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You are in your last trimester barely managing to eat, sleep, and use the restroom in the right order, yet you look down and notice something out of the ordinary. While nothing about your body is ordinary anymore, this stands out. You may notice either an indentation or a bulge in the middle of your stomach…and it’s not your belly button. It may present as a small lump or a larger bulge. Usually, this gap closes on its own, but it is important to know about this condition in order to properly care for yourself.
Diastasis recti is a thinning and widening of your abdominal muscles that may develop as your stomach expands. It occurs when the right and left sides of the rectus abdominis muscle (i.e., the “six pack” one that covers the front of your stomach) separate. Pregnancy puts so much pressure on the belly that sometimes the muscles in front can’t keep their shape. “Diastasis” means separation. “Recti” refers to your ab muscles called the “rectus abdominis.”
You can actually test for diastasis recti at home by lying on your back, bending your knees with your soles flat on the floor. Support your head and shoulders with pillows and rest your arms flat at your sides. Raise your head slightly with your arms extended forward. Feel for a soft lump, where your fingers can compress down into the vertical line above and below your navel; it may indicate a separation. You can tell how big the space is by counting the finger lengths: One to two finger-widths is normal; three or more could be a sign of diastasis recti.
Exercises like abdominal compressions, pelvic tilts, toe taps, bridges, etc. will help separated muscles because the stomach should remain pulled in, rather than pushed out while exercising.
Having more than one child can make you predisposed to this condition especially if your children were born in close succession. Additionally, you’re also more likely to get it if you’re over 35 when pregnant, or if you’re having a heavy baby or multiples.
While you can mitigate the damage your muscles sustained by engaging in specific physical activity, there are important dos and don’ts. Additionally, there is no guarantee the bulge will go away. If the lump bothers you immensely, you may want to consult a physical therapist with experience in the area or a plastic surgeon.
Some properly performed abdominal exercises, including many Pilates moves, may help minimize the appearance of the bulge and help repair your abdominal muscles. Cardio, strength training, and yoga under the direction of a physical therapist can be a great place to start if your condition of diastasis recti is somewhat mild. It is important to note, some exercises can make belly bulges worse, such as crunches or improperly performed abdominal exercises. Exercises like abdominal compressions, pelvic tilts, toe taps, bridges, etc. will help separated muscles because the stomach should remain pulled in, rather than pushed out while exercising.
The golden rule when working out after your birth is don’t strain. Straining will only make matters worse. Constipation and lifting heavy things, including your kids, strain that connective tissue. Standing up and sitting down also count as heavy lifting in this case, because you’re lifting your body weight. Be gentle with yourself and with your body. Additionally, it is important to mitigate expectations. Diastasis recti is a condition that does not just go away after working out- it is one in which you have to remove via surgery or work to minimize via physical therapy and specific exercise.