Diastasis Recti: What Is It, How To Treat and Recover
Diastasis recti (AKA: DR, diastasis, ‘Divarication of the Recti’, DRA or ‘Rectus Divarication’) is an extremely common condition that affects many people, especially pregnant women or those who have recently given birth.
Estimates of prevalence vary but some studies have found it to affect around 60% of women. And whilst it often resolves itself in the weeks postpartum, estimates say that 40% of those who suffer from a diastasis recti still have it six months into the postpartum period.
With over 600,000 babies being born in the UK every year these numbers highlight just how common it is.
Despite being very normal and very common (diastasis recti is not ‘an injury’) – we still get hundreds of questions every month from mums and mums-to-be who are unsure about the condition, the risk factors and how best to treat it.
Whether you’re a new mummy or trying to heal a diastasis recti years later if you’ve got questions about diastasis recti you’re in the right place.
This comprehensive guide aims to answer every question you might have about DR and is supported by many free resources that go into even more detail on specific related topics such as:
- How to check for diastasis recti
- What are the best exercises to help with diastasis recti?
- Are there any core exercises you should avoid and how long for?
- How do you fix diastasis recti years later?
- When is diastasis recti considered severe
- When might someone need surgery for diastasis recti?
- What about testing for diastasis recti during pregnancy?
MUTU is world recognised and medically proven in NHS-run trials as an effective diastasis recti and pelvic floor dysfunction treatment programme. We’ve helped over 80,000 mums since 2012 and we’re committed to helping you too.
So without further ado, let’s take a deeper look at everything Diastasis Recti…
What Does Diastasis Recti Look Like?
Here’s what the DR gap looks like at the muscular level. When the two parts of the muscle separate as a result of this increased pressure (like in pregnancy), the connective tissue and midline is stretched and weakened as it takes all other muscular and fascial support structures along with it. This leaves the front of the abdomen unsupported and unstable. Your tummy might still “look” pregnant, many months or even years post-baby. A DR can present itself as a ‘doming’ of your tummy, made worse when you perform crunch type movements or when sitting up from a lying position on your back
Why is it important to address Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis recti is a symptom of excessive intra abdominal pressure.
This is the same state that creates other pelvic floor and abdominal problems including hernia and prolapse. DR should therefore be treated as part of an integrated program designed to restore, re-connect and then strengthen the entire core musculature, rather than be addressed in isolation. This means moving beyond just how it looks.
Then you strengthen your transverse abdominis muscles to help draw your rectus abdominis muscle back in together, helping your tummy to feel stronger and look flatter.
Diastasis recti (DR) is the widening of the gap between the two sides of the Rectus Abdominus muscle. The abdominal separation/split occurs at the Linea Alba, which is the midline collagen structure of connective tissue at the front of your abdominal wall.
DR is totally normal, very common and not ‘an injury’. You can have a perfectly functional core and still have a small gap at your linea alba. What is a ‘Functional Diastasis?
Understanding the structure of your abdomen and Diastasis Recti
The Rectus Abdominis is 1 of 4 layers of abdominal muscles:
- Transverse Abdominis (deepest muscle layer)
- Interior and Exterior Obliques (next two layers) that form your waist
- Rectus Abdominis (on the outside)
Diastasis recti occurs as a result of excessive intra-abdominal pressure or loading. It is common in the later stages of pregnancy (due to the inevitable shift in alignment from a growing baby), particularly in second or subsequent pregnancies.
DR can happen when your core is not quite functioning optimally, often due to issues with your overall core alignment. It’s important to note here that DR is not actually an injury though, and is incredibly common after pregnancy (an estimated 50%).
Though having a strong and supple core and good alignment/posture prior to pregnancy is beneficial for many reasons, DR might still occur. It’s not something you did “wrong” and it’s probably something you can fix with some intentional care.
It is normal and expected to have your abdomen still be a bit rounded for a short time after birth (about eight weeks) as your uterus returns to its pre-pregnant size, your organs go back to their normal resting spot, you shed the increased fluids necessary for growing a baby, and you start to shed the fat gained as insulation and protection.
