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Diastasis Recti aka “Mummy Tummy”

Jul 23, 2019

Author: Meg Henderson

Did you know that your “six pack” is actually a muscle called the rectus abdominis? It has a fibrous connective tissue, called the linea alba, that runs down the center, which divides the muscle in two. When you are pregnant, your abdominal muscles and the linea alba HAVE TO stretch and thin, respectively, to accommodate the growing baby in your belly. There are studies out there that will cite the statistic that 100% of women who are pregnant in their third trimester will experience a diastasis rectus abdominis (DRA). However, it is also important to note that this is completely normal! Even when we are not pregnant or have never been pregnant before, this fascia allows for stretch when we are doing essential things…like breathing! An abnormal diastasis rectus abdominis (DRA) that we talk about clinically is one where the gap is greater than 2.7cm at, above, or below the belly button…that is about the width of 2-3 fingers. And just because we have our babies, doesn’t mean our muscles bounce right back to what they were before we literally, grew a human for 9 months! 52% of women will actually still experience this DRA at 6 weeks postpartum! (Fernandes da Mota, Pascoal, Carita, & Bø, 2015)

Are there risk factors for developing a DRA during your pregnancy?

Absolutely! But most of them we CANNOT change… Bigger babies, carrying multiples, large amounts of amniotic fluid, and our genetic make-up are a few of those reasons.

There are a few things we can change!

  • Make sure your abdominal muscles are strong pre-pregnancy. This means ALL of your abdominal muscles, not just that 6-pack. You need the whole core team working together effectively, which includes your abdominals, diaphragm, pelvic floor, and low back muscles!
  • Avoid overusing your abdominal muscles, especially during that 3rd trimester. Excessive abdominal work can actually increase the DRA if you overwork the surrounding abs, including the obliques. If you see any “doming” or protruding of the front of your belly when you are doing a particular exercise, this is a sign to stop!
  • Breathe while pushing during delivery. You may have really focused on this during your childbirth classes and practiced with your partner, or maybe you were like me and sort of nodded and said, “Uh huh, I’ll do it when the time comes!”. Either way, when you’re in the moment and it is time to push, you might forget to breathe. Holding your breath (Valsalva maneuver) causes intra-abdominal pressure to rise, which can worsen a DRA and make it harder to heal in the postpartum period.

Because DRA is a painless condition, you may not know you even have it! 

Take the Test Below to Find Out!



Will it Heal on its Own?

If your DRA is going to resolve itself, it will usually do so in the first 8 weeks postpartum. After that, recovery will likely reach a plateau and you may need some help from a physical therapist. (Benjamin et al. 2014) A PT will perform a hands-on musculoskeletal evaluation and individualized treatment program based on those findings. It is important to remember not to be too worried about “the gap!” Some gap is normal, but we want to make sure your abdominal muscles are FUNCTIONAL and that both sides are communicating with each other to allow for a stronger core. Every woman’s body is different and will respond differently to abdominal muscle retraining programs, so it is essential to have the proper guidance!

 
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