Diastasis recti symptoms are departures from the normal way that you look, feel, or function. These symptoms let you know that something is different with your postpartum belly. They do NOT confirm for you that you have a diastasis. Instead, they indicate it might be worth investigating.
If you want to know for sure if you have one, a pelvic floor physical therapist is the professional best suited to answer this question. In the meantime, you can also do a quick test to check yourself at home. Or, you may be interested in learning more about what diastasis recti is.
What it looks like
Since diastasis recti is a condition that affects the abdominal muscles, it’s pretty clear that you’ll see it in your belly. On the other hand, it rarely affects the abs alone. In fact, it can affect and be affected by parts of the body from head to toe. This is why recovery from a diastasis can get complicated.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take a look at the abdomen.
Diastasis recti symptoms in the abdomen
Because the causes behind a diastasis can vary from woman to woman, what a diastasis looks like will also vary. For some, a coning or doming of the belly might be visible when exerting effort. For others, the abdomen may resemble a bread loaf-like shape when sitting up from a reclined position. For still others, there’s a visible gap, or dent, at midline, usually around the belly button. And for lots of women, the appearance of the belly varies depending on the activity she’s doing.
Then, there’s the mother, who still looks several months pregnant when her baby is a year or more. Or maybe, she still stands with that pregnant posture, where her belly pushes forward and the curve in her back increases. Although a diastasis doesn’t CAUSE this, the same thing is behind the protruding belly, the postural changes, and the diastasis. And this “thing,” the factor that does cause it, is a misfiring of her deepest core muscles. This misfiring leads to inadequate tension in then linea alba and thus, all of the above.
And finally, a diastasis recti can be a factor in belly buttons that were once “inies,” went out during pregnancy, and never returned to their former “inie” status. Over time, due to the thinning of the soft tissue at midline, a diastasis may also increase the risk of umbilical hernia (when the intestines or fatty tissue poke through that thinned tissue).
What it feels like
At this point, you have a pretty good handle on what diastasis recti might look like. Now, let’s consider what it feels like. Lots of cases of diastasis recti are accompanied by low back pain. The abdominal muscles help to stabilize and support the spine, so if they aren’t functioning well, the low back has to carry more load. When a woman’s posture includes an increased curve to the spine, the back muscles have to work harder yet again.
Women with diastasis recti may also have feelings of generalized weakness, decreased balance, or changes in the way they breathe. All of this is due to the role of the abdominal muscles in overall core function.
Some women, especially in the early postpartum days or after a c-section, may have the feeling like their intestines are going to fall forward out of their bellies. Their bellies can feel hollow, or their bodies may feel disconnected. Again, this occurs because of the lack of ab function available for holding organs in and for connecting the top and bottom or left and right sides of the body.
Lastly, diastasis recti can be associated with a variety of gastrointestional issues. Constipation, bloating, and excessive gas can prevent normal abdominal contractions and healing after pregnancy. Even without GI issues present, women may notice that their belly shape is better at the beginning of the day and worse at the end of the day. This is due to fatigue and lack of endurance in the deep abdominal muscles that are responsible for posture and belly shape.
Diastasis recti symptoms and the pelvic floor
No discussion of diastasis recti is complete without also discussing the role of the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor refers to the group of muscles that close the bottom of the pelvis. We typically associate these muscles with peeing, pooping, and sex, but they also have a huge impact on abdominal function and thus, on diastasis recti symptoms.
Pelvic floor symptoms can look like any of the following:
- incontinence with sneezing, laughing, coughing, lifting, running, or jumping
- pain OR lack of sensation with intercourse
- tampons fall out
- hip or back pain or asymmetry
Although you may have heard that healing a diastasis will solve pelvic floor issues, it’s actually the reverse that’s true. Correcting pelvic floor dysfunction is a crucial step in resolving a diastasis. Improved pelvic floor function helps with recruitment of the lower abs. It also improves the position the pelvis and hips, and these changes in posture can further facilitate abdominal function. On the other hand, attempting to strengthen the abs without an understanding of the pelvic floor can result in pelvic organ prolapse.
What to do if you have these symptoms
Recognizing the presence of a few, or even many, of these symptoms does not confirm the diagnosis of diastasis recti. In fact, a woman might have several symptoms but still not have a separation of her abdominals. The reason for this is simply that everyone’s body is different. What may be pelvic floor symptoms in isolation in one woman might be the missing puzzle piece for resolving a diastasis in the next woman.
Some bellies simply protrude after the process of growing humans. Rather than an issue with the soft tissue at the midline of the belly, the answer for these women may simply be that the muscles of the abdomen are deconditioned. Telling the difference and finding an answer requires advice tailored to each specific woman.
In the U.S., two options for locating a pelvic floor physical therapist are the American Physical Therapy Association’s Section on Women’s Health or pelvicrehab.com. A pelvic floor physical therapist can help you determine if a diastasis is present. Before you seek care, you may be interested in this simple self-test you can perform at home.