“I am so scared I have a separation of my abdominals or diastasis recti. Can you check me?” I get this question in clinic at least once a week. And I love it because it gives me an opportunity to really chat with expecting moms and postpartum moms about the core during pregnancy – the deep dive that’ve been waiting for. Most new moms want to know about how the abdominal muscles and abdominal wall change during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
During pregnancy you’re growing a baby, and that baby takes up space. In fact your uterus increases in size about 5-6x it’s pre-pregnant size and 4000x in volume! yup read that again.
It actually moves out of the pelvis and becomes an abdominal organ by the end of pregnancy.
So not surprisingly, your abdominal wall and abdominal muscles undergo some changes during pregnancy. So let’s highlight a few.
Widening & Separation of the Abdominals or Diastasis Recti
Currently in the social media spotlight diastasis recti has been getting it’s fair share of attention.
Scary looking pinterest photos. Do this. Don’t do that! Do this exercise, don’t do that exercise. It’s confusing to say the least.
Let’s start with a basic explanation of what diastasis recti is.
Picture your six pack muscles…. and yup everyone has them. Some are just a little more hidden than others. Mine included 🙂
Basically, a diastasis recti is like having the fly down on your jeans. It occurs when a split/disruption occurs anywhere along that linea alba, which is the connective tissue between your abdominal muscles. Different variations are shown in the picture below ( image credit: @pelvicguru) .
We know from research that 100% of women will develop widening of their linea alba by 35 weeks (Moth Et al 2015). So it’s a completely NORMAL PART of pregnancy. Let me say that again. It’s a NORMAL part of pregnancy which allows room for the baby to grow as pregnancy progresses.
During pregnancy- if you have a diastasis- you may notice:
-bulging or doming of the linea alba (if you’re lean enough to see)
-difficulty using your abdominal muscles for day to day activities (like sitting up in bed, getting out of a chair etc)
– or other symptoms of decreased core function like back and pelvic pain, urine or fecal incontinence or vaginal or rectal heaviness- all of which can occur in conjunction with a diastasis (Stephenson & O’Connor, 2000).
If you’re worried about a diastasis recti during pregnancy a quick check up with a women’s health physiotherapist will equip you with education and day to day strategies to help with pressure management and individual recommendations to help keep you physically active.
Postpartum many separations close on their own spontaneously (aka without any treatment). However, we do see quite a few women postpartum (<8-12 weeks postpartum) in clinic who are still struggling with:
doming of the abdominal wall
sagging/invagination of the abdominal wall
inability to generate tension in their abdominal wall
postpartum back pain, pelvic pain, tailbone pain who are having trouble engaging their abdominal muscles/core
Which leads me nicely to my next point about changes that occur to your abdominals and core during pregnancy.
Another abdominal muscle, Transversus Abdominus (TVA) becomes lengthened during pregnancy, your diaphragm can’t expand on inhale like it could pre-pregnancy, and your pelvic floor is dealing with increased load.
Just like your six pack muscles, TVA your deepest abdominal muscle becomes lengthened as the baby grows making it more difficult to generate tension in that muscle as pregnancy progresses (aka it’s weaker.)
And then there’s your diaphragm (your biggest breathing muscle) that is unable to stretch downward as far when you inhale as the baby grows. Hello shortness of breath.
But what alot of people don’t realize is that your diaphragm is an important core muscle and when it can’t stretch and do it’s job as effectively during pregnancy, it makes it more difficult to engage your entire core system in the same way as you could pre-pregnancy.
And last but not least your pelvic floor is now dealing with the increased load of pregnancy such as weight of the baby and increased weight of the uterus, and sometimes constipation. It’s got a lot of new things to deal with.
So in summary, pregnancy brings a whole lot of change to your abdominals and core system (TVA, diaphragm & pelvic floor) but there’s lots of things you can do to support these changes and approach pregnancy and birth with confidence not fear.
Working with a professional who has education and training to support physical activity during pregnancy, has significant benefits as they can support you with individual recommendations that will help keep you moving and support your core & pelvic floor throughout your pregnancy.
Looking for more information on how to prepare for birth? Check out our online course – Prenatal Pelvic Health.
As always- any questions let us know. We love them. And they help us produce valuable content for you!
Eryn & Katie
reach out to us at [email protected] or hang out with us on instagram @motherhoodlink.