Hey there, awesome new moms! Welcoming your wonderful new baby into your life is an incredible experience, but let’s be real—pregnancy and childbirth can leave some lasting marks on your body. One of the common postpartum concerns many mothers face is diastasis recti, a condition where the abdominal muscles separate during pregnancy and often fail to fully come back together afterward. This separation can lead to various issues, including a persistent belly pouch and lower back pain. I get questions almost daily from moms with core issues asking me how to tell if you have diastasis recti. In this article, I will guide you through self-testing for diastasis recti at home and explain why the depth of the gap is more critical than how wide it is.
What Exactly is Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis recti, often referred to as abdominal separation, occurs when the two parallel bands of abdominal muscles, known as the rectus abdominis, separate during pregnancy or postpartum. These muscles typically run vertically from the ribcage to the pelvis and help maintain core strength and stability. However, the stretching and thinning of the connective tissue between these muscles during pregnancy can cause them to separate.
While it’s natural for the muscles to stretch and separate during pregnancy to accommodate the growing baby, the problem arises when they don’t return to their pre-pregnancy state after childbirth. This separation can result in a noticeable gap in the abdominal wall, leading to various postpartum issues.
Why Measure the Depth of the Gap?
When assessing diastasis recti, many women focus solely on measuring the width of the gap between the abdominal muscles. However, recent research suggests that the depth of the separation is a more critical factor to consider. While the width of the gap does matter to some extent, the depth of the separation has a more significant impact on abdominal function and overall core strength.
The depth of the gap determines how well your abdominal muscles can provide support and stability to your core. A deeper separation often indicates a weaker and less functional core. This is important because the core muscles play a crucial role in maintaining good posture, preventing lower back pain, and supporting your body during various activities, especially those involving lifting and bending.
How to Self-Test for Diastasis Recti at Home
Now that we understand the importance of measuring the depth of the gap, let’s walk through a simple self-test you can perform at home to assess whether you might have diastasis recti. Here are the steps:
- Find a Comfortable Spot: Start by lying on your back on a firm surface, like a yoga mat or a carpeted floor. Bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor and keep your head and shoulders relaxed.
- Locate the Midline: Place your fingers horizontally on your abdomen, just above your belly button. Your fingers should be pointing towards your toes.
- Engage Your Core: Gently contract your abdominal muscles by exhaling, pulling your belly button towards your spine and very very slightly lifting your head off the floor. This will help you feel the muscles under your fingers. Do they come closer together around your fingers?
- Assess the Gap: While keeping your abdominal muscles engaged, use your fingers to feel for any separation along the midline of your abdomen. Press down lightly and move your fingers vertically from just above your belly button down towards your pelvic bone.
- Measure the Depth: Repeat the test above but this time place your fingers vertically to your belly button and be prepared to gently press down into your abs when lifting your head. Pay attention to how deep the separation feels: how far can you sink your fingers into your stomach? A nail bed? A knuckle? You can use your fingers to estimate the depth. Note whether it feels shallow, moderate, or deep.
- Assess if you can generate tension: this step is important, repeat the test above, once without Contracting your muscles at all, and then by trying to contract and engage your abs. Does the depth change at all at rest and when engaging the abs? If so, if you feel tension and “spring back” of your fingers when you’re engaging your abs, that’s good news! That means your muscles are able to generate tension when they are engaged! If the depth in your stomach feels the same whether you engage your abs or not, then we need to work on helping your muscles re-learn to generate tension. This is where a targeted program like the Core Corrective comes in.
Here’s a short video walking you through the above steps and showing you how to check if you have diastasis.
Interpreting Your Results
If you find a separation, it’s essential to pay attention to both the width and depth of the gap:
- Width: Measure the gap in finger-widths. A gap of one to two fingers may be considered normal in the early postpartum period, but it should gradually decrease as your core strength improves. If the gap is more extensive, it may indicate diastasis recti.
- Depth: Focus on how deep the separation feels. A shallow gap is less concerning, while a deep gap suggests a more significant issue with your abdominal muscles.
What to Do If You Suspect Diastasis Recti
If you suspect that you have diastasis recti, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare provider or a physical therapist who specializes in postpartum care. They can provide you with a personalized assessment and recommend an appropriate treatment plan.
Treatment options for diastasis recti typically include:
- Core-Strengthening Exercises: the Core Corrective guides you through specific exercises that target your deep core muscles, helping to close the gap, improve tension at your midline for a flatter belly, and improve core stability.
- Proper Posture and Body Mechanics: Learning how to maintain good posture and use proper body mechanics in daily activities can prevent worsening of the separation and reduce the risk of associated issues.
- Walking: This is the often overlooked, super underestimated powerhouse of healing and strengthening your core. Walking is the single best exercise you can do to heal diastasis recti. Check out this article for the in depth ways walking improves your core and your total body.
- External Load: Yep, that’s right, add load and weights to fix that diastasis. Your body can’t get stronger without working those muscles. Be sure to choose a DR-friendly program like Atomic Body, Simply Fit Challenge, or Run Strong Mama.
- Surgery as a Last Resort: In really severe cases where nothing else works, surgical correction might be an option. But that’s a last resort and something you should discuss with a medical pro. The right exercise plan can do so much for you healing, so start there first.
So, there you have it—checking for diastasis recti doesn’t have to be a big, scary deal. Remember, it’s not just about how wide that gap is; it’s all about the depth. If you suspect you might have diastasis recti, don’t hesitate to reach out to a healthcare provider or a physical therapist for some guidance. With the right approach, you’ll be well on your way to a strong and healthy core, and you can get back to enjoying life with your little one. Happy healing! 🌟