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Diastasis Recti: Cruel Joke for Post-Baby Moms

Updated on September 25, 2012
drawing of separated rectus abdominus
drawing of separated rectus abdominus | Source
pic of my pre-baby tummy
pic of my pre-baby tummy
baby belly about a week before delivering
baby belly about a week before delivering

Background on Diastasis Recti

Diastasis Recti is a condition where the stomach muscles (the rectus abdominus muscle to be precise) separate and is common as a result of pregnancy. It can look like a ridge running down the abdomen.

According to many websites, it is most common during multiple pregnancies. It can be caused by gaining too much weight during pregnancy, doing abdominal exercises later in the pregnancy, from high birth weight infants, poor abdominal tone, repeated pregnancies, obesity, and aging.

It is a condition that many insurance companies consider to be a cosmetic problem. The "core" is known to be incredibly important for maintaining the integrity of the body's stability and when it is compromised can lead to a plethora of health problems. How could the integrity of the "core" be considered to be cosmetic?

Due to my personal experience, I've read everything I can find about this condition and how to fix it. I'm going to attempt to describe what I've learned- both personally and otherwise.

My "Expecting" Experiences

During the last month or so of my second pregnancy, my stomach was stretched so much and sticking so far out that it was painful all the time. In fact, people would stop me and were astounded at my profile and would ask me if I'd seen it. How does one reply to that question? Humor is the best way to address these types of questions in my experience. So, I responded with, "You should see me in my birthday suit." Fact is, it appeared as though I had a watermelon inserted just beneath a layer of skin.

I hadn't gained much weight at all with this pregnancy because I was determined not to make the same mistake as I did the first time around. The first pregnancy, I gained a little too much weight (although my doctors said I was doing great all along) and had to work to lose the weight afterwards. I was worried the first time about not eating enough and defintely was eating for two...even though the whole eating for two idea is oldschool (if you didn't know this- I'm sorry to burst your bubble but you're only supposed to take in an extra 300 calories a day while pregnant).

I was active with my first pregnancy as well, walking 2+ miles, swimming laps, doing yard work, etc. up until the day I delivered. Yet, I still put on more weight than I would've liked. So, I decided that I would be smarter this time. I would watch what I ate and not use the excuse that I was pregnant to pig out on every goodie in sight.

Besides being careful what I ate this time, I also was walking 3-4 miles and lifting weights. Don't worry, I was following the criteria of continuing the weightlifting that I'd been doing pre-pregnancy. I didn't lay on my back to lift any weights. I mainly did a variety of squats and lunges along with some arm work like pushups. I only used 10 lb weights and wasn't trying to build muscle. I just wanted to maintain to some degree what I had before the pregnancy and try to prevent building up a ton of fat in my legs and butt.

I did some ab exercises that are considered to be safe for the first trimester. I'd read that having strong abs before pregnancy can help you to bounce back quicker afterwards. No crazy ab workouts or laying flat on my back for any exercise.

I must say that I felt really good during the pregnancy. My only complaint was constipation and groin tenderness (due to my hips being loosey goosey from the hormones). Other than that, it was an "easy" pregnancy. No pregnancy is really easy just due to the pure exhaustion of baking a baby in your body and the emotional turmoil that comes with the raging hormones. You combine those symptoms with a body that expands beyond your wildest imagination, so much so that you will indefinitely waddle no matter how much you try not to.

Any woman that tells you they had an easy pregnancy either has post-baby amnesia (I am sure that this exists so that us women will have more babies), wants to appear superior to others to complain about every ache and pain, doesn't like to complain in general, or doesn't think their audience really wants to know how they're truly feeling when asked.

As a result of my hard work and diligence, I only gained 12 lbs up until the last two weeks when I put on several pounds of water weight (according to my doctor). More important than my weight, I could still wear my regular jeans (love my low rise jeans) and I hadn't gained weight all over. I just had this enormous belly that went straight out in front of me.

I remember at one point during the pregnancy I laid back for my obstetrician to examine me at one of the routine exams. I noticed that my belly got a triangular shape to it and was kind of surprised, but my ob didn't say anything. I thought I was just being paranoid, so I didn't ask. Reading after the fact, I found out that the diastasis, or separation, of my stomach muscles had already taken place at that point.

The glorious day finally came and I delivered a healthy baby girl. One day in the hospital, I was feeling pretty good and wanted to get up and walk around. I put on my athletic shorts and a shirt and walked the halls. Shortly afterward, my nurse came in to check my nether regions and was giving me kudos for being able to wear shorts already.

Sitting there, I thought okay all that hard work was totally worth it. I'm going to bounce back quickly, the belly will be gone so fast, and I'll be back to my normal self in no time.

view of my diastasis from the front
view of my diastasis from the front
view of my diastasis from side
view of my diastasis from side

Post-baby Life

Flash forward a couple of days, finally at home and resumed my long walks with my first child (with the permission of my doc, of course). I was a little sore still but felt light as a feather and felt amazing! I felt like I could run a marathon. But, I didn't. Instead, I walked and just enjoyed the light feeling.

At this point, I was only 5 pounds more than my pre-pregnancy weight. However, I was still very swollen and looked pregnant. How depressing! I hopped online and started reading about others that had the same problem. I found that wearing a compression garment (like a corset) was highly recommended to bring the swelling down. I ordered one immediately. After comparing all the brands, I chose the Peanut Shell Flats Post-Pregnancy Belly Compression Postpartum Girdle With Panel from Amazon.

