Many women after having a baby were surprised that their tummy didn't return to pre-pregnancy shape after delivery. Most women expect some change in their physique, but when abdominal weakness and bulging persists months or years after pregnancy, it seems reasonable to start to feel discouraged. I've found that persisting weakness and a bulge often has less to do with "extra baby weight" and more to do with how your innermost abdominal muscles have recovered (or not recovered) after childbirth.
More than half of childbearing women will experience a diastasis or separation of the Rectus Abdominis muscle. Some diastasis heal on their own during postpartum recovery. Women who have a diastasis longer than 8 weeks postpartum are reported to still have a diastasis 1 or even 5 years later (24).
Symptoms of a rectus diastasis include a bulging or sagging lower belly, a central bulge in the abdomen (sometimes described as football shaped) with increased abdominal pressure, or it can be a bulge located above the belly button with standing or increased pressure.
As described in our article What is a Rectus Diastasis? There are two important parts to assess when checking for a diastasis - the width of separation, and the amount of tension on the fascia. As a Core System Specialist, I use ultrasound imaging to help me make a definitive diagnosis of diastasis and to assess the width and tension. But you can get a good idea of whether you have a diastasis or not by performing these self-tests at home.
Lying on your back with your knees bent, place your fingers just above your belly button. Lift your head and shoulders off the floor.
Do your fingers press out?
Do you notice a central bulge?
You can measure a diastasis by finger widths and assess the tension by pressing your fingers down as you lift your head and shoulders. Feel for the middle edges of the rectus muscle. Add fingers to span the width. Now check the depth of your fingers and which knuckle is at the skin level. The tension is measured by the depth of your fingers, with poor tension the deeper you go (if you are up to the second knuckle you are deep, the first knuckle you are shallow).
Lying again on your back with knees bent, straighten one leg and lift off the floor 2 feet.
Does your belly bulge outward like described above?
Does your low back lift off the ground?
Do your hips rotate forward?
Does this movement cause you low back or abdominal pain?
If you answered yes to any of these questions you may have a diastasis or another type of core dysfunction.
Did you identify your core weakness? Do you have a rectus diastasis? If so, here's the good news! You can regain abdominal strength, a flatter tummy, a defined waistline, tension across the linea alba and often fully close the gap with the right exercises! Very few (only 7-10%) of women with persisting diastasis require surgical correction. Using a Core System Specialist to better measure and evaluate all areas of your core system can help you identify your unique problems and learn how to restore your core function.
See our blog article Core Ultrasound: Customized Postpartum Care for Every Mother.
If you have a diastasis and are more than 8 weeks postpartum - it's time to restore your core function with the online Mommy Ready Postpartum Program. We teach you the correct sequence of exercises to restore your core and correct a diastasis. And we use self-assessments like the self-tests above to help you evaluate if you are progressing as you should, or recognize when a specialist or surgical consult is necessary.
If you are having a baby soon - you can prevent a persisting diastasis by helping your core recover correctly with a few simple exercises in your first weeks postpartum. Enroll today, become a Mommy Ready member and take advantage of our program to prevent rectus diastasis.