Monday, 2 May 2011

What you may not know, or think is that important, after having a baby

Now I say after having a baby, because what I am going to talk to you about happens to us all regardless of how I babies are born.

Muscle separation. Also known as Diastasis Recti.

What are Separated Muscles?

During pregnancy, many women experience a separation of their stomach muscles. Known as diastasis recti, this condition occurs when the main abdominal muscles (called the rectus abdominus) begin to pull apart. The left and right sides of this muscle separate, leaving a gap in between. Separated muscles do not tear or rupture, so little pain is involved, at least initially. Instead, the muscles thin out, creating a space in the abdomen. This gap can get worse over time and may result in future health complications.
The important muscles are the Transverse Abdominus. These are the innermost/bottom layer of your abs and they run across your abdomen.

What Causes Separated Muscles?

The rectus abdominus is kept in line by your transverse abs (the girdle like muscles that help keep your stomach flat) and your oblique abs (the muscles around your sides). During pregnancy, your abdominal muscles are tend to separate due to the growth of your baby in your uterus. This growth exerts pressure on the rectus abdominus muscles, causing them to split. Women who experience rapid growth of their stomachs during pregnancy are more likely to suffer from separated abdominal muscles. Women with particularly weak abdominal muscles may also end up with a split between the left and right side of the rectus abdominus.

How Common are Separated Muscles?

Separated muscles are actually fairly common during pregnancy. About one-third of all pregnant women experience separated muscles at some point throughout their pregnancy. Separation of the stomach muscles is more likely to occur during the second trimester or third trimester of pregnancy. However, separation also frequently occurs during labor and delivery.

Symptoms of Separated Muscles

Separation of the abdominal muscles is typically painless but there are a few symptoms that will help you to identify the condition. These include:

•a gap or space just below your navel
•a bump or ridge running from your breastbone down to your navel

Complications Associated with Separated Muscles

If you are suffering from separated muscles during pregnancy or in the postpartum period, it is important to take steps to encourage your muscles to reattach. It is unlikely that these muscles will reattach on their own and they may actually continue to separate after you have given birth. If left untreated, separated muscles can cause health complications, including:

•Chronic lower back pain (due to the fact that the abdominal muscles help to support your back and spinal column)
•Altered posture due to weak abdominal muscles (which in turn weakens your back muscles, leading to back pain)

Checking for Separated Muscles

It is very easy to determine whether you have separated abdominal muscles.

•Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
•Slowly raise your head and shoulders off the ground. This should cause your abdominal muscles to tighten.
•Place your index and middle fingers just below your belly button.
•Press into your abdomen with your fingers. You should feel a soft gap between two hard muscles.
•Measure the space of the gap using your fingers. If the gap is greater than two finger widths, you may be suffering from separated muscles.
Repeat but put your fingers just above your belly button.

Treating Separated Muscles

There are some easy ways to help treat separated muscles after you have given birth. Simple abdominal exercises can help to bring the left and right sides of your rectus abdominus back together. These abdominal exercises are designed to help target weak muscles and won’t cause extra stress to your stomach or back.

A lot of women make the mistake of thinking after having a baby, and when they feel ready that sit ups or crunches will be good. This is incorrect, and can actually make the separation more pronounced and make healing and bringing the muscles back together take longer. They can cause the transverse muscles to stay separated and not come together.

The exercises I have found the most gentle for when you are starting out is at

I am posting this today as a sort of follow up from my last post about being fitter and healthy after pregnancy and birth. As I mentioned the first 5 times I found it fairly easy. The 6th time I did not take as good care of myself as I should.

I wanted to bring to your attention about muscle separation because many women do not know about it, and some of those who do are given the wrong advice about what to do about them.

After my last baby I noticed my separation was bigger than after the other births. I also have poor posture and a lot of lower back pain. The lower back was a combination of carrying such large babies, movement in my pelvis, pregnancy and poor core strength.

Slowly I have worked on all of these and core strength has been very important, especially as I love to carry my babies on my back. I am pleased to be getting there.

So there you have it, some friendly info about stomach muscles, core strength and how to take care of yours.


alecat said...

Very interesting. I wonder if that's associated with naval hernias .. ? Both my mother (9 pregancies) and aunt (5 pregnancies) suffered from.
Also, possibly related, it used to be advised that women wear a kind of girdle, or just a narrow piece of fabric wrapped around the abdomen and fasted with pins, to help give support as the muscles contract back into shape (along with breastfeeding). I know .. old fashioned advice nowadays, but there may have been some sense in it???????

Clare said...

Alecat, yes you can have a naval hernia or umbilical hernia after carrying a baby due to the muscle seperation. This can be quite paainful and uncomfortable I am told by those who have suffered and had operations to fix them.

I was told by my mum and grandmother about having something around the tummy for supprt after having a baby. I have also heard it being advised nowadays too. I know I found it helps to have something, soft material, to snug my middle for a month or so after having a baby.