I also read about this diastasis recti condition and did the self test (see the video below to find out how to test yourself). I didn't think I had it though because at that point my muscles were so separated that I couldn't even tell they were (I wasn't feeling far enough apart). I decided to just wait for my compression garment to come and see what happened.

My garment arrived and I started wearing it and within just a couple days, the swelling was gone. I kept wearing it and hoping that maybe my whole bulge would go away. No such luck!

After weeks of wearing it, the little bulge that was left was making no more progress. I debated about continuing to wear it or not. My husband was worried that my ab muscles wouldn't grow stronger and that they would weaken from wearing the garment too much, so I took it off.

I then contacted a friend of mine who is a physical therapist to ask her about my tummy because it was still pretty tender and my hips were bothering me a good bit. In fact, at one point, I was almost limping because my groin was hurting so much due to my hips being out of alignment.

Treatment Options

I started going to a physical therapist who specializes in these matters and her comment to me was that she was surprised I could even walk because my hips were so rotated. She got my hips aligned, but as soon as I moved, they rotated back. Since I'm breastfeeding, my hormones are still making my joints loosey goosey like when I was pregnant.

While there, I asked her if my tummy pain was related to my hips. She tested me for diastasis and lo and behold...I had it. At this point, the separation was about one finger apart. When I felt it at her office, I could clearly feel the separation unlike months before when I first tested.

She told me that she could help me to build my core and help my hips as well. I went to several appointments with her and was doing my exercises that she gave me at home. I wasn't limping due to the groin pain anymore. Don't get me wrong- it still hurt. But, it was not as bad. Laying on my side was still painful though.

But, my tummy area continued to be sore and I would complain (not a normal thing for me) about aches and pains in my tummy when doing things around the house. My husband finally said that I needed to go and see a "real" doctor.

I called a doctor who specializes in diastasis and hernias and upon examination found out that not only did I have diastasis, but I also had two hernias. I have an umbilical hernia, which is at the belly button and means that it is bulging out (from being stretched so much during pregnancy). The other hernia is a ventral hernia (above the belly button in my upper abdomen) and is in the same place where the diastasis is. Of course, he recommended surgery and said he would do it in two separate surgeries due to risk of infection with the mesh that would be inserted to fix the diastasis.

Two heart sank. The thought of one surgery with a young baby and a young child was overwhelming enough. But two? The post-op recovery would also mean a two night stay in the hospital in addition to not being able to lift my baby for 2-3 weeks. After that period, I could lift my baby but nothing else for 2-3 months. He told me that it was up to me when I wanted to do surgery and said I could just let him know when I was ready.

Walking out of his office, I was dumbfounded! I had no idea I had any hernias, much less two of them. I knew that there was a surgical fix for diastasis but now the optional idea of surgery was out the window. I now was faced with the reality that fixing it without surgery was no longer an option.

I have to have family come and stay with us for weeks to lift my baby since I won't be able to. The thought of not being able to do things on my own, especially lifting my baby on my own, is going to be torturous. As my mother-in-law put it, I am a "very hands-on mom."

After meeting with him, I met with another surgeon who is going to approach the surgery different and do it in one. Due to the location of my diastasis and the location of the hernias, he sees no reason to need to do two separate surgeries. Now we just wait for clearance from insurance and hope and pray that they don't try to refuse payment.

My Recommendations

Just because this is my journey with diastasis does not mean that it is everybody's. The majority of people can "fix" their separation by doing the right exercises. I still keep reading online and searching for another fix and haven't found it yet.

If you are pregnant, I highly recommend looking at the link below about how to possibly prevent it doing certain exercises. If you are post-baby and think you may have it, you may be able to fix it by finding an exercise program to follow or by finding a physical therapist or personal trainer who specializes in that area.

I wish that I'd known to do some special exercises to prevent it. But, maybe someone will benefit from this hub and will be able to prevent what I didn't even know I should try to prevent. It just goes to show that as much as you think you know, you can always know and learn more. Here's to learning and growing....cheers!

View video of how to diagnose diastasis

If you've had diastasis, click on the description that fits your experience.

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    • fitmom profile image

      fitmom 5 years ago

      Thank you! I'm glad you found it helpful. :)

    • asmaiftikhar profile image

      asmaiftikhar 5 years ago from Pakistan

      A very helpful article.

    • fitmom profile image

      fitmom 5 years ago

      Thanks BeFit-Mom. Yes, if it weren't for the hernias, it wouldn't be a problem. I hope that my pelvic instability will be better soon! It's improved some, but is still a problem. Thanks for your comments.

    • profile image

      BeFit-Mom 5 years ago

      Diastasis recti is defined as the mid line being more than 2 finger-widths (US) or more than 2 centimeters (Europe) so your tummy does not meet the threshold. Good news. Most likely, it was wider directly after childbirth and has closed up on its own. This is how most cases of diastasis resolve.

      As to hormones... the pregnancy hormones that effect the density of connective tissues, Elastin and Relaxin, peak at 20 weeks gestation and then have another release during labor and delivery. Breast feeding hormones do not affect connective tissues. But because connective tissues have an indirect blood supply, it takes at least 20 weeks postpartum for the tissue to tighten up again to their pre-pregnancy density and elasticity.

      Diastasis can be prevented, or the severity of the condition lessened, by training the deepest abdominal muscle, the Transverse Abdominis during pregnancy.

      From your description of your painful hips and weakness, it sounds like you might be dealing with postpartum pelvic instability.


    • fitmom profile image

      fitmom 5 years ago

      You're welcome! I wish I'd known to prevent it myself...

    • hippie mommy profile image

      hippie mommy 5 years ago from South Carolina

      thanks for sharing!