So, you are well into your first pregnancy and looking forward to holding your bundle of joy in your arms. It has been a tough road for you so far, what with the intense back and pelvic pain. You might have abdominal separation, a condition that is common during pregnancy.
Abdominal separation is also known by the medical term, diastasis recti. This is the condition of partial or complete separation of the abdominal muscles along the midline of your stomach. This is because the muscles in the abdomen are stretched during pregnancy to accommodate your growing baby.
If left untreated, diastasis recti can lead to back and belly pain besides severely damaging your posture. Over time, you might experience pelvic floor dysfunction and decreased trunk stability and mobility, and even hernia in extreme cases. However, with the correct exercise and precautions, diastasis recti is treatable.
During Pregnancy…And After
During pregnancy, as your abdominal muscles start to separate, there might not be any noticeable symptoms of diastasis recti. However, during later trimesters, you might see a bulge developing above and below your belly button. You will feel this especially when you stretch or contract your abdominal muscles trying to stand or sit up.
The telling symptoms of diastasis recti include lower back pain, constipation, and bloating, accompanied by poor posture.
Even after delivery, you might feel a bulge in your stomach area even though you are no longer pregnant. Do consult your doctor if the pain in your abdomen, back, or pelvic region is unbearably intense.
How to Check for Diastasis Recti
If you suspect that you might have abdominal separation, you can self-check at home. Simply lie on your back with your feet flat and your legs bent.
While supporting your head with one hand, try to raise your shoulders slightly and look down at your belly. Move your hand above and below the belly button along the line of the abdominal muscles. See if you can fit your fingers in between the gaps in the muscle.
If you feel a gap that might be one to two fingers long, you might have diastasis recti. As you start to regain your muscle strength postpartum, this gap is going to close up.
However, to get a confirmed diagnosis, you can consult your doctor or physical therapist. They might use a caliper or do an ultrasound to get a more accurate measurement of the separation.
Treatment and Exercise
Almost one in two women develop abdominal separation during pregnancy. This condition can be debilitating and decrease your core strength.
To alleviate these symptoms, make sure to avoid any heavy lifting and stretching of your abdominal muscles during pregnancy. Maintain a good posture and when sitting, try to support your back with a towel or a pillow.
To strengthen your core, you need to work on your muscle strength in the abdominal region. You will also need to exercise your pelvic floor and diaphragm, which work in tandem with your ab muscles. These workouts include Kegels, pelvic tilts, side planks, and leg extensions with weights.
Things to Avoid
While you are recovering from diastasis recti, make sure to avoid holding your baby on one hip if it is painful. This goes for heavy loads as well.
And beware of that innocuous-sounding cough; you might want to avoid any jerks. When getting in or out of bed, or standing up after sitting on the floor, make sure not to strain your abdominal muscles. Bend your knees and support yourself with your arm while getting up.
Previously, diastasis recti was believed to be more likely to manifest in women with a higher body mass index (BMI). Weight gain, the weight of the baby, and the age of the mother were also believed to cause this condition.
However, as per a 2015 study, no connection was found between the above factors and this condition in pregnant women.
To help improve symptoms of diastasis recti, consult a physical therapist who specializes in postpartum recovery. If the pain is interfering with your abilities in performing daily activities, make sure to consult your doctor.
In extreme cases, they might suggest surgery; do consider all pros and cons before taking a call on this.