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Can You Prevent This Common Postpartum Problem?

Can You Prevent This Common Postpartum Problem?

Ask any mama: No one wants to deliver a beautiful baby, only to be stopped on the street a few months later and hear the dreaded question: “So when are you due?”

The truth is, it’s normal to look a little bit…well, pregnant, after giving birth. Your uterus will shrink back down after you deliver, but some women are left with some belly budge that wasn’t there pre-pregnancy, and in some cases, a thing called diastasis recti may be to blame. Physical therapist and new mom Lisa Alemi, came through with a scientific explanation, but essentially this is an issue that often arises due to the physical changes associated with pregnancy and can change the overall look of your midsection. More importantly, diastasis recti can also lead to some issues that aren’t purely cosmetic (more on that below!).

By now we’re sure you’re wondering if there’s a way to prevent this from happening in the first place…and that’s why we had Lisa share her advice for expectant mamas who are looking to avoid dealing with this issue.

Monica + Andy: Can you explain what diastasis recti is?

Lisa Alemi: Diastasis recti is separation of the rectus abdominis muscle bellies.  You have three major abdominal muscles: The rectus abdominis, the obliques, and the transverse abdominis.  The rectus abdominis runs vertically from the bottom of your sternum to your pubic bone.  A separation of 2.7cm or more of these muscle bellies is called diastasis recti.  The greater the separation, the more severe the condition. Negative side effects of diastasis recti include low back pain, a constant pooch at front of the belly, constipation, poor core stability, and pelvic floor complications that can lead to. but are not limited to, pain during sexual intercourse and incontinence.

M+A: Are there factors that make women more prone to this during/after pregnancy?

LA: The pregnancy alone doesn’t cause the diastasis recti, but the pressure in the abdominal cavity can cause the diastasis recti.  Poor posture, overactivation of the [those abdominal muscles], and lifting excessive amounts of weight can contribute to diastasis recti. Many people may attribute the cause of diastasis recti to BMI, weight gain, baby’s birth weight or abdominal circumference, [but research has suggested] that there is no direct correlation between diastasis recti and these factors. Increased weight gain or carrying multiples could have an impact on developing diastasis recti because of the change in posture.  If a woman doesn’t maintain good posture [through pregnancy], the muscles are susceptible.  

M+A: How common is the issue?

LA: The issue is quite common.  Over half of pregnant women will experience some level of diastasis recti during the pregnancy or postpartum period.

M+A: Is there anything a woman can do during pregnancy to prevent diastasis?

LA: Yes, prevention techniques include maintaining proper posture, avoiding lifting heavy objects, avoiding exercises completed in the frontal plane, such as abdominal crunches or forward planks.  Women can also wear a belly support band to decrease pressure along the abdomen.  Using kinetic tape to decrease pressure is also a common practice.

M+A: Will women notice signs of diastasis during pregnancy, or will it only reveal itself postpartum?

LA: Signs of diastasis can be present during pregnancy.  Seeing a physical therapist who specializes in diastasis recti treatment is the most beneficial way to be properly diagnosed.  If diagnosed during pregnancy, women can begin treatment immediately to diminish the side effects and improve abdominal control.

M+A: What exercises can women do to minimize their chances of ab separation?

LA: {Strengthening your pelvic floor and] drawing [your] belly button toward [your] spine throughout regular daily activities can improve posture and decrease stress on [your] abdomen.

M+A: What exercises should be avoided during pregnancy?

LA: Exercises in the frontal plane — [like standard push-ups, forward planks, and crunches] should be avoided. Instead, push-ups should be completed on an incline and side planks are preferred over forward planks.  I would also avoid any exercises that cause you to hold your breath or require you to be [on all fours] without proper support.

M+A: Can diastasis be cured after birth?

LA: Yes, you can treat the diastasis recti after birth, but you can also begin treating it during pregnancy.

M+A: What are some measures moms can take to fix the issue?

LA: Seeing a qualified physical therapist [who is] trained in treating diastasis recti can help significantly to diagnose the severity of the condition and properly train the muscles to heal in their normal position.  Transverse abdominis training and pelvic floor training are key to fixing the issue and many times we need a professional to help us do that.  Wearing an abdominal binder after birth can also help the diastasis recti, but should be recommended on a case by case basis.  Avoid heavy lifting, including other children who are older than your newborn.  If you have had a C-section, follow up with your doctor to be sure that the incision has healed properly before engaging in proper abdominal training.  Avoid crunches and planks.  Focus on your posture, stay hydrated, and eat well to avoid constipation, which can also increase pressure in the abdomen.

Concerned about diastasis recti? Run any questions by your doctor and consider an appointment with a physical therapist, who can help you tackle the issue during or after pregnancy.

About the expert: Lisa Alemi is a wife, mom, physical therapist, and blogger for Move Mama Move. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in athletic training and a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from the University of Evansville.  She worked as an outpatient orthopedic physical therapist until the birth of her son.   Lisa currently spends her time raising her son and building a family, blogging, traveling, and enjoying life.  You can follow Lisa at www.MoveMamaMove.com.

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