Not All Baby Fat is the Same: How to Treat Diastasis Recti Symptoms

If you have a “pooch” several weeks or months after giving birth, it’s natural to assume they come from the usual suspects. Maybe your uterine muscles are still slack after expanding to accommodate your growing baby. Maybe you’ve been over-relying on fatty, salty foods in the rare moments you can snatch between caring for your baby.

But so-called baby fat doesn’t always stem from these common issues. Some women experience diastasis recti, also known as abdominal separation, in the postpartum months. To get rid of the pooch, you may need to take a few special measures beyond crunches and cutting empty calories.

What Is Abdominal Separation?

Your rectus abdominis muscles are the ones that line either side of your stomach’s midline. These days, fitness fanatics refer to them as their “six-pack.” The rectus abdominis muscles provide your body the flexibility to bend the spine and torso. During pregnancy, they stretch out to give your baby room to grow.

Usually, those six-pack muscles bounce back within a few months postpartum. But a number of factors, from a hormone imbalance that makes connective tissue less flexible during pregnancy, to the baby’s positioning during delivery, can cause so much internal pressure that the muscles completely or partially separate. This leads to a sagging look in the belly area, because the side muscles are spaced too far apart to support the center.

A protruding belly isn’t always the only sign of abdominal separation. Other common diastasis recti symptoms include bloating, constipation, and lower back or pelvic pain. It can also contribute to the problem new moms already have of releasing small amounts of urine when laughing, sneezing, or even picking up your baby. In addition, you may find it harder to maintain correct posture when you’re sitting or standing.   

How Can You Be Sure?

Obviously, a medical professional can properly evaluate you for diastasis recti. But in the meantime, a self-check can point you in the right direction. Start on your back, with your feet flat to the floor and your knees bent. Put your fingers, tips pointing toward your feet, in the center of your belly. Once they’re in position, raise your head just slightly, which engages your “six-pack.”

With your fingers, work your way down the center of your torso, both above and below your belly button. You’re checking how many fingers you can fit between your right and left side muscles. If the gap is wider than three fingers, you may have a separated abdomen.

Of course, finger widths vary, so visiting a doctor a physical therapist specializing in postpartum recovery is the best way to know for sure. In this setting, your muscles can be measured with calipers or other equipment.

What Can You Do About It?

Talk to one of our physical therapists specializing in prenatal training or postpartum recovery (depending on when your diastasis recti symptoms occur). Your physical therapist may recommend wearing a special supportive belt, known as a binder. She’ll also help you avoid positions that make the separation worse, such as picking up heavy objects without support, or even getting out of bed improperly.

While it might seem logical to attempt the classic ab-tightening moves like crunches, other workouts are traditionally more effective for dealing with diastasis recti symptoms. These often start with deep-breathing exercises, which help stabilize your core. Other training might include working with kettlebells, doing standing push-ups, or the classic “bridge” pelvic tilt.

Ready to take the plunge? Contact us today to get yourself on the path to wellness. BackFit Health + Spine has a full team of specialists available to find the solution that’s best for you, whether it’s physical therapy or something else.

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