However, with DR, your tummy might still look pregnant, many months or even years after giving birth. This is often (somewhat dismissively) called “mummy belly” or “mummy tummy”.
Diastasis recti can present itself as a ‘doming’ of your tummy, made worse when you perform crunch type movements or when sitting up from a lying position on your back. You might also find it resembles a loaf of bread.
There’s a pretty simple at-home test for determining if you have diastasis recti.
For a quick start guide just follow these few steps:
- Lie on your back, legs bent and your feet flat on the floor.
- Raise your shoulders off the floor slightly and look down at your belly.
- Using the tips of your fingers feel just above and below your belly button, seeking the edges of your abdominal muscles. Take note of the finger widths between your muscles i.e. how many fingers you can fit into the gap.
In the first few weeks of postpartum, you can do this test regularly to track how well your muscles are moving back together. If they stay separated past week eight, you have DR.
When checking for diastasis recti symptoms you are assessing not only the width of the gap, but also its depth. This may feel a bit like testing for your belly’s level of squidgy-ness. The amount of separation on both counts will determine the severity of your diastasis, and what you can do to help close your abdominal separation (even in these severe cases).
Read our more in-depth article on testing for diastasis recti here.
Symptoms go beyond feeling like you have a saggy belly and can include:
- Noticeable bulge sticking out just above or below your belly button.
- Coning or doming when you contract your ab muscles.
- Squidgy feeling around your belly button.
- Poor posture and/or low back pain.
- Weakness in your core muscles.
- Difficulty lifting things.
- Pelvic or hip pain.
- Painful sex.
- Urine leaking when you sneeze or cough.
Diastasis recti itself isn’t painful (remember, it’s not an injury), but the symptoms can be. Even if you don’t necessarily feel pain from DR, having your deep abdominal muscles and core aligned is important for your stability and being able to do normal daily activities.
- Try Not To Thrust Out Your Chest Or Tuck Your Backside!
- Walk More, Sit Less, Change Position More
- You Need Strong Glutes And A Strong Core To Heal A Diastasis
Follow these steps to help you to tweak and adjust your alignment for diastasis recti. Poor alignment and posture results in uncontained pressure and loading.
Next you must learn to ENGAGE and RELEASE your core and pelvic floor effectively in everyday movements.
You want to be able to carry your baby, push your pram, lift your children, do housework, walk, and move with a strong and functional core. MUTU retrains, reconnects and strengthens your core. You won’t always have to engage and release your core consciously but this is where we start.
Then through ongoing physical therapy you strengthen your transverse abdominis muscle to help draw your rectus abdominis muscle back in together, helping your tummy to feel stronger and look flatter.
A big part of bringing your ab muscles back together involves getting familiar with your core muscles and engaging your core. Engaging your core is a more important thing than just sucking in your stomach. Learn how to engage your core here.
You can narrow the gap with diastasis recti exercises including abdominal exercises, correct core restoration exercises, breathing strategies and alignment adjustments. By understanding how your body carries loads and withstands pressure, you can improve your core function, deep core muscles and the look of your tummy.
Here are some more resources on healing your diastasis recti:
- Breathing and alignment for diastasis recti
- Exercises for diastasis recti
- Proper alignment during breastfeeding for diastasis recti
- Nutrition for diastasis recti
You want to be able to carry your baby, push your pram, lift your children, do housework, walk, and move with a strong and functional core.
MUTU is world recognised and medically proven in hospital-run trials as well as by tens of thousands of customers to naturally heal diastasis and pelvic floor dysfunction. MUTU System retrains, reconnects and strengthens your core and pelvic floor muscles via an easy to follow exercise program. You won’t always have to engage and release your core consciously but this is where we start.
In NHS Trials in 2020, 94% of women with diastasis recti reported an improvement after using the MUTU System. It doesn’t matter how long ago you had your baby (many moms come to us more than 12 months postpartum), the award-winning, medically recommended MUTU program can help.