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What Is Diastasis Recti?

Diastasis Recti: The Weird Reason You Still Look Pregnant

It's called the "mummy tummy" or the "mommy pooch." It's that leftover belly that makes many new moms look and feel as if they're still a few months pregnant. And it's common: 12 months after childbirth, one in three women still have it.

What Is Diastasis Recti?

The medical name is diastasis recti, or rectus abdominis diastasis (RAD). The rectus abdominis muscles — those "six-pack" muscles of the abdominal wall — are separated by a piece of fibrous connective tissue called the linea alba. During pregnancy, the linea alba stretches to accommodate the growing fetus, creating a gap between the rectus abdominis muscles. Diastasis recti occurs when that separation persists after childbirth and in some cases becomes even wider. Though it's sometimes seen in men, the classic profile is a small, fit woman who carries a large fetus or twins to term. Other risk factors include older age at pregnancy, multiple pregnancies, weak pelvic floor muscles, and multiple c-sections.

How Do I Know If I Have It?

To see if you have RAD, lie on your back with your knees bent and place a finger just above your belly button. As you lift your head off the floor, note the distance between the two now-activated rectus abdominis muscles. If the gap is roughly two centimeters or more, you have diastasis recti.

Some women may even see a bulge in between the two muscles, a small protrusion of abdominal contents. But it's not as weird as it seems: In diastasis recti, there is not an actual defect in the abdominal wall. Because the linea alba is still connecting the rectus abdominis, there's no risk that abdominal contents will protrude and get "stuck" between the muscles, which distinguishes the condition from a hernia. In fact, RAD generally doesn't cause any medical problems at all.

How Can I Get Rid of It?

Good news! It's treatable with exercise. A handful of small studies have shown that certain exercise programs, when done in either the pre- or post-natal period, can both prevent and correct RAD. In the only randomized controlled trial, 50 women were assigned to complete either no exercise or an exercise protocol focused on abdominal wall strengthening. Those randomized to the exercise group showed substantial decreases in the size of the diastasis recti compared to those who didn't complete the exercise program.

A more recent study retrospectively analyzed 63 women who completed the Dia Method, an exercise program that emphasizes isometric contractions of the transverse abdominis, resistance training, and cardiovascular exercise. All 63 women experienced complete resolution of diastasis recti. Other programs, like the MuTu System and the Tupler Technique, have gained popularity after anecdotal successes but haven't been formally studied.

What If Exercise Doesn't Help?

For women who don't achieve success with exercise, surgical management is an option. Though this is generally considered cosmetic, there is some evidence that surgical repair can improve pulmonary and abdominal wall function. The procedure, called a plication, involves the placement of internal stitches to bring the rectus abdominis muscles closer together. Some surgeons may recommend a tummy tuck at the same time. But surgery is a last resort, and women should only consider it after they're finished with family building.

Did you experience diastasis recti? What (if anything) did you do to resolve the issue?

Image Source: Getty / zoomstudio
Join The Conversation
Moshel Moshel 6 years
Very glad to have come upon this site. Just had my second baby (second big baby) in September and am discovered to have an umbilical hernia although rather small and then the diastasis recti as well. I'm just dreading looking like i'm preggo and having people ask all the time. It's very sad that insurance doesn't cover something like this when it so very well interupts our way of living. I have been having terrible digestive problems and back pain that comes and goes. I would still like another child so I guess surgery is not an option but I really would like to feel "normal" again.
RunninginBoston RunninginBoston 8 years
I did the exercises in Julie Tupler's "Lose Your Mummy Tummy" book. It is also a DVD. They are easy, but you have to do them religiously. I was kind of a slacker, but it still made an improvement. Perhaps more important than asthetics, the exercises helped reduce the back and other muscle pain associated with separated abdominals.
Jemsfirst Jemsfirst 8 years
My twins were born 3 years ago at 8lbs 12oz and 8lbs 2oz. I have a rather severe case of this condition. Even though I work out regularly and have gotten down to a size 4, I have a belly that looks like I am 4-5 months pregnant. I was told that surgery would be the only fix. I'll think about it in 5 years or so if there are no improvements. The kids are a blessing, so I'll deal with it!
SweetnLow SweetnLow 8 years
With my first I had symphysis pubis diastasis. I guess if something had to come apart, I'm glad it was cartledge and not muscle. Except that I have it again.. :P
LilaBo LilaBo 8 years
after two kids, i will be repairing mine with a tummy tuck next month. i'm very nervous about the surgery, but also can't wait!!
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