Separated abdominal muscles after pregnancy (split Abdominal muscles or Diastasis Recti).
IF YOU HAVE a persistent belly bulge or ‘stomach pooch’ after giving birth, you’re not alone. Up to 2 in 3 women have separated recti abdominus muscles after birth and for 1/3 Mums that condition persists even a year after birth. Learn more about the common post-pregnancy condition of Diastasis Recti – meaning separated abdominal muscles and weakened abdominal area strength. So how common is diastasis recti or “torn abs” after pregnancy – and can anything be done?
Diastasis Recti – Definition.
The fancy Latin name for damaged abdominal muscles that may have separated or split during your pregnancy/child birth is diastasis recti. The term diastis recti describes a separation between the two sides of your rectus abdominis muscles, usually of a width of 2.7 cm or greater (two-finger widths). It sometimes presents with a ridge appearance down the midline of the torso.
Diastasis recti develops as the abdomen area expands during pregnancy.
- It involves the expansion of the linea alba (connective tissues) down the middle of the front side of your belly, called the linea alba, to expand. The linea alba stretches all the way from your sternum down the mid-line of your body to your pubic bone.
- Layers of abdominal muscles are attached to this connective tissue including your obliques and other core strength muscles.
- Other medical terms and everyday terms used to describe this condition of weakened, damaged abdominal muscles in the belly area include: abdominal separation, torn abdominal muscles and split abs.
- It is NOT an abdominal hernia and the conditions are treated separately although both conditions may be treated in an customised Abdominoplasty surgery.
We recognise that Diastasis Recti Abdominus is the reason many Mums continue to have a “pooch” or post-baby “belly bulge” that exercise and nutrition alone aren’t helping. The solution for damaged abdominal muscles after pregnancy is Abdominoplasty Surgery.
- It is believed that most, if not all, women will experience some separation of their abdominal muscles during pregnancy; especially subsequent pregnancies and larger babies.
- Sometimes the condition of Diastasis Recti resolves without intervention (however, re-connection of abdominal muscles may not occur fully in all women).
- In up to 2/3 of women who’ve given birth to one child, the condition may resolve a bit by 12 months, but typically not fully.
- For other women and women who’ve had more than one child, the condition is likely to persist.
- Wide separation of the abdominal muscles during pregnancy, which persists at 12 to 18 months, is likely permanent unless an operation is performed, such as an Abdominoplasty with corrective repair of the Abdominal Muscles.
- A full Tummy Tuck (Abdominoplasty) will involve surgical re-connection of the two sides of the recti abdominus muscles, and if necessary, hernia repair.
- Research has shown Abdominoplasty to be effective at restoring abdominal area muscle function/capacity and strength, reducing urinary incontinence and reducing lower back pain that is common after pregnancy.
This is when you may require a Tummy Tuck or Abdominoplasty with liposuction to repair the damage to abs, as well as reduce excess skin folds in that area of the body.
- An Abdominoplasty with corrective abdominal muscle repair and body contouring liposuction may help you regain core abdominal area strength, allowing you to exercise more effectively again.
- The surgery helps you re-gain the firmer, flatter abdominal area appearance you’ve been craving since giving birth.
- It may reduce lower back pain and improve incontinence or constipation caused by separated abdominal muscles.
- It can also help restore the body appearance to where you can actually see your waistline again – rather than rolls of excess skin you want to hide in baggy clothing.
- Many Mums report the operation is life-changing in that they feel far more comfortable about their bodies and are able to exercise again in a more effective manner.
- But remember, all invasive surgery caries risks, and surgery results can vary from patient to patient.
- To find out if you’re a good candidate for a Tummy Tuck procedure, phone (03) 8849 1444 to request a consultation in Berwick or Hawthorn/Melbourne.
What causes separation of Abdominal Muscles (Diastasis Recti) during or after pregnancy – and can it be repaired?
- There are a few causes for this condition.
- It is most common in women who have been pregnant (as described above).
- It can also occur in newborns.
- Even men can suffer from diastasis recti.
The most common cause of Diastasis Recti conditions for women are, in fact, pregnancy and/or childbirth.
- The condition can be surgically repaired/corrected.
- An abdominal hernia may also be a concern and should be treated.
- The condition of diastasis recti is considered primarily to be non-life threatening; however, it often leads to chronic back pain and can worsen post-pregnancy incontinence or chronic constipation.
How does pregnancy result in damaged abdominal muscles?
- Put simply, when your uterus is growing during pregnancy, your abdominal muscles also get stretched.
- Like your skin, this area of your body tends to get overstretched.
- You see the stretch marks on the OUTSIDE of your baby bump – letting you know your skin is being overstretched.
- But on the inside, you might not even be aware that this is occurring.
- The stretching of the abdominal area during pregnancy causes the two main panels of muscles down the middle of the abs to separate.
- The bulge is a sign of the place where those muscles have separated.
What’s the down side of having damaged or separated abdominal muscles?
Everyone is different. For some women it’s not an issue, but for others, it causes core muscle weakness and back pain.
Other problems with separated abs may include:
- back pain
- core strength weaknesses or inability to exercise effectively
- constipation or incontinence
- poor posture
- protruding bulges (‘muffin top’ look or skin folds/belly apron that hangs over the belt-line)
- lack of body confidence and a desire to have smoother body contours or a flatter tummy area
- skin irritations/skin chaffing
The muscles that become separated in the condition of Diastasis Recti are the rectus abdominis – your oblique muscles may also be impacted by the separation of your core abdominal muscles.
Does exercise make your tummy pooch or tummy bulges worse?
You might have torn abdominal muscles related to pregnancy.
A lot of mummy bloggers speak of this phenomenon and call it the “post-baby pooch,” not realising that this is NOT fat – in fact, this is muscle that has torn, and certain exercises will only make it worse.
Whilst you can try at-home tests to see if you have split abs and how far apart these muscles have become, a better way is to visit with a Doctor or Plastic Surgeon for a genuine evaluation of the condition and to explore your options for a corrective Tummy Tuck with Diastasis recti repair.
Separated abdominal muscles after pregnancy? Potential abdominal hernia?
Request a consultation for an assessment of your post-pregnancy belly area and/or to explore your Tummy Tuck surgery options.
Illustration of abdominal muscle repair during an Abdominoplasty procedure.
Phone (03) 8849 1444 to arrange a consultation.
References and further reading:
- Prevalence and risk factors of diastasis recti abdominis from late pregnancy to 6 months postpartum, and relationship with lumbo-pelvic pain
- Does Everyone Get Diastasis Recti in Pregnancy? Mother Stories and Risks/Rates of Diastasis Recti Abdominus occurrence
- Diastasis recti abdominis during pregnancy and 12 months after childbirth: prevalence, risk factors and report of lumbopelvic pain
- ASAPS Media Release on Functional Benefits of Tummy Tuck Surgery and call for Medicare Funding (downloadable PDF)