What is Diastasis Recti – Why you still have a tummy after having your baby

You’ve had your baby and like most mums you’ve probably looked in the mirror afterwards to see what your stomach area looks like. You might be surprised to see that you still look a bit pregnant afterwards. You figure that in a few days or a couple of weeks your tummy will come back in and sort itself out. But weeks later you still look pregnant, you’ve got a pouch or an overhang and nothing seems to be changing.

You could have Diastasis Recti!

As an example, in the photo below that is me 6 weeks after having my baby. Usually when I competed in bodybuilding I had a very toned, flat and defined abdominal area. But, as you can see I still had a protruding tummy 6 weeks after giving birth due to Diastasis Recti or abdominal separation.

In this blog you’ll find out what Diastasis Recti is and why it is completely normal to still look pregnant after giving birth.

What is Diastasis Recti

Diastasis Recti is a separation and widening of the vertical centerline of your abdominal wall.

The right and left side of your abdominal muscles are joined in the middle with a band of connective tissue called the linea alba. As your baby grows the linea alba and other connective tissues separate down the middle and widen to make space for your growing baby (see image below).

Diastasis Recti becomes problematic after have a baby when the tissues don’t return to a healthy position after delivery and the stretched and weakened core muscles don’t properly support the force generated within your abdomen during activity.

What does Diastasis Recti look like?

Have a look at the image below in the left photo. The line down the center of the abdominal area is the linea alba. You can see it is not separated. However, in the photo on the right, the linea alba has been stretched and has moved apart.

Abdominal Structure

The muscles that make up your abdominal wall have many layers. These muscle layers help to
support your organs, move your bones, help to maintain your posture, and provide muscular support.

In the image below look at the directions and layers of the different abdominal muscle fibers. The large vertical muscle is the rectus abdominis. This muscle is closest to the skin, and creates the look of a “6-pack” if genetics have provided thick horizontal connective tissue separating each segment, and your bodyfat is low enough to see the muscles externally.

There are lots of layers of muscles underneath the exterior six pack as well and as you’ll find out in my other blogs, crunches only work the top muscles. If you truly want to rehabilitate and get a lean, toned stomach area after having a baby, there are other deeper muscles that need to be worked that don’t involve doing crunches (in fact you should NEVER do crunches if you have Diastasis Recti).

In the next picture below you can see the changes that happen with abdominal separation in Diastasis Recti. You can also see the effects of the abdominal separation in the bottom left photo, a drooping abdomen, a tummy pouch or in some cases an overhang or apron as well.

The picture above is a great visual guide showing what abdominal separation and weakness can look like after having your baby. Often women who unknowingly have Diastasis Recti mistakenly think they are not disciplined enough and that they need to lose weight and do more crunches to get a flat abdomen. However, Diastasis Recti requires a completely different approach to dieting and working the top layer of your abdominals with lots of stomach crunches.

My own examples

You can see that my tummy didn’t automatically revert back to being flat and toned after birthing my baby. I was competing in bodybuilding and usually had a very flat, defined and toned abdominal area but many weeks after both my baby’s births (one natural, one c-section), I still had Diastasis Recti.

You can see in these images above that it took about 4 months for me to start to bring my abdominals in and fix my Diastasis Recti. How I did that is another blog post, but importantly I made sure my nutrition was on track to help my muscles heal and reduce excess body fat after having my baby.

I also did NO CRUNCHES or gym abdominal work for 12 months after having both my babies. I was super cautious because I knew that if I worked my abdominals incorrectly when they weren’t properly healed, they could stay permanently stretched and I wanted to compete in bodybuilding again so needed to eventually have a flat, toned abdominal area again.

So, instead of crunches I did tummy contractions and daily walking and later on some Pilates to strengthen my deep abdominals and pelvic floor once there was no longer any abdominal separation. But after both my babies it was a good 12 months before I went back to the gym to do any crunch type abdominal work and prepare for my next bodybuilding show.

When it comes to fixing your abdominals after having a baby, I believe that slow and steady wins the race.

If you’d like lots more information on how to heal your body, speed recovery and get your body back after having your baby, follow my blog below.

Or, subscribe to my YouTube channel for lots of free coaching videos about postnatal healing and recovery.

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