What Is Diastasis Recti? Experts Explain This Common Medical Condition

Even the easiest of pregnancies can impact both your body and your mental health. While you might expect sleep issues (hello 3:00 a.m. dance parties in your belly), stretch marks, and maybe even swollen feet, there’s another problem that can plague you, particularly in your third trimester, and that’s diastasis recti. While you might not notice it as your bump gets bigger, it’s an issue that can plague you during pregnancy — and postpartum, too.

But what is diastasis recti? Well, it’s a separation of the front abdominal muscle layer at the midline, typically caused by a weakness in the anterior abdominal wall, according to a PubMed study. Pregnancy is the primary culprit that causes diastasis recti, but it can actually affect anyone. Men might also suffer from this medical condition, especially if they tend to lift weights or do excessive abdominal exercises. It can even occur due to older age, flaccid abdominal muscles, or prior abdominal surgery as well.

Here’s what you need to know about diastasis recti, from the signs of the condition, to understanding if it can be dangerous, and to how to potentially get rid of it.

what is diastasis recti

How Common Is Diastasis Recti?

If you thought that you were the only person walking around looking like you’re still 5 months pregnant, (and you’re not), you’re not alone. As a medical condition, diastasis recti is very common. Dr. Alexandra Chaux, Doctor of Physical Therapy, explains to Celebrity Parents: “According to recent research the diastasis recti is present in the second trimester of pregnancy and affects 66% to 100% of pregnant women during their third trimester and 53% of women appear immediately after childbirth.”


How Do I Know That I Have Diastasis Recti?

In an era of toxic bounce-back culture, where postpartum people are expected to return to their pre-pregnancy sizes (and then some) in a matter of days after delivery, diastasis recti can diminish those ideals of having a flat tummy. “Your rectus abdominis are muscles that hold in your internal organs and stabilize your core,” says Dr. Alison Mitzner, MD, a board-certified pediatrician. “So as your belly gets bigger during pregnancy, the connective tissue gets stretched out, causing the belly to still look pregnant and give the mom a belly after pregnancy.” While having a pooch postpartum is completely normal, diastasis recti can give you the appearance of pregnancy months (or years) after delivery since the space between your left and right belly muscles has widened.


Is Diastasis Recti Dangerous?

The idea of muscles separating might be scary for anyone. After all, it’s your intestines (that were once being pushed back by your abdominal wall) that are now squeezing through that space to cause a belly bulge. So it’s natural to wonder where diastasis recti is dangerous. Thankfully, the condition isn’t life-threatening, but it can come with a whole host of other issues, says Dr. Rachel Sparks, DC, a chiropractor in Wichita, KS. “Diastasis recti is not dangerous, but it may lead to other symptoms including low back pain, hip pain, pelvic pain, and feeling unstable in the core,” she says.

 But the issues that can persist postpartum sometimes don’t end there.Diastasis recti can lead to many health complications such as: persistent lower back, abdominal, and pelvic pain,” adds Chaux. “Other complications include weak pelvic floor muscles (stress urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, and pelvic organ prolapse), decreased back mobility, and decreased quality of life.”


How Can I Fix Diastasis Recti Naturally?

With all the potential problems that you might experience as a result of this medical condition, it’s natural to wonder if you can fix diastasis recti naturally. You can — to an extent. “Exercise the deep core stabilization muscles,” advises Chaux. “These muscles include the transversus abdominis, pelvic floor, diaphragm, and deep multifidus muscles. These muscles are all connected and form a cylinder to stabilize the spine and pelvis.”

 Additionally, there are other exercises that can help minimize the appearance of diastasis recti. “An effective deep core stabilization exercise to get rid of it are the hypopressives,” she adds. “Hypopressives stabilize the core, ribs, and thoracolumbar fascia. It activates the transversus abdominis by shrinking the rectus abdominis muscles and bringing together the space at the linea alba.”

But just as there are movements that you can do to help bring down the bulge, there are exercises you should strictly avoid.  Says Chaux: “Avoid every activity that increase excess of pressure in the intra-abdominal cavity such as lifting, running, jogging, crunches, and sit ups. Modify the way of doing squats and sitting down as follows: Inhale when you are squatting or sitting down and exhale when you are standing up.”


Can You Really Fix Diastasis Recti?

Although it’s important to get exercise in as a means of physical and mental well-being, it might not be a cure-all to getting rid of diastasis recti once and for all. “The goal with addressing diastasis recti is not necessarily to ‘get rid of it’ but to improve function so that you are able to perform activities of daily life without difficulty or pain,” says Sparks, who suggests diaphragmatic breathing to help the abdominal area function (and look) better. “Happy Baby pose where you’re lying on your back and focusing on breathing into your abdomen in a 360-degree fashion will do wonders to improve the function of your abdomen.”

Still, after performing all the correct exercises, you still might not be happy with the appearance of your abdomen. And that’s when you might need to consider surgery as an alternative. “You can strengthen the surrounding muscles to try to narrow that distance, but the diastasis is usually permanent,” says Dr. Katerina Gallus, MD, a board-certified female plastic surgeon in San Diego. “Surgery is an option to correct the diastasis and is part of the tummy tuck (abdominoplasty) procedure. In the procedure lower abdominal excess skin is removed and the diastasis is repaired with a suture to close the gap.” So if you’re concerned about how to get rid of diastasis recti, surgery might be an option, especially if you’re looking to fix diastasis recti years later.

Although it might be cute to sport a bump when you’re pregnant, it’s not always the desired look once you’re postpartum. You should consult your healthcare provider about options that are available to you to lessen the look of diastasis recti and make you look — and feel — better.

Study cited:

Hall, Heather, Sanjaghsaz, H. (2022). “Diastasis Recti Rehabilitation,” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34424636/


Dr. Alexandra Chaux, Doctor of Physical Therapy

Dr. Alison Mitzner, MD, a board-certified pediatrician

Dr. Rachel Sparks, DC, a chiropractor in Wichita, KS

Dr. Katerina Gallus, MD, a board-certified female plastic surgeon in San Diego

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