I remember the appointment with my youngest daughter, I was 16 weeks pregnant and it was the first time I got to listen to her heartbeat. I was laid on the bed and as I went from lying down to a sitting position I saw a dome appear on my abdomen. As if a head or something was sticking out. It looked strange, so I asked the midwife, who dismissed it as nothing.
Feeling reassured and knowing everything was OK with the baby I went home and did not think anything else of it. Only every time I went from lying to sitting, or used my stomach muscles, for example sitting up to get out the bath, getting up after slouching on the sofa, simply sitting up out of bed, this dome kept appearing.
My daughter was born with a very fast labor and no further complications. I was discharged and went home and then problems started happening. Little things at first, like pains in my abdomen when I went to sit up. The doming was still happening and then one day it got a lot worse. I picked up my 2-week old baby and felt an almighty burning pain right by my breast bone as if someone had sliced me open. I was in agony and went to the doctor and it was then that I was diagnosed with Diastasis Recti.
Diastasis recti is the separation of the abdominal muscles and is common in pregnancy. The muscles separate to make way for the growing womb and baby. It is something that just happens and in most cases is fine. It is when it becomes greater than 2.7cm and causes doming that you need to be careful. In some women, the muscles come back together naturally, and in others, they do not. This was what happened to me. At that appointment, my midwife should have recognized the separation and given me preventative measures to stop the separation from getting any further apart. The burning pain I felt was the tearing of muscles, and I was then given 6 months to get everything back together otherwise I would need surgery.
The weakened muscles can lead to hernias, lower back pain, altered posture and weakened pelvis, so the separation must be brought back together. With careful exercises from my physio and using a specially tailored course of pilates with a qualified instructor for diastasis recti, the separation went from 6cm to 2cm in 3 months and thankfully, I avoided major surgery.
I am now expecting baby 3 and in this pregnancy diastasis recti has occurred again, only this time I knew what to look out for. Initially a 3.5cm gap, I have managed to close the separation to 2.5cm whilst pregnant, and I hope with the physio after pregnancy I will be able to reduce this further.
There are several ways you can help to reduce diastasis recti in pregnancy, the first and most important is to try not to use your stomach muscles. No sit-ups, crunches, or planks, and if you do need to get up from a lying position, always roll onto your side first. Use walls and other objects for support if you need to stand, and be mindful of the strain you might be causing on your muscles. I have also been told not to lift anything heavy, but this is also due to a tear in my abdominal muscles.
After birth, do not be in a rush to tone up the tummy area. The muscles need time to reduce the separation they have gone through. Performing sit-ups, crunches, planks, etc before the muscles have rejoined will cause them to permanently be apart. In turn, this will always result in the doming and always have the ‘Mommy tummy’ as it is known. Giving your muscles time to rejoin and starting slowly to strengthen them and pull them back together will have much greater health benefits and remove the dome.
It is very quick and easy to check the split in the diastasis and your midwife should be able to show you how to do so, so you can check from the comfort of your home.