How To Prevent Diastasis Recti (In Pregnancy & Beyond)

Are you pregnant and want to know how to prevent diastasis recti?

You are in the right place.

In this post, you will learn:

  • What diastasis recti is exactly,
  • Proven ways to prevent abdominal separation during pregnancy, and
  • If it’s possible to prevent it after pregnancy.

Let’s get started.

how-to-prevent-diastasis-recti cover image

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.



How To Prevent Diastasis Recti During Pregnancy (According to Science)

The best strategy for preventing diastasis recti during pregnancy is through regular core strengthening exercises and proper weight management.

A systematic review of over 330 women in 2013 found that exercise in the prenatal and postnatal periods reduced the risk of developing diastasis recti by about 35%.

Of note, however, the studies weren’t of the highest quality.

With that said, exercise is a low-risk intervention that has numerous benefits for most pregnant women.

The American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists recommends that most pregnant women get approximately 150 minutes of exercise per week.

Just make sure to speak with your doctor first!

Can you tell if you have diastasis recti while pregnant?

It may be challenging to determine if you have diastasis recti in pregnancy due to your gravid uterus.

You might be able to check if you have abdominal muscle separation with the wall curl test if you are still in the early second trimester.

brittany pressing gently into her abdomen with her back against a wall and flexing her upper torso

Here’s how to do it.

  • Stand against the wall with your knees straight and feet flat on the floor.
  • Place your pointer and middle fingers above your belly button using your right or left hand.
  • Now, try to curl your head and upper back over your stomach.
  • If you are able to feel your fingers sinking into your abdomen and it feels squishy, you have diastasis recti or abdominal wall separation.

If you cannot palpate this area, feel free to check for diastasis recti at or below your belly button.

Many professionals agree that anything greater than 2 centimeters of separation (about two finger widths) is abnormal.

picture of two fingers: anything more than 2 cm of separation is considered abnormal

Now, let’s go over the exercises.

The Best Prenatal Exercises To Prevent Diastasis Recti

Diastasis recti exercises in the prenatal period should strengthen the three muscle groups that make up the core.

Those three muscle groups are the following:

  1. transverse abdominis muscles (TVA)
  2. obliques, and
  3. rectus abdominis

Of the three, the TVA is likely the most important.

Let’s go over how to train each muscle group individually.

How to strengthen your transverse abdominals in pregnancy

The TVA is a deep core muscle that wraps around your belly like a corset.

One of the easiest ways to strengthen your transverse abdominis muscles is to perform diaphragmatic breathing.

Diaphragmatic breathing

brittany doing diaphragmatic-breathing in pregnancy
  • To do this exercise correctly, focus on expanding your belly as much as you can on the inhale without raising your shoulders or shrugging.
  • Expand your belly outward and laterally.
  • Next, slowly exhale through your mouth and focus on contracting your ab muscles.
  • Repeat this process a total of 8-10 times.

Posterior pelvic tilt

brittany performing a standing-pelvic-tilt against the wall in pregnancy

Next is the posterior pelvic tilt.

The posterior pelvic tilt will strengthen the TVA and the pelvic floor muscles while improving your posture.

  • Stand 6 inches away from a wall with your upper back and buttock in contact with it.
  • There should be a natural arch in your lower back where it is not making contact with the wall.
  • Next, focus on tilting your pelvis posteriorly to flatten your low back against the wall.
  • Hold this contraction for 5 seconds and repeat for 8 repetitions.

Modified plank reps

modified-plank-reps in pregnancy

The following exercise is the modified plank rep.

  • Assume a push-up position with your hands underneath your shoulders.
  • Keep your core tight and your glute muscles engaged.
  • Bring one knee down to the floor and hold this position.
  • After a two count, return to the push-up position and repeat with the other leg.
  • Continue alternating between both legs until you do 10 repetitions on each side.

If you want to see additional core exercises you could do to strengthen the transverse abdominis, check out my post here.

Now to the next set of core muscles.

How to strengthen your obliques in pregnancy

The oblique is the next muscle group you should train to strengthen your core.

These muscles are located on the side of your rectus abdominis. They are responsible for allowing your spine to flex laterally (to the side) and to rotate.

During pregnancy, you can strengthen these muscles using the following exercises.

