Diastasis recti symptoms are departures from the normal way that you feel, look, 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 let you know that it might be worth investigating.
If you want to know for sure if you have a diastasis, 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 understanding exactly what a diastasis recti is.
What does it look like?
Although diastasis recti affects the appearance and function of the abdominal muscles, it’s rarely an issue with these muscles alone. In fact, it affects and can be affected by parts of the body from head to toe. This is why recovery from a diastasis can be complicated.
First, let’s take a look at your 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, depending on the woman. Nonetheless, a diastasis recti is typically visible in the abdomen in some way.
A coning or doming of the belly might be visible when exerting effort, or the abdomen may resemble a bread loaf-like shape when sitting up from a reclined position. For still other women, there is a visible gap, or dent, at midline, usually around the belly button.
When the baby is a year or more and the mother still looks several months pregnant, a diastasis can be behind this. Or it may be a factor if this same mother’s posture still resembles a pregnant woman. Specifically, she may stand with her belly pushed forward and more of a curve in her back.
Lastly, 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, a diastasis recti can increase the risk of umbilical hernia (when the intestines or fatty tissue poke through a weakness in the abdominal wall).
What does it feel like?
Some diastasis recti symptoms are not about how the abdomen looks but about how the woman feels. 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 strength, stability, and even, breathing.
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. This is again due to the lack of abdominal function for holding organs in and for connecting the top and bottom and right and left 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 is an umbrella term for the group of muscles that closes 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
Because of their close proximity, improving pelvic floor function and strength can have a significant impact on the function and strength of the lower abdominal muscles. In other words, improving control of one part of the body also improves the control of the other. Furthermore, pelvic floor function affects the positioning of the pelvis and hips, which can affect the ability to contract the abdominals as well as to reduce a diastasis recti.
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.