How to Check for—and Repair—Ab Separation

How to Check for—and Repair—Ab Separation

Learn about the cause of Diastasis Recti, the technical name for this separation of your ab muscles, and how to heal it.

By Liz Krieger

First thing’s first: it can be a little tricky to know if you have diastasis recti (DR), a separation of the ab muscles. Most of us are still carrying some of the weight we gained during pregnancy (that’s 100 percent normal), and it can take up to six weeks for your uterus to contract back to its pre-pregnancy size. Yet if your stomach has a definite bulge or “pooch,” it’s possible that you have DR. One study found that up to 60 percent of women may experience diastasis recti during pregnancy or postpartum.

Here’s how it happens: During pregnancy, your abdominal muscles stretch to accommodate the growing baby. In some cases, however, this causes the right and left sides of the abdominis rectus muscle to separate as your linea alba (the tissue between that set of muscles) stretches to make room for the baby. After pregnancy, many women will notice a small indentation in the middle of their belly, right down the center. For some moms, that gap is wide enough to be considered diastasis recti.

If your doctor didn’t check for diastasis recti at your postpartum checkup, you can DIY. Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and knees bent. Curl your head up off the floor so your rectus or "six-pack" muscles are engaged, then feel along the indent down the center of your stomach until you reach your belly button. That’s the linea alba, the tissue that stretched when you were pregnant. Starting at the belly button, now feel just above and below, staying on that vertical line. If your fingers can press down and feel a gap, you may have ab separation. A small gap is normal! A gap of three or more fingers could be a sign of diastasis recti.

Here are some ways to help repair it.

  • Work your core carefully. You’ll want to work carefully to strengthen the abdominal muscles to get the gap to close. But you can’t just start doing crunches–in fact, some traditional ab moves you’ve relied on in the past (including traditional crunches, old-school sit-ups, and planks) may make the situation worse. Instead, ask your doctor for recommendations for a core strengthening routine vetted by a physical therapist experienced in postpartum exercise, or someone with special training in healing diastasis recti. One move to try—which can be done sitting, lying down, or standing—“Blow out the candles.” Breathe in, and exhale, imagining that you are blowing out a cake with 100 candles on it. Keep the blowing steady—don’t force out all the air in the beginning of the exhale. Feel your abs coming in and engaging as you try to exhale all the way to the end.  
  • Try not to strain. Lifting heavy objects or even pushing hard when going to the bathroom can stress the connective tissue of your belly.
  • Consider a surgical fix. This is a last resort for those who have a very severe diastasis: surgery where the surgeon repairs and stitches together the muscles.

Hopefully after several weeks of doing gentle exercises, you’ll notice a difference. If not, talk to your doctor or a physical therapist.