Diastasis Recti (Ab Separation)

woman lying on back checking for diastasis recti (ab separation)

What is it?

Diastasis Recti (Ab Separation) is the partial or complete separation of the rectus abdominis, or “six-pack” muscles, which meet at the midline of your stomach. Diastasis Recti is very common during and following pregnancy. This is because the uterus stretches the muscles in the abdomen to accommodate your growing baby.

Over a third of women will have a gap of two finger widths or more. This is nearer to two thirds of women on their second or subsequent pregnancies, especially if it wasn’t corrected the first time around.

By 6-8 weeks post-partum, the gap should be around 1-2 fingers widths or less. If there is a persistent gap of 3 finger widths or more, strong core exercises should be avoided and care be taken to modify exercises. Gentle core work is recommended to help recover.

What causes it?

Excessive pressure on the abdominal muscles causes the connective tissue to stretch and weaken at the mid line (Linea Alba) causing ab separation. Commonly cause by pregnancy but can also be caused by heavy weight lifting or excessive core exercise.

How do I check if I have it?

You can check for Ab Separation by doing what’s known as a ‘Rec Check’. You can ask a doctor or a Pre & Post Natal Fitness Instructor to check for you or you can check yourself following the instructions below:

  • Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and shoulder width apart and your feet flat on the floor.
  • Lift up your top and roll down any bottoms that come above your hips so you’re exposing your whole stomach. Place two fingers vertically down your stomach, just above your belly button.
  • Gently press in and out, to feel between the two halves of the muscles.
  • Inhale and slowly lift your head and shoulders off the ground, keeping gentle pressure on your stomach with your fingertips.
  • Hold that position and continue to breathe, and try to feel the two sides of the stomach muscles, there should be a soft dip in the middle. If you cannot feel it, try curling up a little further.
  • Relax and lay your head and shoulders back down. Inhale and repeat. Repeat a few times until you get the hang of what you’re feeling for.
  • If the gap between the muscles appears to be wider than two fingers width, try again using three fingers.

Please also check out this video for further guidance of how to check:

Are there any symptoms I should be aware of?

Diastasis Recti can give your stomach a dome-like appearance, which sticks out more when your core is engaged. Alongside this, other symptoms which may be present are:

  • Lower back pain
  • Weak pelvic floor muscles
  • Bladder leakage
  • Poor posture
  • Constipation

These symptoms are also common symptoms of pregnancy, so some women don’t even realise they have any ab separation. This is why it is so important to do that Rec Check before starting any exercise programme.

How to improve it

For a gap of 3 finger widths or more, the following gentle core exercises are recommended:

  • Abdominal hollowing
  • Pelvic tilting
  • Gentle curl ups where only the head and shoulders are lifted to the point before doming occurs.

What to do if doming occurs

If doming occurs when completing any exercise then stop, as doming can cause protrusion and make the separation worse. The abdominals should remain hollow throughout any exercise. Ask your Fitness Instructor for alternative exercises.

If doming occurs even during gentle core exercises and if the ab separation is not improving, please see your GP.

How to prevent it

Although there is no way of preventing Diastasis Recti, having a strong core pre- pregnancy is really important and so is practicing your pelvic floor exercises. Also making sure any core exercise done during pregnancy is done safely and with good form. As previously mentioned, if any doming occurs, stop the exercise. Certain core exercises should be avoided during pregnancy as this can put too much pressure on your core and cause Diastasis Recti or make it worse.

Core exercises to avoid during pregnancy:

  • Anything that causes doming in the stomach
  • Full sit ups or anything involving double leg lifts
  • Any hyperextension of the spine (bending over backwards or contortions)

*Most core exercises are safe during pregnancy for MOST people. Everyone is different so listen to your body and recognise your own limitations.

See my Instagram page for a pregnancy specific core workout https://www.instagram.com/p/CAHkLZopp6d/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Seek advice from a Pre & Post Natal qualified instructor for more information on the types of exercises you can and can’t do during pregnancy and for advice on what to do if you have Diastasis Recti or how to help it improve.

All of the workouts at Mama & Me Fitness are adapted to suit pre-natal, post-natal and anyone with ab separation, so you know that you are working out both safely and effectively. For more information, contact me https://mamaandmefitness.co.uk/contact-me/