In this post, I’ll share how to tell if you have diastasis recti. And…what to do about it if you have it!
Just want a quick answer? Here’s a Diastasis Recti Test
What is Diastasis Recti?
Diastasis Recti is a separation of the abdominal muscles. It’s caused by the connective tissue at the front of the body, called the linea alba, stretching and thinning.
This separation is necessary during pregnancy – the baby needs room to grow! It becomes problematic when that separation remains far into the postpartum period.
Why should you care?
The abdominal muscles impact your body’s function. Dysfunction in the abdominals from diastasis recti can result in negative symptoms like:
- back pain,
- hip pain,
- pelvic floor pain or incontinence (leaking when you sneeze or exert yourself),
- poor posture
- and that ever-present mom-pooch.
We’ve been told many of these symptoms are just a “regular” part of postpartum life. That is flat out wrong.
How To Check For Diastasis Recti
When checking for diastasis recti, we are evaluating two things:
- The size of the gap between the two sides of the rectus abdominis (the 6-pack abs), and
- The thickness of the connective tissue (known as the linea alba) between the abdominals
We will do the diastasis recti test at 3 different places on the abdomen.
- At the belly button
- Three fingers below the belly button, and
- Three fingers above the belly button
How To Do A Diastasis Recti Self Test
How To Check For Diastasis Recti
- Lay on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor.
- Take one hand behind your head and place the fingers from the other hand directly at the belly button.
- Gently lift the head and shoulders an inch off the floor (just until you feel some engagement in the rectus abdominis muscles). Be sure not to lift the head too high. That will give a false reading.
- Determine how many fingers fit across the space between the two sides of the abdominal muscles. You may need to use both hands to measure.
- Determine what the connective tissue feels like in the gap under your fingers. Note if the consistency is thick like silly putty or thin like cellophane.
- Relax your head down and fully relax the muscles.
- Repeat this process 3 inches below the belly button.
- Repeat this process 3 inches above the belly button.
- Record Your Findings
How To Know If You Have Diastasis Recti and Need Core Rehabilitatioin
You’ve done your self-test. But what’s considered normal in a postpartum body? And what’s considered diastasis? How can you tell if you have diastasis recti?
Well, that’s complicated.
Currently, there is no agreed upon cut-off of what is “officially” diastasis recti in postpartum women, although researchers are working on the issue!
One study demonstrated that postpartum women have a wider gap, on average, than women who have never been pregnant.
The most commonly used standard is 2 fingers or less is considered “normal” in a postpartum body. But I’ve seen many postpartum women close their gap beyond 2 fingers.
So, given that there is no clear definition, how can you know if you have a diastasis or need to rehabilitate your core?
I recommend considering 3 factors:
- Gap Size
- Connective Tissue Thickness
- Physical Symptoms
Typically, When it comes to abdominal separation size, a 1-2 finger gap anywhere in the abdominals is considered “normal” in a postpartum body. Is it possible to close the gap beyond this? For many women, yes. But, if you have a 2+ finger gap or more, then you know you have some level of diastasis.
Connective Tissue Thickness:
Many practitioners believe that the health of the connective tissue is more important than the size of the abdominal gap for core functioning.
Healthy linea alba connective tissue will feel thick and firm, like silly putty. If you found that the connective tissue between your abdominals felt thin, like cellophane, that is a sign of dysfunction within your core. You could likely benefit from core rehabilitation.
There are certain physical symptoms that accompany a poorly functioning core. These include:
- Feeling like a limp noodle in your core (i.e. struggling to sit up straight without back support)
- Back pain
- Pelvic floor issues like leaking or a feeling of heaviness in the pelvic floor.
If you have any of these symptoms, you can benefit from improving your core strength, regardless of what you found in your diastasis self-test.
>>SUMMARY: I recommend pursuing core rehabilitation if you have any of these issues:
- A gap size that is more than 2 fingers,
- Thin connective tissue,
- Or you experience any of the negative physical symptoms listed above.
I have Diastasis Recti! Now what?
The approach to diastasis can differ depending on how long ago you had your baby.
If you had your baby in the last 2 months
If you’re a few months postpartum, you likely WILL have it. That’s NORMAL. Your body spent almost 10 months making room for this new life. It takes more than a few weeks for your abdominals and connective tissue to return to normal.
You aren’t destined to have it forever. The months right after you’ve had your baby are a golden opportunity. You can either
- Be smart about your movement and activity NOW and give your diastasis the best chance for closing on its own. OR
- Ignore it and deal with it, and it’s associated symptoms, for some time. Maybe even forever.
If you had your baby months or years ago:
Don’t freak out! Even if you had your baby months or years ago, you can still heal your diastasis recti.
It is never too late to correct this issue.
How to move forward:
- Please AVOID high-intensity exercise. High-intensity activity can prevent your diastasis from healing. Focus on building your strength now, and you’ll be back to your high-intensity activities in no time. For a guide on easing into fitness, head here.
- DON’T try to fix your core with crunches, planks, or traditional core exercises. These poses do not help and can cause more damage.
- DO spend time connecting to your core EVERY DAY. Training your deep core muscle encourages your connective tissue to heal. It also acts like a corset for your body, providing support and stability.
- DO focus on your alignment. I’ve written about this here. Poor alignment makes it hard to engage those deep core muscles and strains the weak connective tissue.
- DO find a reputable fitness program that specializes in postpartum core health. Find one that suits your preferred style of working out (If yoga is your jam, I’d love to have you join me in the Heal Your Core With Yoga program). You want a program that includes exercises AND education on the root cause of diastasis (i.e. alignment). Long-lasting core-health comes from building strength AND changing body patterns.
NOTE: Your local stroller strides is likely NOT going to do this. You need a program that specializes in diastasis safe exercises (There aren’t a lot of us out there).
- Finally, DO be patient. I know you’re eager to “bounce back” and feel normal again. You will. Give it time. It took almost 10 months to grow a new life. It takes more than a few weeks for your body to recover from that amazing process.