Pregnancy can strain your muscles, particularly your abdominal muscles, as your belly grows and your body changes to help support a baby. Sometimes, your belly may grow so quickly or so big that your abdominal muscles are affected, causing a condition known as diastasis recti.
What is diastasis recti?
During pregnancy, your abdominal muscles are stretching as your baby grows. This can cause your recti muscles (the two parallel bands of muscles in your abdomen) to separate in order to make room for your baby. Sometimes, this can cause a noticeable bulge in the middle of the abdomen, especially when your muscles are flexed when you go from lying down to sitting up.
When does diastasis recti occur?
There's no guarantee that you'll experience diastasis recti during pregnancy, but certain factors can make it more likely to occur. Here are some reasons you might experience diastasis recti:
- Birthing babies close together (especially if they are within 24 months of each other)
- Having multiples (twins, triplets, etc)
- Being pregnant over the age of 35
- Lifting weights improperly
Why is diastasis recti a problem?
Diastasis recti damages the strength of your abdominal muscles, which can make vaginal birth more difficult. It can also cause pain while standing, lifting, and stretching, and cause lower back pain, constipation, and urine leakage. If the damage is extensive enough, it can even cause a hernia.
Can diastasis recti be fixed after pregnancy?
After you’ve given birth and begun your recovery, you can start working towards repairing and strengthening your recti muscles. Postpartum diastasis recti can also be repaired with surgery if it is interfering with your daily activities.
Best postpartum diastasis recti exercises
Thankfully, there are some exercises you can do to help improve your abdominal strength and give your muscles their best chance at recovery without surgery. As always, be sure to talk through these with your physician to determine which will work best for your particular situation.
Also known as “belly breathing,” diaphragmatic breathing is a great postpartum diastasis recti ab exercise to start with. You can do this for 5 to 10 minutes, three to four times a day at first, then gradually increase the frequency and duration as you get stronger.
Here is the basic technique:
- Lie on your back on a flat surface, bend your knees, and make sure your head is supported. Put one hand on your chest and one below your ribs.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose. Your stomach should move your hand up and down while the hand on your chest stays still.
- As you breathe out, tighten your stomach muscles.
Pelvic floor exercises
Pelvic floor exercises can help with a variety of issues associated with pregnancy and postpartum recovery, and diastasis recti is no exception. Kegel exercises will engage both your pelvic floor and your abdomen.
Here are some basic techniques:
- Pretend you're trying to stop the flow of urine and hold those muscles for 30 to 60 seconds.
- Imagine you're trying to hold a marble with those muscles, then release it.
Some leg lifts can help strengthen your recti muscles and others can make it worse. Be sure you talk to a physical therapist or your doctor before beginning.
Here's one version to try:
- Lie on your back on a flat surface.
- Keeping your pelvis still, extend your right leg and lift up towards the ceiling as you breathe out.
- As you breathe in, lower your leg.
- Try 10 reps on each side.
A good exercise to do in a sitting position, C-curving can help strengthen your abdomen and legs.
Here's the basic technique:
- Sit on your bottom with your legs wide apart and your hands behind your knees.
- Gently rock backwards, without letting your chest sink.
- As you’re leaning back, exhale and rock backwards just a little.
- Aim for 20 to 30 “pulses" (gentle rocks)
Should I avoid any diastasis recti exercises?
Straining your muscles from the very beginning will do more damage than good, so be sure and talk to your doctor or physical therapist about what is safe and how much exercise you should be doing.
How long will diastasis recti last after pregnancy?
For many women, diastasis recti heals naturally within about six months of having a baby. In severe cases, it might take a few weeks or months of gentle exercise to heal.
How Belly Wraps and Bands can help with recovery
Most doctors and physical therapists will recommend belly wrapping along with exercise to give you the best chance at recovery. Our Belly Wraps at Belly Bandit® are designed to help your muscles heal by supporting your core and providing stability. They also give your lower back a much needed break from doing all the work while your abdominal muscles heal.
Shop best belly wraps from Belly Bandit
There are several different types of Belly Wraps to choose from, depending on your unique needs. Whether you go the classic route with the Original Postpartum Belly Wrap or prefer a more high-performance option (we recommend the Luxe Belly Wrap for this), Belly Bandit® Belly Wraps will give you the support and stability you need as you recover.
If you suspect you might have diastasis recti, the best thing you can do is talk to your care provider as soon as possible. They can help you determine how much separation has occurred and give you advice on an exercise plan to help your body heal. At the same time, Belly Bandit® Belly Wraps are there to support your postpartum body and help along your road to recovery.