If your stomach still looks pregnant months later or maybe a year later, despite having lost most of the baby weight, stop being hard on yourself, because diastasis recti - a condition that is mostly out of your control - might be to blame. Diastasis recti is what occurs when your abdominal muscles separate during pregnancy due to the stretching of muscles by the growing uterus.
Diastasis recti occurs during pregnancy but usually comes to light after pregnancy, when you notice that your abdominal muscles are weak and won’t return to their old condition. You notice this when you’ve lost most of the pregnancy weight but your stomach still looks like you are pregnant, although everything else seems back to the way it was.
Image Courtesy: One Body Osteopathy
It can be quite confusing because you may wonder what you’re doing wrong. But know this - it’s not your fault, so stop being so tough on yourself.
How Does Diastasis Recti occur?
The muscles that separate due to the stretching leave a gap that allows your belly to form a pooch.
The rectus abdominis muscles that run down vertically along your abdomen on both sides, are long flat muscles that hold your internal organs in and stabilize your core. Due to the expansion of muscles during pregnancy, the connective tissue stretches and the rectus abdominis can pull apart and separate down the middle. The pregnancy hormones can also make these muscles loosen to stretch and fit your growing baby.
The tissues can heal and come back together after pregnancy, but sometimes, it doesn’t happen and when it doesn’t happen within 3 to 6 months, you can end up with the gap which won’t close without treatment.
Diastasis recti is more common in women over 35 years, or women who had multiple births (twins or triplets). You are also more likely to have a diastasis recti if you’ve had more than one pregnancy. Each pregnancy and body is different from the next.
Other than the appearance of your stomach, diastasis recti can have a couple of other symptoms, different in each woman, but there are some common ones that most new moms with diastasis recti experience. These include:
- Lower back pain
- Poor posture
- Lower abdominal or pelvic pain
- Constipation and bloating
The symptoms usually occur after pregnancy, but if you experience extreme abdominal, back or pelvic pain during pregnancy, you should see your doctor right away.
What To Do About Diastasis Recti?
Once the muscles have stretched out and separated, it can be pretty hard to strengthen the core muscles and bring them back together. But what you should avoid doing are crunches - they make the muscles tighter but push them apart, making the connective tissue thinner and weaker by stretching it.
Physiotherapy helps you correct a diastasis recti - the exercises you do here will be guided and supervised by a physiotherapist, and in some cases, surgery wherein there is the stitching the diastasis muscles is an option, but only in severe cases where the physiotherapy is inadequate to strengthen the muscles.
It is never too late to heal your diastasis recti. Some women only get around to it years after they have the baby, but with the right guidance, care and supervision, it is possible to fix your damaged muscles and tissues. The time taken for recovery will depend on the severity of your muscle separation or tissue damage.
So, moms, don’t be so hard on yourself and your postpartum body. Bearing a child is not easy on your body - it goes through so many changes. The appearance of the stomach is only one part of diastasis recti but if you’re struggling with symptoms like pain or discomfort, you should definitely seek help because your concerns are valid like any other.