Being pregnant is such a blessing! For some, it is a wonderful experience; for others, not so much. However, we can all agree that our bodies are amazing, being able to grow and nurture a little human. Despite this, pregnancy can take a toll on our bodies, and issues like Pelvic floor problems and Diastasis recti aren’t often discussed in prenatal classes. You learn how to care for your newborn, but what about you? Diastasis recti symptoms during pregnancy are common and it is important to be able to recognize them so that you can reduce the impact it has on you both during your pregnancy and postpartum.

Diastasis recti during pregnancy

Diastasis recti is the separation of the rectus abdominis muscles, creating a gap along the midline of the abdomen. By 35 weeks of pregnancy, 100% of women will have some degree of diastasis recti (Mota et al., 2014). The connective tissue known as the linea alba stretches to allow the abdominal muscles to separate, giving the baby room to grow. Most bellies recover after delivery, and the midline gap narrows. However, some do not fully recover, leading to a permanent separation.

Causes and Risk Factors
Several factors can exacerbate Diastasis recti during pregnancy:

  1. Excess Weight Gain: Gaining more weight than recommended increases pressure on the abdominal wall.
  2. Multiple Pregnancies: The more pregnancies, especially close together, the more the connective tissue is stretched.
  3. Multiple Babies: Twins or triplets require more room, thus more pressure on the abdomen.
  4. Poor Posture: An arched back and tilted pelvis add pressure on the abdominal wall.
  5. Genetics and Pre-pregnancy Fitness Levels: Women with very strong rectus abdominis (6-pack abs) might be more prone to severe Diastasis recti due to the tightness and less elasticity of their muscles.

Diastasis recti is not dangerous during pregnancy,in fact some people don’t experience any symptoms, and their ab separation is relatively painless. However, some people notice discomfort or difficulty doing certain activities, feelings, and appearance of flabbiness in the stomach muscles.

You should though monitor for DR symptoms during your pregnancy so that you can adjust your exercise program or daily movements so that you do not make it worse.

How to tell if you have Diastasis recti while pregnant

Many women do not detect or get a Diastasis recti diagnosis until after the baby is born. The self-check test that is normally done is the same as how you check postpartum – you can watch the video for how to check for Diastasis recti HERE, but keep in mind it is not as accurate as the baby gets bigger due to fluid, the baby, the uterus moving up, etc. It is easier to watch for some of the below symptoms that may occur with the presence of Diastasis.  

Symptoms to watch for

Doming: the might notice a possible diastasis if your belly “cones” or “domes” or you see a ridge while performing a traditional crunch, getting up from a chair, or washing your hair in the shower. However, this coning could also be due to an under-cued Transverse abdominis (deep core muscles).

Lower Back Pain: while this is common during pregnancy (even without Diastasis recti) if you are early on in your pregnancy and are suddenly feeling more lower back pain this could be an indication that your core muscles are weakening.

 

Weak Core Muscles: you may find that your core feels weaker or squishier than it did previously.

Pelvic floor dysfunction: your pelvic floor is part of your core and works in tandem with your abs, so sometimes as your abs stretch/weaken this can also impact your pelvic floor.​

Visible signs that your stomach muscles may have separated

Apart from the visible doming that may occur, I have found other common indications of Diastasis during pregnancy.

Visable gap: look at your bump in the mirror (either with a “tight top” on or unclothed). Note down what you can see. You are looking for an obvious gap in your stomach muscles. Often with clothes on you will see an obvious “hole” around the belly button area. Remember around 35 weeks this is expected!

Belly Button:  Is it an ‘inny’ or an ‘outy’? An ‘outy’ or one that looks swollen is another sign that you may have muscle separation although this is not definite as you can still have a diastasis with an ‘inny’.

Feel: gently rub your hands across your bump where you think the muscle tissue is starting to thin or gap. You will feel the separation where you have noted the possible gap.

