Diastasis Recti: What It Is, What Causes It, and the Best Exercises To Prevent It

Diasta-whatsis?

Diastasis recti. Which, let’s be honest, is a pretty scary name.  

But don’t worry—it’s not nearly as bad as it sounds and way more common than you think. 

I had DR with my first two kids and I have it again with my third pregnancy, so I’ve been there, done that. Not to say it isn’t a serious thing, but I’m living proof that you can get through it and bounce back stronger than ever - as long as you understand what it is, what causes it, and what you can do to get over it. So without further ado…

 

What Is It? 

When you’re pregnant, your belly gets huge. As in, “will it ever stop!?” huge.

What’s going on down there is that the uterus is growing and pushing your abdominal muscles apart, right down the midline. This midline is called the linea alba and is basically like that flat tough white stuff you cut off chicken breasts, because seriously who wants to eat that? 

The problem is that the white stuff is what holds your right and left abdominals together. As your belly grows, it stretches.  And stretches and stretches and stretches. Bad news? It’s not like a rubber band and doesn’t snap right back in place when the pressure’s gone. In fact, some women (like me, and maybe like you) end up with a gap where their linea alba is—that’s diastasis recti. 

In addition to causing that fabulous mom pooch we all love, DR can reduce the integrity of your entire core. We’re talking lower back pain, pelvic floor dysfunction, pee leaks after a sneeze—the works! Not much fun, obviously…but not the end of the world either—especially not if you’re proactive about doing the right things to prevent it before it happens and fix it if it does. 

(If you *think* you might have a case of DR, this page can walk you through a good self-exam, but obviously be sure to speak to your doctor or physical therapist if you’re unsure.) 

 

What Causes It? 

To some extent your risk for DR is out of your hands, because a lot depends on how big your bundle of joy is. (When it’s 9.5 pounds? Look out—trust me!) But EVERY pregnant mom is at some degree of risk…and certain exercises actually make it worse. 

Take planks and crunches. Ticket to washboard abs, right? When you’re pregnant…not so much. Remember, your midline’s already stretched and weakened, so the last thing you want to do is put more stress on it with movements that force your organs out toward the gap or down toward your pelvis. Give your body a break!

A good test for checking whether a movement is good or bad? Look down at your belly when you’e doing it. If you see bulging or coning around your midline, pump the brakes—because that bulging is your linea alba screaming NOOOOOOO!

In addition to planks and crunches, you’ll want to avoid sit ups, mountain climbers, push ups, and really any prone (facing the floor) movement that you can’t modifying by putting your knees down. On the flip side, you should also steer clear of backbends and any other movements that overstretch your midline—the more you stress it, the more you aggravate the separation. 


 
How Can I Prevent It? 

The good news is that DR prevention isn’t just about what you CAN’T do—it’s also about what you CAN do, and SHOULD do no matter what your risk level is. Better safe than sorry, amiright? 

The first two letters you need to know are TA, which stands for transverse abdominal muscles. Think of the TA as an internal girdle—JUST what you always wanted. The more you engage your TA, the stronger it gets and the more effective it becomes as a check against DR…and the easiest way to fire it up is with simple breathing exercises: 

  • Take a deep breath in to fill up your belly. (Try to keep your chest from rising—it should be all about the belly.) 
  • Exhale slowly while making an “S” sound for as long as you can. 
  • Feel that engagement? Hold it for 10 seconds while breathing normally.
  • Relax and repeat for 10 rounds. 

This exercise can be performed both pregnant and postnatal and works sitting, standing or laying down—whatever feels most comfortable. The major benefit is that it helps you get the feel for where your TA is and how it works, which makes it easier for you to keep it engaged when you work out and go through your day. Remember, the more it’s engaged, the more protected you are against DR…so be mindful and make it part of your routine!

Bonus tip:  Once you’re comfortable with the basic breathing exercise, trying adding kegels when you exhale. Think of it as a facelift for your core and pelvis. Seriously, visualization helps!  Picture your belly coming in and up, in and up, in and up. You’ll be higher and tighter before you know it!

Beyond just breathing, a number of core exercises can fire up your TA. My favorites include…

  • Side planks (drop a knee if you need to)
  • Reverse planks
  • Glute bridges (when your belly gets big, try propping yourself up with a pillow)
  • Squats (preferably against a wall with an exercise ball)
  • Wall Sits (also a great time to practice those breathing exercises!)

And yeah, I know, I know—it all sounds like a lot. But as someone who’s been through two different four-finger-wide separations, I’m here to tell you…DON’T GET DISCOURAGED. Educate yourself, take it slow, be consistent, and MAKE IT WORK! We’re all in this together and we’ll get through it together too!

(And for those of you out there who want to dive even deeper into DR, I also loved this and this for further reading.)