Diastasis Recti Symptoms: Causes, Treatment, and Next Steps

February 6, 2023
Diastasis Recti Symptoms | Every Mother

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 and cause 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”. 

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. 

In this article we discuss diastasis recti symptoms, how to tell if you have this condition, and what you can do to start resolving and repairing diastasis recti. 

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. 

Diastasis recti symptoms: what are the most common symptoms of diastasis recti?

Understanding the symptoms of diastasis recti is the first step in seeking treatment and finding relief. Often the symptoms of diastasis recti can go overlooked for years, persistent and worsen 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.

Here are some of the most common diastasis recti symptoms, and what is really causing them.

Diastasis Recti Symptoms | Mommy Pooch | Every Mother

The “Mommy Pooch”

One of the most noticeable symptoms of diastasis recti is a bulging or protruding midsection, especially when straining or contracting the abdominal muscles. A persistent "mommy pooch" can be a telltale sign of diastasis recti. This aesthetic symptom can be a frustrating and embarrassing issue for many mothers. 

Understanding why it occurs and how to treat it is essential. During pregnancy, the abdominal muscles stretch to accommodate the growing uterus and baby. After giving birth, the muscles may not return to their original position, leading to a separation and a gap in the middle.

In some cases, the gap closes on its own postpartum, but when the gap exceeds 2.5 cm, diastasis requires therapeutic intervention. This separation can cause the abdominal muscles to bulge, resulting in a protruding waistline. 

The protruding belly can be especially noticeable during physical activity or when attempting injurious exercises that engage the abdominal muscles. With proper treatment and management, diastasis recti can improve and the symptoms can be relieved, allowing you to feel confident and comfortable in your postpartum body.

Back Pain

One of the most common diastasis recti symptoms is lower back pain. When the abdominal wall muscles separate, support is lost in the front and center of the body, compromising the physical structure of our core and posture. Chronic muscle recruitment such as this results in a compensation pattern that puts stress and strain on the back muscles. The back muscles tend to become overly tight along with the hamstrings, leaving us in pain. 

Dealing with back pain as a new mother or seasoned parent can be miserable. Coupled with diastasis recti, it can entirely disrupt your life. From lifting, feeding, and carrying a newborn or toddler, to lugging around car seats, strollers, and big bags, to diaper changes and the countless other responsibilities that come with parenthood - it is almost impossible to go a moment without using our core muscles. 

When our abdominal muscles weaken from diastasis recti, it results in back muscles taking the brunt of all this lifting. With proper treatment and core strengthening, back pain symptoms from diastasis recti can improve and even resolve completely.

Core Weakness 

Core weakness is a common diastasis recti symptom. Weakness or instability in the core can make it difficult to perform everyday activities such as lifting, bending, or even engaging in exercises done before the condition. The inability to engage the core properly is due to the separated abdominal muscles being unable to contract and support the spine effectively. The loss of core integrity can also result in a lack of support for the spine and internal organs, leading to instability, especially when performing physical activities.

Women with diastasis recti and core weakness may experience difficulty lifting, twisting, or bending activities. They may also have trouble engaging the core properly in abdominal exercises. Core weakness can limit the ability to perform everyday tasks and impact overall quality of life. 

Treatment for diastasis recti and core weakness can include therapeutic exercises that activate the transverse abdominal to strengthen the deep core muscles. With proper treatment, the symptoms of core weakness can improve, allowing you to regain strength and stability in your core.


Women with diastasis recti may experience urinary or fecal incontinence, which is the inability to control one's bladder or bowel movements, causing unintentional loss of urine or feces. Stress incontinence is leakage when you cough, laugh, or sneeze. As you can imagine, this leaking can be embarrassing and impact the quality of life. 

If you are experiencing stress incontinence and have undergone (about) 6 weeks of healing after delivery, begin pelvic floor physical therapy. By performing pelvic floor exercises correctly, you can reconnect with your body and take control of your bowel and bladder again. If pelvic floor physical therapy is ineffective, a urologist or urogynecologist can offer other treatment options.


