Diastasis Recti 101: What is Diastasis Recti? Everything You Need to Know

What is Diastasis Recti?

Diastasis recti is a separation of the abdominal wall muscles. It occurs when the rectus abdominis, also known as the six-pack muscles, stretch sideways, causing damage to the connective tissue in the midline of the stomach. Diastasis recti occurs in a majority of childbearing women and results in a protruding stomach or “pooch”  and functional pelvic floor issues, including back pain, urinary stress incontinence, constipation, and painful sex.

Who Can Get Diastasis Recti?

Diastasis Recti from Pregnancy

Diastasis recti is most common in pregnancy, but anything that bulges the abdomen forward can overstretch the connective tissue, causing the abdominal muscles to separate. This condition is incredibly common (a majority of childbearing women experience diastasis recti), but even so, most women don’t know how to get rid of it.

Diastasis recti is most common in pregnancy; studies have found that 60% of childbearing women experience some degree of it. Even so, most women don’t know how to prevent or resolve it. Diastasis recti during pregnancy occurs when the uterus expands outwards, and the abdominal muscles stretch to accommodate the growing baby. In some cases, the gap closes on its own postpartum, but when the gap exceeds 2.5 cm, diastasis requires therapeutic intervention.

Note, although pregnancy is the primary cause of diastasis recti, anything that bulges the abdomen forward can overstretch the connective tissue, causing the abdominal muscles to separate.

Diastasis Recti in Older Adults

Often the symptoms of diastasis recti can go overlooked for years, persistent and worsening over time in older adults.  It is never too late to resolve diastasis recti no matter the age. Connective tissue is resilient and responds well to therapeutic exercise years and even decades after injury. Our founder, Leah Keller, has had clients as old as 80 who’ve had success in resolving their longstanding abdominal separation, achieving freedom from chronic back pain and urinary stress incontinence. 

How Can I Tell If I Have Diastasis Recti?

If you have a persistent pouch that lingers long after pregnancy that does not respond to diet or exercises or you suffer from back pain, urinary stress incontinence, or pelvic floor dysfunction, then you may have diastasis recti. Luckily, it’s possible to self-check for diastasis recti. 

Diastasis recti can occur in 3 areas, above the belly button, below the belly button, and at the belly button. Follow these simple steps, watch our helpful self-check video, or visit Diastasis Recti Repair: How to Self-Check for Diastasis Recti to get started. 

  1. Lie flat on your back with your knees bent.
  2. Place your fingers on your belly button, pointing towards your pelvis, and press down.
  3. Lift your head up about an inch while keeping your shoulders on the ground.
  4. If you have diastasis recti, you will feel a gap between the muscles that is an inch wide (~ 2 fingers) or greater.
chart displaying lengths and widths of diastasis recti

Diastasis Recti Chart

1cm = approx 1 finger width

What Are the Symptoms of Diastasis Recti?

Diastasis Recti During Pregnancy

Diastasis recti during pregnancy is most often signaled by a ridge or pooch in the stomach above or below the belly button. Other symptoms of diastasis include:

  • Incontinence –  leaking when you sneeze or cough
  • Back pain 
  • Pelvic pain   
  • Increased risk of both ventral and umbilical hernia
  • Weakened push muscles –  which can lead to a potentially longer, more difficult labor

Diastasis Recti Postpartum – “Postpartum Belly”

Diastasis recti often presents externally as a poochy abdomen (sometimes referred to as “mummy tummy” or “postpartum belly”)  that can leave women looking 5 months pregnant months or even decades after childbirth. The health implications associated with diastasis recti are far more serious than the cosmetic impact– although that, too, is a nuisance.

Additional diastasis recti complications postpartum include:

How common is diastasis recti?

Diastasis recti is a very common condition in those who are pregnant, and will generally continue during the postpartum period. Diastasis recti affects a whopping 60% of people, and about 40% of those who have diastasis recti will still have it by six months postpartum. A lot of the time, diastasis recti will resolve itself over time, but for many the problem may continue to persist and will need to be addressed.

Learn more about diastasis recti symptoms in our more in-depth article: Diastasis Recti Symptoms: Causes, Treatment, and Next Steps

How to Prevent Diastasis Recti?

