Coning During Pregnancy: What It Is & What You Can Do About It

Have you noticed your pregnancy bump has started to look like a cone?

Are you wondering why it’s happening?

Well, coning during pregnancy is quite common and could be a sign that your abdominal muscles are separating.

After reading this post, you’ll learn:

  • What coning is,
  • Why some women develop a cone-shaped abdomen, and
  • What you could do to fix it.

Let’s jump right in.

coning-during-pregnancy

Disclaimer

***READ FIRST***

Although I am a doctor, I am not your doctor. This information is for informational purposes only and should not substitute the advice from your healthcare professional. All kinds of exercise and dietary changes are potentially dangerous, and those who do not seek counsel from the appropriate health care authority assume the liability of any injury which may occur. Please read my full Disclaimer for more information. Also, this post may contain affiliate links: meaning I may receive a commission if you use them.

Ok, moving on.

Why does my pregnant belly look like a cone?

Coning during pregnancy occurs when tissue bulges out along the midline of your belly. It is usually seen during any activity that increases intra-abdominal pressure.

The increased pressure pushes on your abdominal wall which then causes your abdominal organs to protrude outward in the shape of a cone.

Oftentimes, this is a sign of ab muscle separation as well as decreased trunk / core strength.

Unfortunately, it is very common to lose strength in your mid-section during pregnancy. This is especially true if you don’t train your core regularly.

As your uterus expands during the second and third trimester, it causes all the tissues around it to stretch.

This is most prominent in your abdominal muscles and in the fascia.

Those muscles include:

  • Transverse abdominis
  • Rectus abdominis, and
  • Obliques
abdominal-exercises-in-pregnancy

Normally, your abdominal muscles and fascia keep all your intrabdominal organs in place.

When these muscles are stretched and weakened, abdominal tissue underneath can herniate through. This can cause an outpouching and/or an umbilical hernia.

Is coning in pregnancy normal?

Coning in pregnancy is very common and usually due to improper management of your intrabdominal pressure.

If your abdomen assumes the shape of a cone when doing certain activities, you should avoid that specific activity.

Instead, you should focus on learning how to activate your deep core muscles.

More on that later.

Is coning bad during pregnancy?

Activities that increase coning place a great deal of stress on the linea alba, the connective tissue that sits between your rectus abdominis muscle.

As your uterus continues to grow, improper management of your intra-abdominal pressure can further weaken this area. This is one of the reasons why you develop diastasis recti (aka abdominal separation).

Long term risks include:

How do you fix coning when pregnant?

The most important thing you should avoid during your pregnancy are exercises that cause obvious bulging.

Bulging can aggravate and stress the tissues that lead to coning.

Common examples include full push-ups and plank variations.

Instead, you need to perform exercises that activate and strengthen your deep core muscles.

Those muscles include your:

One of the easiest and most effective exercises you could do to learn how to train your core during pregnancy is deep diaphragmatic breathing.

Here is what the exercise looks like from a quadruped position:

quadruped-diaphragmatic-breathing

And here’s how it looks from a seated position:

diaphragmatic-breathing

When you are performing the deep breathing ab exercise, it is important to keep your shoulders relaxed when inhaling.

Your belly should be the only area that moves.

This allows maximum expansion of the lungs and maximum contraction of the diaphragm.

The exhalation is also very important.

Be sure to focus on squeezing and engaging your abs and pelvic floor on the exhalation.

Once you learn this basic movement pattern, you can then use it with a few other key ab exercises to train the transverse abdominis.

Check out my post on 18 safe transverse ab exercises to learn more.

Do abs always separate during pregnancy?

The majority of pregnant women will experience abdominal muscle separation.

One study found that 100% of 84 women had ab muscle separation. Another study saw a 60% prevalence at 6 weeks postpartum in 300 women.

This makes sense.

Your rectus abdominis and linea alba sit right on top of the uterus.

As your uterus grows to support your growing baby, these muscles stretch.

In addition to the muscles stretching to accommodate your uterus, the linea alba must also stretch.

This leads to abdominal muscle separation and the formation of diastasis recti.

What does Diastasis Recti look like while pregnant?

If you have diastasis recti during pregnancy, your abdomen may look like a cone when doing exercises that activate your core heavily.

For example, when you get up from a lying or seated position, you may notice a cone shape in your abdomen.

mommy-pooch-diastasis-recti

How do you tell if you’re getting Diastasis Recti while pregnant?

If you have a very gravid uterus it may be difficult to tell if you are getting diastasis recti.

If you aren’t yet in the late second trimester, there is a simple test you could do at home to determine if you are developing, or already have developed diastasis recti.

It’s called the wall curl test and it looks like this:

how-to-tell-if-you-have-diastasis-recti-in-pregnancy

To do this exercise:

  • Stand along the wall with your knees straight and feet flat on the floor.
  • Next perform a pelvic tilt to flatten you lower back against the wall.
  • Use your right hand to place your pointer and middle fingers above your belly button.
  • If your abdominal muscles have separated, you will feel squishy contents and will be able to stick your fingers inside.
  • Generally speaking, most experts agree that if you could fit at least 2 fingers between your rectus abdominis you have diastasis recti.

How can I prevent Diastasis during pregnancy?

The best way to prevent diastasis recti during pregnancy is to strengthen the core muscles before becoming pregnant. In addition, you should continue to train them during pregnancy as well.

A systematic review published in 2013 on over 330 women found that exercise in the antenatal period reduced the risk of developing diastasis recti by about 35%!

Now it is important that you get clearance from your doctor before doing any type of exercise- especially during pregnancy.

Also, make sure that you avoid any exercise where you are flat on your back or stomach (particularly in the 2nd and 3rd trimester.)

I have an entire post on preventing diastasis recti here.

Final Words On Coning & Diastasis Recti During Pregnancy

Diastasis recti and coning is very common in pregnancy and happens to many women.

Fortunately, there are exercises you can do throughout your pregnancy to strengthen your core and minimize any negative consequences of coning.

As always, just make sure you receive clearance from your doctor before working out.

Now I want to hear from you.

Did your belly take on the shape of a cone during your pregnancy?

What did you do?

Comment below and let me know.

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brittany-robles

Brittany N Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Brittany Robles is a full-time OBGYN, a NASM certified personal trainer, and health & fitness, expert. She holds a Masters of Public Health degree in maternal health with a special interest in exercise and nutrition. She is also the co-author of The White Coat Trainer. Learn more about her here.



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References:

  1. Fernandes da Mota PG, Pascoal AG, Carita AI, Bø K. Prevalence and risk factors of diastasis recti abdominis from late pregnancy to 6 months postpartum, and relationship with lumbo-pelvic pain. Man Ther. 2015 Feb;20(1):200-5. doi: 10.1016/j.math.2014.09.002. Epub 2014 Sep 19. PMID: 25282439.
  2. Sperstad JB, Tennfjord MK, Hilde G, Ellström-Engh M, Bø K. Diastasis recti abdominis during pregnancy and 12 months after childbirth: prevalence, risk factors and report of lumbopelvic pain. Br J Sports Med. 2016 Sep;50(17):1092-6. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2016-096065. Epub 2016 Jun 20. PMID: 27324871; PMCID: PMC5013086.
  3. Benjamin DR, van de Water AT, Peiris CL. Effects of exercise on diastasis of the rectus abdominis muscle in the antenatal and postnatal periods: a systematic review. Physiotherapy. 2014 Mar;100(1):1-8. doi: 10.1016/j.physio.2013.08.005. Epub 2013 Oct 5. PMID: 24268942.

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