One of the side effects of having a baby involves the connective tissue (linea alba) in between the two sides of the long abdominal muscles (rectus abdominals), stretching to help accommodate the growing baby. This is commonly known as diastasis recti. It’s perfectly normal and new research from world-renowned women’s physiotherapist Diane Lee suggests that is happens in 100% of women in the 3rd trimester. It doesn’t mean your baby will fall either! In most cases this ‘separation’ resolves itself within the first 6-8 weeks, leaving only a small or no gap.
For some women the separation can stay wider than 1-2 cm and this is when it is classed as a diastasis recti. This does’t mean your abdominals are broken or that you’ll forever look 6 months pregnant. It means the connective tissue hasn’t returned to it pre-pregnancy state and your tummy muscles might still be a little weak. BUT this can helped with the right diet, movement patterns and breath work.
But how do you know if you have a separation in the first place?
You can test for yourself or ask you health provider, midwife, health visitor or qualified women’s physiotherapist or exercise professional. But here is how you can test for yourself.
1. Start by laying on your back with your knees bent.
2. With you index and middle fingers, facing away from you,firmly press down the middle of your tummy muscles. Start from the bottom of your breast bone and finish at the top of your pubic bone. Note how it feels – soft, firm, very squishy?
3. Next breathe out and lift your head and shoulders as above. You may need to press firmly to feel the two sides of the rectus muscles. Move your fingers side to side as you press. Again take note of how it feels and if there is a gap. If there is, note how many fingers you can fit in the gap.
4. You can repeat again but this time trying to engage the tummy muscles as you lift the upper body. Take note what happens to your tummy here. Does it dome up and make a point triangle shape? In some cases you can see the rectus muscles push up. This is a sign of weakness in the core.
It’s important to test these muscles and their strength when embarking on exercise. The wrong type of exercise for you could inhibit them to heal or make them worse. So what should you to do? Seek advice if the gap is wider than 2 cm, domes when you lift your head and shoulders and/or engage them, or feel very soft and you can push through the gap. A very good women’s health physiotherapist can help initially, then seek out a reputable and qualified exercise or movement professional. Both can help you learn to reconnect to your core and teach you how to manage day to day.
Some gaps never close fully and that is ok. The most important factor is how that connective tissue withstands pressures from everyday tasks such as lifting.
Check out my YouTube video to see how it’s done: