Diastasis Recti: Why do I still look pregnant?
Oh Mama. I hear you. I've been there. I'm so with you.
Why do we still look pregnant even though our baby is no longer in our belly?! It's so unfair. I think we all expect to still have a little bit of a belly right after baby comes out. It's logical that things have to take a minute to flatten back out.
But gosh, that minute we anticipate our body needing to recover is longer than anyone ever tells you about! How long is that actually going to take to get that flat tummy back?!
Well, if you believe every influencer selling you their program, it should only take you eight weeks, and you'll have a beautiful six pack like they do. If it doesn't work for you, then you're doing something wrong or you're absolutely doomed and nothing will ever help you close that ab gap. Your only hope is surgery. (I hope you caught the sarcasm there)
I'm here to give you a little dose of reality. It's probably going to take you longer than eight weeks. And that's ok, its expected. If you're like me, you're a busy mom who barely has time to shower on a daily basis, let alone devote the amount of time it would take to pull your diastasis back together in eight weeks or less.
It took you NINE MONTHS to grow that beautiful human who now consumes all of your attention. Why should it take any less time to heal your body afterwards? It's completely unrealistic to expect that.
Ok Sabrina, you say to me, but why does my diastasis not want to close? My friend/family member/coworker didn't have this issue and she stopped looking pregnant really fast!
My answer to you is that everyone is different. We have different body proportions, mobility levels, genetics, strengths, imbalances, movement habits, and we grew different babies who also have different proportions, mobility levels, genetics, etc. You cannot expect things to go the same as someone else, or even the same between pregnancies!
Let's meet our mom and see what her PT has to say about her diastasis.
Meet Molly, girl mom of two
Molly is currently six months postpartum after having her second child. She's got two little girls and is having a blast being a girl mom. She's undecided on whether or not she's going to have more kids, but she's been getting asked when she's due when she goes out in public. People are apparently oblivious to the fact that she has a baby with her, and apparently are also very rude. Don't people know not to ask that these days?!
It's taken quite a toll on Molly's confidence. She's still having to wear her maternity pants and hides behind loose and baggy tops in an effort to hide her belly. Molly also hasn't been to the gym in awhile and has been avoiding intimacy with her husband because she's too self conscious.
Sick of feeling this way, Molly consults the hive mind that is her local mom group on social media. She hears from many of the other moms that they too have struggled with looking pregnant even though they are several months (even years) postpartum. She learns the term "diastasis recti" which translated into normal English means "separation of the rectus muscle," aka our six-pack muscle. Many of the moms suggest to Molly that she should see a physical therapist to address the issue, so she makes an appointment.
Her PT specializes in working with moms and assesses a number of different things. Some of it Molly doesn't really understand, but she is just praying that whatever this PT finds helps her to heal.
What does her PT find?
1) A separation of her abdominal muscles. The physical therapist measures using her fingers and finds that Molly has separation above, at, and below her belly button that is three finger widths wide and 1 knuckle deep. This confirms that Molly does indeed have a diastasis and gives the physical therapist some insight into what's going on with different muscles within Molly's core.
2) A lateral rib flare. Molly's PT teaches her that when the ribs are flared out to the side to make room for baby during pregnancy, sometimes they don't come back down. This in turn keeps the abdominal muscles, which attach to the ribs, perpetually pulled apart.
3) Lack of rib mobility with breathing which is related to excessive belly breathing. Molly learns that though it is good to breathe deeply into the belly, the ribs should also be expanding and contracting in all directions like an umbrella opening and closing with each breath. When they aren't moving, all of the air is being pushed down into the abdomen, and this is continually stretching the abdominal wall.
4) An anterior pelvic tilt. This, coupled with Molly's rib flare, alters the alignment between her ribs and her pelvis, which form the abdominal canister. With this altered alignment, which in Molly's case causes the front of the canister to be lengthened compared to the back and sides, it makes it much more difficult for Molly to properly manage pressure within her abdomen. This then stresses her abdominal wall more than it should. This continual stress on the abdominal fascia encourages it to stay lengthened rather than coming back together.
5) Weak transverse abdominis muscles. The transverse abdominis (TA) is a corset-like muscle, and is the deepest of our abdominal muscles. When this muscle contracts, it tightens the abdominal fascia. Fascia is connective tissue that connects, surrounds, and holds literally every part of our bodies together. In the case of the abdominal fascia specifically, we are talking about the tissue that connects together the 4 muscles of the abdominal wall: rectus abdominis, internal obliques, external obliques, and TAs. Because the TAs tighten this fascia, Molly learns that they are responsible for how deep a diastasis can be.
6) Tendency to bear down when performing lifting activities like carrying the car seat or picking up a laundry basket. Molly is surprised to find that her belly actually bulges when she does these things, and her PT tells her that this is putting continuous strain on her abdominal wall.
Molly feels a bit overwhelmed as her PT shares this all with her. How could a person possibly address all of that?! Her PT reassures her that physical therapy is very successful at helping the body heal a diastasis, and with some time and targeted exercises she'll be right as rain. Molly works with her PT to find exercises that work best for her and her lifestyle, and armed with a plan she is ready to dive in.
How long does it take to "fix" diastasis recti?
Molly's case is pretty straight forward, as far as diastasis recti goes. It is very common to find all of the above in women postpartum who are struggling to close the gap. Each and every one of the things the physical therapist found on Molly's evaluation are able to be addressed with regular physical therapy. Does that list sound like something that can be accomplished in just eight weeks? How about 12 weeks? Maybe six months? It's going to vary widely based on each individual person.
What I can say for certain though, is that it's going to take that much longer for every day and every week you delay getting it checked and implementing a plan. If you want to heal your diastasis recti, the time to start is now.
Interested in having a PT check out your diastasis and help you fix it? I'm happy to help and am accepting new clients. Click the contact button below to get started.