Most moms notice a distinctive bulge around their bellies after pregnancy. Though many people, including physicians, chalk it up to stretched skin from pregnancy and residual fat accumulation, it often runs a bit deeper than that. In many cases, this protrusion is caused by a separation of the abdominal muscles, a condition known as diastasis recti.

It’s a Common Problem

Few studies have been done on how many women develop diastasis recti during pregnancy. According to some medical reports, though, the condition persists at least six weeks after giving birth to the majority of women who do. Of those, 30 percent still suffer from it a year later.

While there are ways to safely and effectively improve diastasis recti, it’s important to understand the condition before taking action.

Delving Deeper

Abdominal muscles are naturally separated into a left and right section. Most people don’t realize this because those sections are held snugly together by a band of connective tissue. During pregnancy, an expanding belly can stretch this tissue beyond its breaking point, causing it to pull away and allow the two sides of the abdominal muscles to separate further than they should.

Ordinarily, the internal abdominal organs are held in place by a thin membrane. Abdominal muscles act as a solid reinforcement. When they separate, though, the membrane has no backup and can’t keep the organs tightly contained on its own.

As a result, those abdominal organs bulge out, causing a visible pooch.

Is Diastasis Recti Dangerous?

For most women, diastasis recti aren’t particularly dangerous. That being said, it can lead to certain health issues, such as:

  • Frequent Urges to Urinate
  • Bladder Leakage
  • Back Pain
  • Pelvic Discomfort
  • Constipation
  • Bowel Incontinence
  • Discomfort during Intercourse

This condition as well as accompanying pelvic floor dysfunction can also lead to an increased risk of pelvic organ prolapse, development of certain types of hernias and infections among other conditions.

DR Detection

In some cases, obstetricians diagnose DR during pregnancy or at follow-up exams. Other times, it can go unnoticed for months or even years.

One way to determine if you might have diastasis recti is a lack of noticeable abdominal flattening even after consistent exercise and weight loss efforts following pregnancy. If you see a disturbing bulge in your belly while doing crunches, this could be a sign of the condition as well. Should you suspect DR might be an issue, consider consulting with your doctor for an official diagnosis.

Exercise Caution with DR

For those who have DR, strenuous activities can certainly make the condition worse and increase the risk of those previously mentioned health issues. Many conventional tummy-toning exercises fall into this category as does straining in the bathroom. Even loading and unloading groceries and picking up your children can cause muscle separation to grow and lead to further problems.

Bottom Line

If you’ve been diagnosed with diastasis recti, don’t panic. This condition can be reversed or repaired. For some, it’s a simple matter of doing the right types of exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor and close the gap between the abdominal muscles. Your doctor may recommend working with a physical therapist to fix the issue.

In the event, all else fails and DR is causing you pain and other problems, certain surgical procedures may come into play. If the muscles simply need to be tightened, this can often be done via a small pelvic incision and endoscopic repair. Otherwise, a full-blown tummy tuck may be in order.