Managing Diastasis recti during pregnancy

Remember some degree of abdominal separation is expected especially later on in the pregnancy. However, you can reduce the risk of developing severe diastasis recti by following these simple ways:

  1. Maintain a Healthy Weight: Avoid excessive weight gain.
  2. Proper posture: Pay attention to your standing posture. While standing, try to lengthen your spine and bring your shoulder blades together. You can also try to engage your lower abdominal muscles so your ribs don’t flare out. If you are overly arching your lower back, try to correct it by stacking your ribcage over your pelvis.
  3. Deep breathing: Practice expanding your ribcage with inhalation and breathing out slowly through your pursed lips. This helps maintain mobility in the ribcage, which is essential to create more space for your baby.
  4. Safe abdominal exercises: You should continue working on strengthening your abdominal muscles; however, choosing appropriate core exercises is essential. Avoid sit-ups and crunches, as these put pressure on your abdominals.
  5. Don’t strain while lifting: Gently blow out as you lift things and squat down. When carrying, try to keep the load close to your body. This will also help take the strain off the abdominals. When bending, avoid rounding your back. Instead, keep your spine in a neutral position and bend at the hips.
  6. Stay Active: Moving and exercising are essential parts of pregnancy, so don’t stop.
  7. Support Belts and K-Tape: Wearing a support belt or using k-tape is helpful, especially later in pregnancy.
  8. Avoid Doming Movements: Stop any movement that makes you dome or re-assess how you are doing that movement. For example, when getting out of bed, always roll to your side before getting up instead of crunching. Slide your bum back in the chair before getting out of a couch, and always exhale on exertion.
  9. Regularly Re-Assess Movements: Every week, or more often, re-assess if a movement is still safe and modify it if needed.
  10. Avoid Single Leg Exercises if Painful: If you start getting pubic or pelvis pain, remove single leg exercises.
How to Exercise with Diastasis recti During Pregnancy

One of the best things you can do during pregnancy is corrective exercises. I have many clients who were able to prevent their Diastasis recti from returning with subsequent pregnancies by working their core in a smart, functional way the entirety of their pregnancy. Many report that their core felt stronger than ever with the programs that they did.

Pregnancy is not an illness; there is no need to halt all exercise. We do, however, want to make good exercise choices. It is very important to exercise your core during pregnancy but not to increase intra-abdominal pressure as you do so.

It is important to avoid exercises that put a strain on the abdominal muscles. This includes sit-ups, crunches, and any ab work that leads to a bulge or “coning” around the belly button/canter line of the abdomen. Instead, focus on exercises that engage the deeper core muscles, the Transverse abdominis. Exercises that work the glutes and legs are also beneficial. They help take the pressure off the abdominals while involving the deeper core muscles.

My online programs, Pelvic Floor Freedom program and 8-week progression program for Diastasis recti, are designed to prepare your body for the unique demands of pregnancy, birth, and recovery. Everything you need to prepare your body can be found in this program which combines functional exercise, strength training, posture and alignment instruction, and even key educational tools so that you are given a chance to enjoy your pregnancy without stressing over it.

They are also ideal to redo postpartum.

Diastasis recti after pregnancy
Diastasis recti after pregnancy can persist if not properly addressed. Engaging in targeted Diastasis recti exercises can help close the gap and strengthen the core muscles. 

Once you’ve given birth, you should wait until you are around 6 weeks postpartum before checking for Diastasis recti, since so many hormonal and physical changes are happening — and the gap may firm and close in the meantime on its own. 

If you still have Diastasis recti after 6 weeks you will want to go through the Blueprint for regaining a functional core to work through the best start point for you.

Diastasis recti without pregnancy

 

It is possible to have Diastasis recti without having given birth. And yes, men can also get DR!

Diastasis recti without pregnancy can occur due to significant weight gain, obesity, Lifting incorrectly (body builders are among the highest non-pregnancy DR rates due to their bracing techniques when lifting) or improper abdominal exercises, such as too many sit-ups without the deep core working correctly.

It’s essential to follow similar precautions and engage in corrective exercises to manage this condition.

 

While Diastasis recti is inevitable during pregnancy, its symptoms can be managed, and its severity reduced with proper care and awareness. By maintaining a healthy lifestyle, correcting your posture, and engaging in safe exercises, you can lessen the impact of Diastasis recti during pregnancy and support your body through this incredible journey.

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