Diastasis Recti After Baby: Causes, Treatment, Recovery Time

| Reviewed By Amanda Lundberg, BSN, RN

Pregnancy, childbirth, and delivery can have a significant impact on your body, potentially leading to a separation of your abdominal muscles. This is referred to as diastasis recti and it is a common occurrence.

Can you die from diastasis recti? No, you can’t die from diastasis recti. However, in severe cases, diastasis recti can significantly impair quality of life. Untreated or worsened diastasis recti can result in pain, damaged posture, reduced mobility, destabilization, pelvic floor dysfunction, and hernias.

Keep reading to learn more about how to identify and treat diastasis recti.

Understanding Diastasis Recti After Pregnancy

While pregnant women aren’t the only ones affected by this issue, diastasis recti affects around 60% of women during and after pregnancy.

Understanding how to prevent, diagnose, and treat diastasis recti can help in the handling of this condition.

What Is Diastasis Recti?

Diastasis recti is a condition in which the abdominal muscles separate. It’s characterized by a widening gap between the abdominal muscles.

What Causes Diastasis Recti?

Diastasis recti is caused by excessive pressure in the abdomen. Unfortunately, there is a lot of inner-abdominal pressure in pregnancy, labor, and delivery.

During this process, the uterus is expanding, hormones called relaxin and estrogen are coursing through your body, and you go through the physical trauma of pregnancy. 

Diastasis Recti Symptoms

Initial symptoms of diastasis recti include lower back pain, postural issues, constipation, and bloating. These symptoms are prominent specifically when working the abdominal muscles to sit up, bend over, or flex.

The most visible and common sign is a bulge or “pooch” in the lower abdominal region.

Diastasis Recti Pain Location 

Most pain from diastasis recti occurs in the lower back. However, pain can also occur in the pelvic region. This pain can range from a dull ache to a sharp stab. 

How To Check for Diastasis Recti

Doctors check for diastasis recti via the caliper measuring tool on an ultrasound. This gives a precise measurement and severity diagnosis. However, you can also check for diastasis recti by yourself at home.

  1. Start by laying on your back with your knees bent and feet placed firmly on the floor. 
  2. Once settled into position, lift your shoulders up off of the floor and look down toward your abdomen. Place your hand behind your head to hold it off of the ground.
  3. Use your other hand to feel along the midline of your abdomen.
  4. Check for a separation between the left and right abdominal muscles. If a separation between 1 and 2 fingertip lengths is present, you likely have diastasis recti.

Is Diastasis Recti Dangerous? 

Diastasis recti is not dangerous or harmful in and of itself. However, it can interfere with the body both functionally and cosmetically. In either situation, serious cases may call for surgical intervention. 

When Is Diastasis Recti Considered Severe?

Diastasis recti is considered severe when it interferes significantly with daily functions. Pain, mobility, and urinary continence are the markers that determine severity.

It is also considered severe when the gap between the abdominal muscles exceeds 2 fingertip lengths. 

Can Diastasis Recti Get Worse? 

Yes, if left untreated, the separation between the left and right abdominal muscles can continue to grow. This can cause worsening symptoms such as hernias, incontinence, and intense bouts of pain.

How Long Does It Take For Diastasis Recti To Heal?

The recovery rate from diastasis recti varies dramatically from person to person. Recovery speed is determined by severity, caution when moving, and anatomy. In general, it can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a year to resolve.

Diastasis Recti Treatment

The best treatment for diastasis recti is alternating periods of rest and corrective exercises.

These pull-focused exercises should be targeted toward deep core muscles. In addition, they should be paired with patterned breathing to aid in recovery.

Surgery for Diastasis Recti

When diastasis recti does not resolve itself or when it presents with severe symptoms, surgery is the recommended solution.

The procedure can be done laparoscopically in some instances, but abdominal damage is often repaired during what is commonly known as a surgical “tummy tuck.”

You can also elect to have this surgery for cosmetic reasons. However, insurance may not cover elective surgery if it is not deemed necessary by a medical provider. 

Diastasis Recti Surgery Recovery

Since “tummy tucks” are an invasive procedure, the recovery is often a long process. It typically takes around 3 weeks for the pain to subside, 4-6 weeks to be cleared for exercise, and up to 12 weeks for the swelling and bruising to fade.

Diastasis Recti Treatment Exercises

These are the best exercises to activate muscles necessary for the treatment of diastasis recti. You’ll want to avoid superficial core exercises like crunches and sit-ups.

  • Bent leg dead bugs
  • Pelvic tilts
  • Bird dogs
  • Side planks
  • Supine leg extensions
  • Transverse abdominal twists
  • Supine toe taps
  • Supine leg reaches

How To Fix Diastasis Recti Years Later

You can fix diastasis recti after extended periods of time. However, the problem is usually more severe than it was initially. 

Typically, diastasis recti is addressed the same way in the beginning as it is after some time has passed.

You’ll start by trying to strengthen and align the deep core through a series of exercise programs. If after a year that hasn’t resolved your condition, you may elect to have surgery.

Related Questions:

What Causes Diastasis Recti in Infants?

An infant’s abdominal muscles are not fully developed, especially when born prematurely. Diastasis recti is caused by this anatomical weakness and usually corrects itself with time. 

Does Diastasis Recti Come Back?

Laxity in the abdomen can occur more than once. However, this usually isn’t the case if someone with diastasis recti opts for a tummy tuck as they rarely revert.

The exception to this is when women who’ve had a tummy tuck become pregnant. 

Closing Thoughts 

Diastasis recti is a common condition among men, pregnant women, and newborns. The best treatment for this condition is targeted deep-core exercises.

Those with diastasis recti should avoid heavy lifting and superficial abdominal workouts. If there are no results after a year of concentrated effort restoring stability and strength in the abdomen, surgery is the next recommended step.