Is Diastasis Recti The Reason Your Tummy Is Not Getting Flatter?

Diastasis recti maybe what is keeping your jean and skirt from zipping up or fitting properly after childbirth because there is a separation in your abdominal muscle.

It is that frustrating pooch that doesn’t go away and often leads to the “when are you due” question even though your baby is 7 years old .

It is that thing that keeps you wearing body shaper and drinking all sorts of concoction that promises flat belly all with nothing to show for it.

For most women pregnancy and giving birth comes with a lot of joy and sometimes a tummy that refuses to get flatter no matter what you do.

It is in the quest to find out what the true cause of the pooch is that many women come across the term Diastasis recti for the first time in Nigeria. It is one of those things that women rarely talk about. They talk about their experience in the delivery room, potty training, the sleepless nights, the sore breast, episiotomy, perinea tear, scars, and sit bath.

But most never talk about their tummy that makes them look 5 months pregnant even though their baby is somewhere between 1 – 7 years and are reluctant to talk about  the urinary, and pelvic problems they experience postpartum.

One major reason women don’t talk about Diastasis Recti (DR) is that you don’t want others to see how pregnancy has really changed your body; you want to show that you still have your “Mojo.” So you wear body shapers, tight fitting girdles and suck in your tummy and do everything else except the needful.

And it is not because you don’t want to do the needful. It is really not having the right information to help you take the right decision and step necessary in getting your body and confidence back.

The other reason is that you may believe that all women experience the same thing after pregnancy, so you keep quiet and bear it. The other woman also believes it’s normal and keeps quiet as well.

What you now have is a multitude of women from all over the world believing that Diastasis recti is normal and that it is normal for post partum women to have it.

Whenever you consider something normal, it gives you a measure of relief and prevents you from finding out what caused the problem and finding solution to it.

The knowledge of Diastasis recti comes sometimes months or years after giving birth when you realize that no matter the workout and diet plan you follow, you experience stays the same: you experience fat loss everywhere else except in your tummy which refuses to budge.

Instead, it maintains its pooch with unnerving tenacity even though you can now win a regional award on the number of crunches you can get off in 1 minute.

What exactly is Diastasis Recti?

Diastasis recti  is when the right and left Rectus Abdominus muscles (your 6 pack) which covers the surface of your tummy separates, leaving a gap in between the muscles. The two sections of this muscle are connected by connective tissue called the linea Alba. When the two sections of the muscle separate and widen, stretching the linea Alba, a gap forms.

This gap is called Diastasis recti.


How will you know if you have Diastasis Recti?

There are certain signs to look out for:

  • When you are coming up from a lying position on your back, do you see a “pooching” or hallowing or doming in your stomach?

pooch when lying down

  • Do you still appear a few months pregnant even though your last baby might be anywhere from 6 months to 10 years?
  • Do you still get the “Are you pregnant questions after 6 months to 10 years of having your last baby?”
  • Is your belly still the same in spite of all your effort in exercising and eating healthy?
  • Do you pee your pants when you cough, jump rope or jump onto a box.

If you are experiencing any of these signs; it is not normal

These may be signs of Diastasis recti.

To be sure you need to test yourself.

Testing yourself for Diastasis recti

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Relax your head and shoulders and place your fingers (palm facing you) just above your belly button.
  3. Lift your head and neck very slightly until your shoulder blades are off the floor. At the same time press down with your fingertips and feel for how many fingers you can insert between your belly muscles. You will feel the muscles close in around your fingers.
  4. If you feel a gap or have a separation of 2 or more fingers or, that’s the Diastasis.
  5. The separation may be above your navel, below or run straight down from above your belly to your lower abdomen.

dr 2

It can be 2 – 4 fingers separation or greater between the two sides of the rectus

Abs separation is a common occurrence in pregnancy. As your baby develops it needs more space. Your abdominal muscle doesn’t really make this possible, so your linea Alba stretches to make room for your baby.

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Your linea Alba is where your navel is located or the white line on your tummy. It is the line of connective tissue that runs from under your sternum to your pubic bone, and connects the two sides of your “six pack” muscles, also known as the Rectus Abdominus.

The linea alba is the white on your tummy

The stretched linea Alba becomes thinner and wider as the baby grows and this laxity leads to a separation between the abdominal muscles

 This separation is called Diastasis recti.

This separation is not usually something to worry about as it’s expected to go back to its normal position after delivery. It becomes a cause for concern when the muscles do not go back to their original position months and even years after childbirth.

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Why is it a problem?

Apart from the desire to have a flat belly and look good and confident, the impact that Diastasis recti has on how your body functions on a daily basis is a cause for concern.

Your core muscles especially the rectus abdominus, Transverse abdominus and the  internal and external oblique acts as a belt holding your belly and all of your organs in their places  and helping them work together to give your core and spine stability.

However, due to the separation of the Rectus Abdominus in your mid-line or linea Alba, your intra abdominal pressure will either become low, difficult to manage or nonexistent.

This makes other parts of your body and muscles to work harder during your normal daily activity like walking , exercising and sitting  to make up for the recti inability to function properly

It not only makes you look pregnant, it also affects your quality of life. Incontinence (peeing involuntarily when you sneeze, cough, jump or laugh), back pain, weak pelvic floor, altered posture; irregular bowel movement and sometimes painful sex are some of the effects of weak abdominal muscle.

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With all these challenges, closing the Diastasis recti becomes essential to your functional and emotional health not just aesthetics.