Therapeutic exercise and proper core engagement is proven to prevent diastasis recti, starting in the prenatal stage. Prenatal fitness has been proven to have many benefits for pregnant women including lower rates of surgical intervention and shortened pushing time during labor. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends 30 minutes of exercise for active pregnant women each day (and progressively up to 30 for more sedentary women). That said, not all prenatal exercise programs are safe or preventative for diastasis recti – some may make it worse. 

Avoiding injurious exercises, movements, postures, and exertions that put undue pressure on the abdominal muscles, while learning core-safe techniques that allow you to exercise safely, sneeze and cough safely, pick up your child or push a stroller safely will help prevent, minimize, and resolve diastasis recti. 

Learn more about How to Prevent Diastasis Recti in our more in-depth article: How to Prevent Diastasis Recti

What Can I Do About Diastasis Recti?

Is Diastasis Recti Surgery a Good Idea?

Diastasis recti is both preventable and reversible without surgery. The key to fixing diastasis recti lies in the therapeutic activation of the transverse abdominis, your deepest abdominal muscle, and proper coordination with the diaphragm and the pelvic floor. Diastasis recti surgery, also known as a tummy tuck, surgically corrects the two main causes of the post-pregnancy pooch; a surgeon sews the separated abdominal wall back together and removes belly fat through liposuction. And while surgery quickly repairs the cosmetic element of diastasis recti, the more debilitating symptoms remain unresolved, leaving you at further risk of suffering complications and re-opening your diastasis recti down the line. 

Natural Healing with Diastasis Recti Exercises

In a vast majority of cases, diastasis recti is entirely reversible through the therapeutic activation of the deep core using Core Compressions. This muscle activation serves to protect the integrity of the abdominal wall during pregnancy and after delivery. This same muscle engagement works efficiently to restore strength, form, and function.

Learn more about How to Fix Diastasis Recti.

Diastasis Recti Exercises: What’s Safe and What’s Not?

The good news is that a regular exercise routine can help, or even heal entirely, diastasis recti symptoms. But, before doing what you’ve always done before, it’s good to know which diastasis recti exercises are considered safe, and which might actually make your condition worse.

Read more in our more in-depth article: Diastasis Recti Exercises: What’s Safe and What’s Not?

What is Unique about Exercising with Diastasis Recti? What to Consider

When exercising with diastasis recti, the core musculature has less stability and integrity. A person with diastasis recti is at greater risk of injury, especially to the back, core, and pelvic floor. Furthermore, many common exercises that people perform to strengthen their core muscles will actually exacerbate or worsen diastasis recti.

Exercises that are Safe for Diastasis Recti

Diastasis recti can be minimized and resolved altogether with therapeutic exercise. Here are tips on what to avoid and also some exercises that prevent and heal diastasis recti.

Diastasis Recti Exercises to Avoid

Many of the exercises women embrace to stay in shape, get back in shape, and build core strength inflict collateral damage on their abdominal muscles. Any movement that bulges the abdominal wall forcefully forward will further separate the abdominal muscles, making an existing abdominal separation worse, possibly even causing one in a previously healthy abdomen.  

Exercises to avoid to protect or repair core health include:

  • Crunches 
  • Bicycle crunches
  • Reverse crunches
  • Sit-ups
  • Some classic moves in yoga – boat pose, for instance
  • Pilates – rollbacks, double leg lifts, scissors, etc. 

There are also everyday movements such as getting out of bed and up from a chair that can worsen or cause diastasis. 

Learn more about specific exercises that are safe, and which ones to avoid:

The Every Mother Diastasis Recti Program – The Only Proven Program 

Every Mother and the EMbody programs present robust, research-based exercise programming to meet the needs of modern mothers and achieve measurable results in 10-30 minutes a day. Our 12-week diastasis recti safe Reclaim Stage, based on therapeutic activation of the deep core, is proven to fix diastasis recti and dramatically improve core health. As reported by NPR, a study conducted by Weill Cornell found that 100% of 63 women who followed our program achieved full resolution of abdominal separation in less than 12 weeks! Our comprehensive online program offers daily core exercises and 3 to 4 full-body workouts per week (all of them less than 30 minutes!). 

We make restoring core health and rebuilding overall fitness easy and accessible with an intuitive app, daily prescriptive workouts, and a Village of like-minded women providing peer support to motivate you along the way. You’ll feel better and stronger within days, and see measurable changes within weeks!

Experience Diastasis Recti Repair with Every Mother!