Pregnancy and childbirth bring about multiple physical changes, including a widening gap between the right and left halves of your rectus abdominis muscle, to make room for your growing baby. This gap, called diastasis rectus abdominis (DRA), is normal and necessary for healthy fetal growth and development, and it usually closes up within several weeks after childbirth.
After childbirth, many new mothers are not prepared for the bodily changes that remain during the postpartum recovery phase. While a few lucky moms are able to slide into their skinny jeans within days after giving birth, most of us have soft fluffy bellies and a few extra lumps that were not there before we got pregnant.
In most cases, your abdomen will shrink back to its “normal” pre-pregnancy state within three to six months after birth. But in some cases, the linea alba, the connective tissue that stretches to create the diastasis gap, does not resume its former integrity, and it may even split apart, creating an undesirable bulge in the abdomen.
When extra belly bulge remains for weeks or months postpartum, you may become concerned that your diastasis recti will never go away, and that your body will never return to normal.
To help women recover from DRA, and to arrive at a consensus about how much of a gap warrants surgery, practitioners have attempted to define “normal” diastasis in terms of gap width. However, what is normal for one woman is abnormal for another; measurements of the gap only have value when compared to each woman’s pre-pregnancy gap width, which is rarely measured.
In an effort to shed some light on the subject, a team of researchers (Beer et al., 2009) measured the linea alba widths of 150 women, aged 20-45, who had never given birth. Measurements were taken at three reference points: 3 cm above the umbilicus, 2 cm below the umbilicus and at the origin of the rectus abdominis at the xiphoid process.
Not only were the measurements different at all three reference points, but they varied greatly among the study participants. The research team concluded that the normal width of the linea alba in normal weight women before pregnancy is up to 15 mm at the xiphoid, up to 22 mm above the umbilicus, and up to16 mm below the umbilicus.
While there are cases where surgery is a viable solution for resolving a postpartum disastasis, conservative physical therapy treatment is often enough to tighten up your tummy. Moreover, surgery as a cosmetic solution does not address the more important issues of core instability and pelvic floor dysfunction associated with diastasis recti.
The women’s health specialists at NYC NYDNR are ready to help you achieve and maintain your very best physical condition, before, during and after pregnancy. Being proactive before you become pregnant can help you have an easier pregnancy, with fewer complications during childbirth. It can also reduce your risk of unresolved diastasis recti and other health issues after your baby is born.