Causes of Diastasis Recti

Diastasis recti is caused by excessive and uncontained pressure in your abdomen. One major pressure point is from pregnancy and childbirth; other things that can cause excessive pressure include sucking in your belly or holding in gas, retching when vomiting, poor posture when sitting or standing and high heel shoe.

Who can develop Diastasis Recti?

Although it’s common in post partum women, it can also occur in women that are not post partum. Because excessive pressure is the true cause, pregnant women are not the only ones who may develop Diastasis recti.

Even women who are extremely athletic (as well as men and children) may develop Diastasis recti if they have an unstable core or train in a manner that increases abdominal pressure. Joseph Pilates, the founder of Pilates, even developed Diastasis recti!

How do you start the process of closing the separation?

The first step is to start training all your core muscles – the Transverse Abdominus, pelvic floor and your spine to start:

  1. Working again.
  2. Working together

The first muscle to train is the Transverse Abdominus or the TA

The Transverse Abdominus muscle is the deepest abdominal muscle and it’s very important because you use it whenever you move or take a breath.

It acts like a corset that wraps round your body and that’s one of the reasons it’s referred to as your core. In the front of your body it inserts into the connective tissue (linea Alba) that joins the Rectus Abdominus.

The transverse abdominus acts like a corset to keep everything in

The attachment of the Rectus Abdominus to the Transverse Abdominus makes the movement of the two muscles to be interconnected.

This means that when the Transverse Abdominus muscles move, the Rectus Abdominus muscle moves with it; be it forward, backwards or to the side.

It also means that when the TA is weak and unengaged it affects the recti which you want to close.

Every movement you make including sneezing, coughing, picking up your baby or lifting anything from the ground, sitting and standing involves the Transverse and if you do not locate, engage and strengthen it, it will still do its work, but not in the right way.

It will move forward in a forceful and somewhat jerky way and stretch your connective tissue.

However, when the TA is engaged and strengthened the connective tissue become stronger, the muscles gradually come together and you are on your way to closing the Diastasis recti.

To engage and strengthen the TA, you must first locate it, so it can start doing its work properly.

 How to locate and engage your Transverse Abdominus.

To start healing Diastasis recti you have to locate the Transverse Abdominus first, because it is impossible to activate and train what you cannot locate.

When you locate and isolate TA it will be easier to engage, activate and strengthen it.

 At first it may seem a difficult task. Your first impulse might be:

  1. To suck your stomach in
  2. Squeeze your glutes (butts)
  3. Or tighten your vaginal muscle

It is not any of this 3.

There are 2 ways to engage your TA. They are basically the same thing but the second method requires a bit of visualization.

Method 1

  • Lie on your back.
  • Imagine a line that connects the inside of your two pelvic bones (front of hips)
  • Take a breath in, and then as you breathe out gently draw in your abdominal muscles below your belly button
  • The movement should be so subtle that it is negligible
  • Hold this for several seconds whilst breathing normally.

No movement of your hips, pelvis or spine should occur as you gently connect to your TA.

If you notice any of the following:

  • Movement of your ribs or shoulder
  • A quick and forceful bulging of your abdomen or movement anywhere in your body
  • Sucking in your stomach
  • Holding your breath
  • Pelvic tilts

That is not your TA, but the other muscles trying to compensate for it weakness.

But why are these movements involuntarily happening?

When the TA is weak from disuse, you will notice that other muscles will contract when you are trying to connect and isolate the transverse.

This happens because your core is not functioning properly and the other muscles are trying to compensate for this.

They are trying to do its job. Do not be tempted to jump this step. It is very important that you connect to your TA.

That is when it can begin to play its part again in your total core system. Concentrate and get it first before moving to any other step.

When you engage your TA, the contraction will be subtle. Hold the contraction for 3 – 5 seconds and then release. Breathe throughout this exercise.

Repeat 5-10 times resting between each pull-in.

Try to do this exercise several times a day sitting, side-lying or standing. They work with the pelvic floor, so you could do them together

Method 2 of locating the TA

  • Lie on your back
  • Close your eyes, inhale and exhale gently.
  • Focus inside your lower tummy, Imagine there is a zip in the middle of your lower tummy……. now concentrate on gently closing the zip as gently and subtly as you can.

Your anal and vaginal muscles might want to jump in or you might breathe in forcefully. That’s not it

Close your eyes and focus on that slight and subtle movement…….. Hold for some seconds; 10-30 seconds and relax. That is your Transverse Abdominus. You’ve taken the first step.

So before you stand up, think of engaging your transverse muscle first!  Always engage your TA in all the activities of daily living like walking, sitting, sneezing, coughing, having a bowel movement and picking up your baby.

1 Simple exercise to start doing now

Hip bridge

How to do it

Lie flat on the floor on your back with the hands by your side and your knees bent. Your feet should be placed around shoulder width. …

Pushing mainly with your heels, bring your belly button in towards your spine and lift your hips off the floor while keeping your back straight. …

Slowly go back to the starting position as you breathe in. and focus on keeping your abs in.

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It’s a step by step  exercise program and nutrition guidance to get you a flatter tummy and a stronger core. Start seeing a visible difference in as little as 10 days.


Author: Nkeoma DND Agu

Hi there, My name is Nkeoma DND Agu. I'm a Post Partum Recovery Specialist, Diastasis Recti Repair Expert And a Wellness and Life Consultant. I guide women to rebuild their body after childbirth and teach them simple wellness strategies for a healthier and fitter life in a healthy body in their preferred size.

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