What Women Should Know About Their Postpartum Bodies

“Over 1/3 of post-partum women continue to have a diastasis recti, a thinning of their abdominal muscle attachments, when tested several weeks post-partum.”

Let’s admit, most of us are dumbfounded by the women who return to their pre-pregnancy clothes just a few short weeks after delivering their baby. And we may roll our eyes at those that even dare to wear a bikini and look like nothing ever grew in their uterus for 40 weeks. The reality is, it’s not just about losing the weight or having a flatter looking abdomen, it’s also about making sure that your body has recovered and rehabilitated properly after having your baby.

bellySMF

Diastasis recti is the term for the thinning and widening of the tissue joining the right and left sides of the rectus abdominus muscle, which occurs during pregnancy to accommodate for the growing baby. This is a normal adaptation to pregnancy with some studies reporting occurrence in over 2/3 of women at the time of childbirth. However, other studies have shown that up to 36% of these women continue to have a diastasis recti many months post-partum (often is the cause of the ever loving “mommy tummy”!). And news flash, one can have a “flat stomach” and still have a pretty serious diastasis recti that could be affecting how their body is supported and how their core is functioning.

So what’s the big deal??? A diastasis recti can lead to many other problems down the road such as:

  • abdominal hernias-the intestines can start coming through the abdominal wall
  • pelvic organ prolapse- when the pelvic organs start dropping down through the vagina
  • low back pain or pelvic girdle pain
  • pelvic floor muscle dysfunction- urinary/bowel leakage, urinary urgency/frequency or even painful intercourse

Those are some pretty big problems that can be avoided with the proper care, education and attention. The truth is, many healthcare providers aren’t always checking for a diastasis recti at your postpartum visit. It seems like a no brainer from where I stand, but is often overlooked because this wasn’t covered in their training, has been thought an unremarkable finding, or there is just so much else going on at that appointment.

How do I know if I have a diastasis recti?

Checking yourself for this abdominal separation is easy!

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent. Place two fingers on top of your belly button.
  • Gently lift your head and shoulders up, like a mini-crunch and notice if you feel your fingers sink into your abdomen and feel for a separation of your muscles.
  • Repeat the same test 3-4 cm above the level of your belly button and 3-4 cm below the level of your belly button.

It is normal to have a two finger-width separation after having a baby, but anything more than that should be evaluated by a women’s health physical therapist. If you need help finding a PT near you, use the American Physical Therapy Association’s Women’s Health Section tool here or the Herman Wallace practitioner directory.

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Huge thanks to Victoria Yeisley, PT, DPT for contributing the above post and for your unwavering support for Share MayFlowers over the past four years!

Women's health PTs Lesli Lo, Taylor Shanfeld and Victoria Yeisley rocking their MayFlowers after presenting about diastasis recti at Prentice Women's Hospital in Chicago
Women’s health PTs Lesli Lo, Taylor Shanfeld and Victoria Yeisley rocking their MayFlowers after presenting about diastasis recti at Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago

 

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