A common condition for pregnant and postpartum women that isn’t talked about enough is diastasis recti — though it may sound more like an exotic plant species. This is when the rectus abdominis, popularly known as your “six pack” muscles that meet in the middle of your stomach, separate as a result of stretching during pregnancy and pushing during labor.
Diastasis recti leads to a variety of symptoms and affects about 60% of women, but there are steps you can take to prevent it if you’re considering having a baby or you’re pregnant.
Dr. Peter Khamvongsa can answer your questions about myriad conditions that occur during the pregnancy — both the ones that are discussed a lot, like morning sickness, and the ones that may be new to you, like diastasis recti. He and the caring team at the Miami Institute for Women’s Health are dedicated to partnering with you throughout your pregnancy and afterwards, to support your and your baby’s health in all ways.
Diastasis recti explained
The symptoms of diastasis recti are diverse. You may notice:
- Gastrointestinal symptoms, like bloating and constipation
- Pelvic or lower backache
- Posture issues
- Uncomfortable sex
- Urine leakage when coughing or sneezing
- Increased difficulty with lifting heavy objects
Then there are things you’ll see and feel that are different about your abdomen. It may feel particularly squishy in the area surrounding your navel, your abdomen may form a dome when you contract your stomach muscles, and you could see an obvious bulge right above or under your navel. You’ll likely also notice an overall weakness in your abdominal muscles.
You may visit our office suspecting you have diastasis recti, but Dr. Khomvangsa can make a definitive diagnosis by using a caliper tool or through ultrasound.
The condition can be treated in various ways, including wearing a supportive device called a binder during the day to stabilize your muscles and enlisting the help of a physical therapist who can prescribe appropriate exercise.
I’d like to avoid diastasis recti in the first place — how do I do that?
There are preventive steps you can take to lower our risk for diastasis recti.
Strengthening your core before you become pregnant can go a long way in ensuring that you don’t end up with diastasis recti symptoms. Kegel exercises (lifting, holding, and then relaxing your pelvic floor muscles) and side planks can help strengthen your pelvic floor and oblique muscles, respectively.
Then there are specific exercise you can do while pregnant:
- Pelvic tilts
- Standard planks
- Modified push-ups
Proper form is important when you do these exercises, and some women opt to work with a personal trainer to be certain that they’re moving correctly.
Breathing in the right way while exercising is essential too. Try to exhale when you exert yourself as you move — this ensures that both your pelvic floor and abdominals don’t endure too much pressure.
Avoid exercises that cause your stomach to extend while you’re performing them. Ditto for anything that requires deep twisting through your middle or movements that feature rapid twists, like bicycle crunches.
In addition to doing the right exercises so that you don’t end up having to contend with diastasis recti, you can take a few more steps, and except for the first one which is meant for pregnant women specifically, these you can do while pregnant or postpartum:
- Keeping your pregnancy weight gain within the normal range diet and exercise
- Be mindful of your posture and stand up straight, with your shoulders back
- Breathe deeply so your stomach doesn’t just expand, your ribs do too
- Lift only things that don’t cause you to strain
- When getting out of bed, roll yourself to one side and use your arms to lift yourself
- Support your lower back when sitting with a pillow
Becoming a mom is exciting, confusing at times, a huge learning opportunity, joy-filled, and more. Your body does amazing things and changes in ways you never expected. Don’t hesitate to ask Dr. Khamvongsa questions about anything throughout your pregnancy, including diastasis recti.
Call our Miami office at 786-220-2184 to set up an appointment with Dr. Khamvongsa, or book one online.