Expert Advice

How Can You Tell If You Have Diastasis Recti? Look For These 10 Symptoms

We've got the facts about this common postpartum condition.

There are several symptoms of diastasis recti, including a belly bulge.
Kanawa_Studio/Getty Images

Twelve years ago, Heather Perren, Senior Master Trainer for Lagree Fitness, gave birth to triplets and was looking to get back in shape — but she struggled, discovering she was dealing with diastasis recti. The postpartum abdominal condition happens when the rectus abdominus muscles (which run vertically along the front of your stomach) stretch too much during pregnancy and cause separation. Can you relate?

If you've recently given birth, chances are you might be experiencing the same. According to the Cleveland Clinic, diastasis recti is extremely common in those who are pregnant and during the postpartum period, affecting 60% of people.

Understanding what diastasis recti is, how to help prevent it, and which workouts you can try if you have it are all very important. Below, find our primer on diastasis recti, including how you can tell if you have it.

What is diastasis recti?

Diastasis recti is the separation in your rectus abdominis wall (aka your six-pack muscles). The separation occurs when the tissue loses its elasticity from being overstretched, and the space between the abdominals will not close.

"Think of the left and right sides as separating from one another," Perren says. "This is most commonly seen after pregnancy, but men can have this too (obesity is another cause for it). There are different severities of diastasis recti, from mild to moderate to severe. Moderate to severe should be treated under the supervision of a physiotherapist who understands diastasis recti."

Another important note: Diastasis recti leaves your abdominal organs unsupported, and if severe, can expose your digestive organs, creating a stomach bulge.

How can you tell if you have diastasis recti?

A belly "bulge" that can look like a baby bump is the main sign of diastasis recti, explains Perren, usually most noticeable when you're contracting or straining muscles in your abdomen. "You may notice that when straining, your stomach area tents upwards instead of flattening out; this is usually referred to as bulging," she says.

In addition to a visible bulge or “pooch,” other diastasis recti symptoms might include:

  • Lower back pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pelvic or hip pain
  • Constipation
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Poor posture
  • Softness around your belly button
  • Weak abdominals or difficulty lifting objects
  • Pain during sex

The challenge faced with diastasis recti is the pain that can come with having abdominal separation, especially in new moms having to lift their newborns or even older toddlers after giving birth. The good news, though, says Perren, is that most separations heal on their own after birth.

Risks for diastasis recti include:

  • Having multiple pregnancies (especially back-to-back)
  • Having a small frame
  • Having poor muscle tone
  • Being over 35 years old
  • Having multiple births (like twins or triplets)
  • Having multiple pregnancies
  • Birthing a heavy or big baby
  • Vaginal delivery, as pushing can increase abdominal pressure

If you're unsure if you have diastasis recti, always check with your doctor.

How do you fix diastasis recti?

"The best piece of advice I can give is to avoid crunches and twisting moves during pregnancy and in the 'fourth trimester' (the first 12 weeks after giving birth)," Perren says. "Also, use the log roll maneuver when getting out of bed or up from the couch or floor. This helps prevent the ‘crunch’ and splitting the abs when getting up."

Perren recommends focusing on stabilizing core exercises that focus on the transverse abdominals and training the pelvic floor to avoid diastasis recti.

"If looking to stay fit, some moves that are great to continue with are core stabilizing moves such as modified planks and side planks variations, in addition to glute bridges, wall pushups, and squats. Squats and glute bridges are great for strengthening the deep core and legs, opening hips, and preparing for safe delivery."

But before engaging in exercise, Perren says it's important to always check with your doctor to make sure you are cleared for exercise: "If you get the go-ahead, take it slow and pay attention to your core. If you notice any coning, stop the movement immediately. Continue to avoid crunches and twisting movements until your doctor has cleared you.