On the opposite end of the spectrum from incontinence, constipation can also be a symptom of diastasis recti. The rectus abdominis muscles support the abdominal organs and help with bowel movements. When these muscles separate, it can affect the proper functioning of the digestive system, leading to constipation.

Here are a few reasons why constipation may occur as a symptom of diastasis recti:

  1. Weak abdominal muscles: Separation of the rectus abdominis muscles can cause weakness in the abdominal wall, making it difficult to contract the muscles necessary for bowel movements correctly.
  2. Pressure on the organs: The bulge caused by diastasis recti can pressure the internal organs, including the large intestine, which can lead to difficulty passing stools.
  3. Altered anatomy: The altered anatomy caused by diastasis recti can disrupt the normal functioning of the digestive system, leading to issues such as constipation.

Constipation can be a frustrating and painful experience, and it is vital to seek medical attention if you are experiencing persistent symptoms. Treatment options for constipation related to diastasis recti may include physical therapy, lifestyle changes, therapeutic exercise, and in some extreme cases, surgery.

Painful Sex

Pain during sex, or dyspareunia, is persistent or recurring pain just before, during, or after sex. One of the more common causes of chronic pain during intercourse stems from core weakness and pelvic instability, which makes this one of the more uncomfortable diastasis recti symptoms. Other muscles compensate when the hips and pelvis are hypermobile due to weak, overstretched abdominal and pelvic floor tissues. This overcompensation can lead to spasms, joint misalignment, and patterns of chronic tightness (hypertonicity) that cause pain during penetration. Other common symptoms of a tight pelvic floor include tailbone pain and constipation. 

Pain is the body’s way of telling us a problem exists that needs to be resolved. If painful sex continues postpartum, see an OB/GYN or primary care physician and request a referral to a pelvic floor physical therapist. Physical therapy presents a host of interventions to restore balance and freedom from pelvic pain, including targeted core strengthening, manual release techniques, and biofeedback tools to gain control over both engagement and release of the deep core muscles.

Symptoms of Diastasis Recti | How to Check | Every Mother

How to Tell if You Have Diastasis Recti

It is a good idea to perform a diastasis recti self-check if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. Diastasis recti can occur in 3 areas: above the belly button, below the belly button, and at the belly button. A self-check will give you the proper information to confirm diastasis recti and the severity of the condition.  

To conduct a diastasis recti test on your own, follow these four steps and watch the video here.

  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.

When is Diastasis Recti Considered Severe? 

The width and depth of the separation between the left and right rectus abdominis muscles typically measure the severity of diastasis recti. A separation of 2.5 centimeters or more coupled with a depth measurement of 2 centimeters or more is considered severe. It is important to note that the degree of severity can also depend on other factors, such as the thickness of the muscle, the presence of hernias, and the patient's overall health. For more information, a diastasis recti measurement chart here.

Are There Other Common Diastasis Recti Symptoms or Complications?

If left untreated or in severe cases of diastasis recti, complications can arise. The most common severe complications include umbilical hernias, debilitating back pain, and severe incontinence. 

An umbilical hernia is a type of hernia that occurs when a portion of the intestine bulges through the abdominal wall near the belly button. Umbilical hernias are most common in infants, but in adults, they can cause discomfort and become more extensive, making it difficult to perform daily activities. 

Depending on the size and symptoms, surgery can resolve umbilical hernias. It is essential to seek medical attention if you experience pain, swelling, or a noticeable bulge near your belly button, as these can be signs of an umbilical hernia.

Can diastasis recti symptoms be resolved without surgery?

In most cases, diastasis recti can be reversible without surgery. While surgery quickly repairs the cosmetic symptom 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. 

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. This muscle activation protects the integrity of the abdominal wall during pregnancy. Moreover, this same muscle engagement works efficiently after giving birth to restore strength, form, and function.

You may consider starting to incorporate simple, safe exercises for diastasis recti into your routine to strengthen your core and avoid further damage. A great place to start is Every Mother’s clinically proven program that can resolve diastasis recti through proper engagement and coordination of deep core muscles such as the transverse abdominis and the pelvic floor.

Learn more about Every Mother’s program here!