Reviewed by: Missy Nolan
While the term "diastasis recti" may sound complicated, it's a common condition that often occurs after childbirth. Diastasis recti happens when the abdominal muscles separate during pregnancy and usually resolves on its own, although it can sometimes cause ongoing issues and problems with urinary incontinence.
This guide explores what diastasis recti is, why it causes bladder leaks, and the common signs and symptoms, while explaining how to fix diastasis recti.
What Is Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis recti is a separation in your abdominal muscles. You have two bands of muscle on either side of your abdomen joined by connective tissue called the linea alba. Pregnancy can stretch the linea alba, causing a gap between your abdominal muscles. However, the condition sometimes affects people who have never been pregnant.
The gap usually closes on its own when the linea alba resumes its original shape. This may not happen if the connective tissue is overstretched, leading to diastasis recti. Doctors diagnose diastasis recti in adults when the gap between the abdominal muscles measures over 2 centimeters. Your doctor may reference the measurement in finger widths, such as saying you have a gap of at least two to three finger widths.
Who Does Diastasis Affect?
Diastasis recti is common, affecting 33% of women 12 months after giving birth. The condition can also persist beyond childbearing years. Occasionally, diastasis recti appears in newborn babies, especially in infants born prematurely.
Some people are more prone to developing diastasis recti than others, and the condition occurs more often in people aged 35 or older. Common risk factors for diastasis recti include:
- Having multiple pregnancies, especially in quick succession
- Delivering a baby vaginally
- Giving birth to a large baby
- Having twin or triplet pregnancies
What Are the Symptoms of Diastasis Recti?
The most common symptom of diastasis recti is a noticeable bulge in your stomach, often just above the belly button. Some people with the condition feel they still appear pregnant despite having already given birth. Your stomach may have a coned shape when you tighten your abdominals or feel soft to the touch.
Diastasis recti can also affect your core strength. You may notice a lack of strength during your regular activities, such as lifting objects. Other common symptoms of diastasis recti include the following:
- Painful sex
- Pain or discomfort in your hips, abdomen, or lower back
- Poor posture
While diastasis recti generally isn't painful, it can sometimes cause painful complications. These complications are more likely if the separation in your abdominal muscles is severe. Potential complications include umbilical hernias and musculoskeletal pain. Consult your doctor if you experience pain and suspect you may have diastasis recti.
Diastasis and Incontinence
Abdominal separation indicates weakness of the abdominal wall, which can lead to pelvic floor dysfunction and pelvic organ prolapse. Therefore, you may notice bladder leaks if you have diastasis recti. Some people also develop constipation.
You don't have to tolerate bladder incontinence as a consequence of diastasis recti. Your health-care provider can recommend treatment options to help you regain bladder control and treat other symptoms of the condition. During your treatment, wearing products designed for people with bladder weakness can help keep you feeling dry and confident. Nexwear offers a broad range of pads and protective underwear to help you manage leaks.
How to Prevent Diastasis Recti
If you're pregnant or plan on getting pregnant, you’re probably wondering how to prevent diastasis recti. It isn’t always possible to prevent the condition, as everyone’s body is different. Bear in mind that many women develop diastasis recti to some extent during pregnancy.
However, keeping your core strong and avoiding activities that put excessive strain on your abdominal muscles can help reduce your risk of developing more severe diastasis recti. Avoid heavy lifting and practice good posture to protect your core muscles. Maintaining a healthy weight throughout pregnancy can also help prevent the condition. While keeping active is essential for a healthy pregnancy, you should avoid exercises that strain your abdominal muscles beyond the first trimester. Your doctor can advise you on safe exercises for core strength during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
How to Fix Diastasis Recti
If you find yourself with diastasis recti, avoid sit-ups and other exercises that may stress your core muscles. Trying to fix the problem through exercise may be tempting. However, some movements can actually increase the gap between your abdominal muscles. You should also avoid lifting heavy objects while recovering after childbirth.
Your health-care provider will likely check for diastasis recti during your postpartum appointment. Diagnosis usually involves examining your abdominal muscles manually, although your doctor may recommend an ultrasound scan to assess the extent of your abdominal separation.
Contact your provider if you notice symptoms of diastasis recti. Fortunately, there are several treatment options for the condition and its complications.
While the wrong exercises can worsen diastasis recti, a fitness program designed to treat the condition can help close the gap between your abdominal muscles. Generally, working with a fitness professional or physical therapist with expertise in treating diastasis recti is the safest way to exercise with the condition.
Treating diastasis recti typically involves gentle exercises designed to engage your core muscles. Your provider will supervise you to ensure you're performing the exercises safely.
Some people recommend abdominal braces for diastasis recti. These devices often consist of elasticated bands designed to support the abdomen and lower back.
Unfortunately, abdominal braces won't treat the underlying causes of diastasis recti and don't improve core strength. Some experts caution that an overreliance on these devices could be counterproductive. However, they may be useful alongside other treatment techniques. Abdominal braces can encourage better posture, and research shows they can make exercises for diastasis recti more effective and reduce lower back pain.
Most people won't need surgery to treat diastasis recti. However, your doctor may recommend surgery if you develop complications or you're worried about the impact of separated abdominal muscles on your appearance or functional abilities.
Your Pelvic Floor
Often, the most troubling symptom of diastasis recti is bladder leaks, or incontinence. Furthermore, pelvic floor dysfunction commonly occurs after childbirth and during menopause, increasing your risk of urinary incontinence. Taking care of your pelvic floor while treating diastasis recti can help you regain bladder control.
In some cases, surgical intervention is necessary to treat pelvic floor issues. However, with your doctor's guidance, you can also consider doing Kegels, changing your diet, and training your bladder to help with the leaks.
The Bottom Line
If you're dealing with bladder leaks caused by diastasis recti, understanding your treatment options can help you regain control. Pads and protective underwear can also help reduce the impact of urinary incontinence while you seek treatment. Nexwear's range is designed to keep you dry, comfortable, and odor-free.
While pursuing her nursing degree, Missy aced her medical courses and was hired as a chiropractic assistant. After her second child was born, Missy left the chiropractic office and became a full-time medical writer. Since then, she's written thousands of articles about everything from urinary incontinence to neurological conditions and digestive health. Missy also appreciates a holistic approach toward wellness and is well-versed in the benefits of combining treatments such as meditation, sound therapy, and acupuncture with traditional Western medicine.