front, glutes, and hips – can help promote healing by alleviating pressure on the damaged muscles and tissues, prevent diastasis recti from getting worse, or prevent it from recurring.
Once healed, you still might not have a perfectly flat tummy, but you will have a more defined and toned midsection and stronger core muscles. You will absolutely have less back pain, and you’ll be able to gain more strength all over from your workouts.
So, what About Belly Fat?
What if you can’t blame your belly on Diastasis Recti and realize it's belly fat? First of all, give yourself a break. Remember, it took 9+ months to grow your tiny human and your tummy grew along with the baby. It makes sense that you'd need at least an equally long amount of time to get back to normal. Or, like me, 3 or 4 times as long!
Actually, it was only once I stopped fighting it and trying to diet, that I was able to let that weight go. The best approach to combating belly fat is to eat a clean, consistent, healthy, nutritious diet and to be activity.
As an elite athlete, it became very clear I had to teach myself a whole new approach to weight loss and being healthy once I became a mom. What worked before doesn’t work for us anymore. And it shouldn’t! We have transformed in mind and body. It’s not about bouncing back, it’s about bouncing forward!
Check out my 6 Weeks to Savage Mama™ program to learn more about following my proven and fun process for transforming your body and mind for a healthier and happier YOU amidst the chaos of motherhood.
By Shannon of Savage Wellness. Circus acrobat, personal trainer and postpartum care specialist. For a limited time, Shannon is offering her Ab Rehab Ebook FREE!
* If you think you have diastasis recti, consult your doctor for a professional diagnosis. Minor cases can often heal on their own, but more severe cases may require medical assistance.