Once you start showing in pregnancy you'll discover new things about your changing belly all the time - a term you may hear is diastasis. Diastasis Rectus Abdominis is tummy muscle separation, or tummy gap. These terms describe the opening and thinning of a small connective tissue which runs down our midlines. This is called the linea alba. It divides our six pack muscles into two - from our sternum to our pubic bone. As the tissue broadens, the two halves of the six pack muscle move further apart. This is where the term ‘tummy muscle separation’ comes from.
The widening and thinning of our linea alba is a normal part of pregnancy and occurs in the third trimester. 100% of pregnant women will have some experience of diastasis at some point. This is really important because it enables our bellies to expand, and make space for our growing baby before birth.
Pregnancy hormones play a large role in this process as they help to soften our connective tissues and ligaments. Along with helping the linea alba to become more pliable, pregnancy hormones will also help to soften the ligaments around the pelvis, preparing your body for labour.
What to expect?
For some women, the linea alba or linea nigra, as it may become visible during your pregnancy, will naturally regain tension within the first 2-3 months postpartum. However, around 1/3rd of women may notice some tummy gap. This is okay, because it’s not all about the gap, as (gentle) exercise can help you to regain firmness and strength.
Although we tend to hear the term diastasis or tummy gap during pregnancy and in postpartum women, everyone has a linea alba, so it can also transpire in men, often due to obesity, in elite athletes, and in children too.
How do I know if I have Diastasis Rectus Abdominis?
If you have diastasis, you may notice a puffed out or protude of the tummy muscles at the midline. Especially when performing movements that cause pressure within the belly, such as a press up, or lifting a heavy object. You may also notice a dropping down into the tummy like a valley, or feel that when you push on your tummy, your hand sinks in a little and there’s just not much resistance. You might also feel a gap with your fingers if you press into your midline while lying on your back and lifting your head and these sensations can be felt anywhere along the length of the linea alba.
Can I prevent it?
There are few things you cannot change when it comes to your risk of developing Diastasis. Your genetics play a major role in whether or not you will develop a bigger gap.
However, you may be able to reduce your risk. Try to:
Reduce heavy or poor lifting techniques - such as breath holding
Stop straining yourself where possible - this includes vomiting and coughing, but speak to a doctor if things worsen.
Avoid excessive abdominal loading with exercises including press ups or liftting heavy weights.
Can I still exercise?
It’s important to know that no one size fits all. Everyone generates tension across their linea alba for different reasons and in different positions.
As a result, there is no right or wrong exercise for diastasis, but it will be helpful to speak to a physiotherapist to help you find positions and exercises that are best suited to you. As you get stronger, you will be able to perform different and more challenging exercises, but it’s always important to get comfortable with the basics first. Whenever exercising during pregnancy it's important to listen to your body and know its limits.
Once you have made it past 3 months postpartum, and are able to generate good force across the linea alba, and control pressure within the abdomen during impact movements, you will be able to begin a return to running and sport programme.
The most important things to remember:
Diastasis Rectus Abdominis is a normal part of pregnancy and is actually really important for allowing our tummies to expand and make room for our growing baby
It is not only pregnant or postpartum women that suffer from diastasis but it occurs in men, in athletes and in children too.
It is not a life threatening condition, but it can impact your ability to do functional tasks well and also affect your self-confidence.
If you are concerned about whether or not you have a tummy gap, please seek help from a pelvic health physiotherapist. They are trained to assess you and teach you exercises specific to you to help you regain strength. Importantly they are there to answer any and all of your questions.
It is not all about the gap! With the right guidance and support, your will be able to improve your strength and return to the activities you love
Mummy to a little girl, Adejumoke Ilori is Commercial Content Writer for Mother&Baby. With a BA hon in Creative Writing, she has worked for digital platforms, where she has empowered women from the inside and out, by sharing real life stories based on relationships, loving yourself and mummyhood.