I had my second child nine months ago, and I’m one of those annoying people that loses lots of weight while breastfeeding, so I’ve been back in my normal clothes for a few months now, lower than my pre-pregnancy weight, etc. But as the weight came off everywhere else, I couldn’t help but notice that my belly just didn’t seem to be shrinking like the rest of my body. I tried to be patient with my body for several months, but something just seemed off.
To start with, I’ve always been shaped like a pear, not an apple, so being thicker around the middle just didn’t seem like my normal body composition. And it wasn’t just a flabby gut, it was like my stomach muscles were sticking out way further than they should be. I have to admit, there was a wee bit of vanity going on, too. Basically, I felt like I was in the awkward stage of pregnancy where your normal clothes don’t fit but maternity clothes are like a tent.
I started researching online and discovered that ab separation, or diastasis recti, is fairly common after pregnancy. A lot of people hear me talk about this and assume it’s a horizontal separation from my abs being cut during my c-section. (They don’t actually cut your abs, FYI.) But this is a vertical split down the middle of your “6-pack abs” (rectus abdominus).
Diastasis recti is caused by the weakening of the inner layer of abdominal muscles called the transverse abdominus, that runs horizontally around your trunk like a corset and holds everything in, underneath the ab muscles you’re probably more familiar with, like the obliques and “6-pack” muscles. Without the strength of that underlying transverse muscle, my reasonably strong outer ab muscles just splay out and give me that 2nd trimester look, as well as cause lower back/upper glute pain. (From what I understand, the weak abs put more strain on the back to compensate.)
I did the test that I found online to check if I had it, and by my measurements I had about a 4-finger-width separation. (It should be zero.). I called my OB’s office to ask what I should do about it, and after disagreeing with the nurse’s over-the-phone assessment that I’d probably need surgery…(I’ve had two c-sections, that’s quite enough surgery for me)…she spoke with the doctor and he referred me to a physical therapist.
the physical therapist confirmed that I have a 4-4.5 finger gap, and that this is a legitimate medical issue — I’m not just being vain about my stomach being poochy! She said that left untreated, the gap can widen, especially when you try to do traditional ab workouts. I’ve had four PT sessions so far, and my exercises are mostly squeezing core muscles, either my abs or my back, and squats. Crunches actually make it worse, and my PT recommended to avoid most core work (planks etc) until I closed the gap to at least 2 finger widths.
I am still able to run, but I’m really supposed to pay attention to keeping good posture/alignment, and she recommended not doing long distances because generally you get too tired to keep your core engaged.
After learning so much about diastasis recti, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s much more common than most people realize. I hope that sharing my experience here might help someone else.
I took some pictures of myself at the beginning of my PT, but I don’t quite have a successful “before and after” to share with you yet. I’ve heard it can take anywhere from a few months to a year to fully close the gap. I’ll keep you updated!