What happens to our abdominal muscles during pregnancy

Diastasis recti explained

During the pregnancy our whole body undergo a lot of changes, abdominal muscles being one of the major victims. Under the influence of the relaxin hormone our ‘abs’ go through tremendous amount of stretching, in all directions. All to accommodate your growing baby. Imagine, that our waistline may increase by 50cm and the long rectus abdominis (what we know as ‘six or eight pack’) lengthen by 20cm! As a result the previously parallel sides of that muscle stretch away from the midline. This is what we refer as diastasis recti, or abs separation.

 
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It is relatively normal and occurs in 66% of woman, mostly in third trimester. Typically, by 8 weeks post-partum the abs separation narrows down to around 20mm (two fingers width), but then the recovery stalls. This is because the prolonged stretch of muscles beyond the normal position weakens them significantly, which may result in this condition not improving over time.

 

What are the symptoms

You may notice the stomach to protrude, because of the extra space between left and right abdominal muscle.  Some call it a ‘pooch’ or a ‘mummy tummy’. Woman may feel lack of support and weak core and to compensate the core instability use lower back muscles. What follows in a lower back pain. DR may cause some organs, like bladder, to descend , because the core is not able to provide the needed support.  This can lead to more serious conditions such as organ prolapse and urine leaking. All not very pleasant, if you ask me.

 
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Abs separation

Can continue for many years if not treated

 

How do I know I have abs separation?

You can perform a simple self-check, to establish how far apart are the sides of the rectus abdominis.

  1. Lay on your back with knees bend and arms on your side

  2. Gently press two fingers above the belly button downwards

  3. On exhale lift your head of the floor (not shoulders) and feel your abs contract

  4. Palpate the soft area between the two recti halves and note how many fingers you can fit in the gap. It may be 1, 2,3,4 fingers width.

 

What can you do if you have DR?

To prevent the condition and ease the recovery some gentle exercises to shorten the muscles back to their pre-pregnancy length are recommended. You can do them both in pregnancy and straight after birth. Some of them are given at discharge from hospital, but we know that excitement of the new arrival often stands in the way of following through with them. These are specialised exercises, such as posterior pelvic tilts in as many positions as possible or working with inner range of the muscle e.g. half roll back or curl-up with pelvic tilt. Any sit-ups, planks and exercises that put a lot of pressure on your abdominals should be avoided, until the muscle is shortened.
You can engage with post-natal specialists, like personal trainer or physiotherapist, that can prescribe and show you the safe way to exercise those muscles.

If you want to find out what abdominal exercises you can do in pregnancy to minimise abdominal separation and have a strong core, download my free PDF guide.