Modified side plank

brittany performing a modified-side-plank in pregnancy
  • To do this exercise, lie on your side and prop yourself up on your elbow and forearm.
  • Next, lift your hips and keep your bottom knee in contact with the ground with your top leg straight.
  • Keep your core tight and your glutes engaged.
  • Hold this position for 15-20 seconds.
  • Make sure to train both sides.

Standing side bend reach

brittany doing a side-to-side-reach

Next is the standing side bend reach. This movement serves as both a stretch and a way to strengthen the oblique muscles.

  • Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width, with your hands on your hips.
  • Next, bring one arm up above your head and reach over while bending sideways toward the opposite side.
  • Only go as far as it feels comfortable.
  • Repeat for 8-10 repetitions on each side.

Farmer carry

brittany doing a farmer-carry in pregnancy

The last exercise is the farmer’s carry. You will need some form of external resistance like a dumbbell or kettlebell.

  • Grab your weight with one hand and stand up tall.
  • Begin walking without letting your torso bend toward the side with the weight.
  • Take 10-20 steps forward while maintaining good posture, and then switch hands.
  • This exercise will strengthen the obliques isometrically (without actively flexing them).

For more information on training your obliques, check out my post on Pregnancy Love Handles [How to Strengthen your Obliques]

Now for the last core muscle group.

How to strengthen your rectus abdominis in pregnancy

The rectus abdominis is the last muscle group we will strengthen to prevent diastasis recti.

These six-pack muscles sit in the front of your abdomen, and here’s how to train them in pregnancy.

Seated lean backs

brittany performing a seated lean back in pregnancy

This exercise is a lot harder than it looks. Start slow and use your hands to help you if needed.

Don’t do it if you feel a lot of abdominal pressure when doing this exercise.

  • Sit on the edge of a chair with your hands crossed in front of you.
  • Next, slowly lean back while keeping a neutral spine.
  • Try to get your upper back to touch the backrest.
  • Slowly return to the starting position and repeat for 5-8 repetitions per set.

Bear to cow

bear-to-cow in pregnancy

The bear to cow is another great core exercise that will engage the rectus from a safe position.

  • Get onto your hands and knees and engage your core muscles.
  • Slowly transition onto your tippy-toes without changing your spinal alignment or moving your hands off the floor.
  • Return to the starting position, and repeat for 10 repetitions.

Here is a list of 21 other ab exercises you can do throughout your pregnancy.

Don’t forget to always check in with your healthcare provider before doing these exercises during pregnancy!

Alright, now let’s talk about prevention in the postpartum period.

How can I prevent Diastasis Recti Postpartum?

There isn’t any way to prevent diastasis recti after you deliver, as the abdominal separation happens during pregnancy.

With that said, the 2013 systematic review of pre-and postnatal diastasis found that core-based exercises may help decrease the separation after pregnancy.

The same result was also seen in a randomized controlled trial in 2019, which divided 40+ postpartum women into one of two abdominal exercise groups. After 8 weeks, both groups noted significant decreases in their abdominal separation!

How to tell if you have Diastasis Recti postpartum

You can determine if you have diastasis recti postpartum by doing the modified curl-up exercise.

Here is how it looks.

how-to-tell-if-you-have-diastasis-recti
  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  • Take your right or left hand and place your pointer and middle finger above your belly button.
  • Lift your head off the floor as if you were bringing your head to the ceiling.
  • If you feel your fingers sinking into a gap or a prominent bulge, you have abdominal separation.

Many experts agree that you have diastasis recti if you can fit two or more fingers into the gap.

Some consider ~5 cm to be severe diastasis.

I discuss the test in more detail in How To Tell If You Have Diastasis Recti.

Lastly, be sure you do not also have an umbilical hernia complicating your diastasis recti.

Diastasis Recti Exercises You Can Do Postpartum

If you are looking for safe diastasis recti exercises to perform in the postpartum period, I have great news for you.

Check out my post, 100 Safe Exercises for Diastasis Recti: The Complete List, containing 4 levels of 100 different exercises to help you rebuild core strength.

exercises-for-diastasis-recti-pdf

Each level has numerous exercises you can do in a seated, standing, and lying position, giving you plenty of options.

There is even a 6-week core workout program for you to do.

As always, make sure to receive clearance from your OBGYN, especially if you have experienced any postpartum complications that would prevent you from working out.

Exercises To Avoid If You Have Diastasis Recti After Pregnancy

If you have diastasis recti postpartum, you should avoid any exercise that places a lot of pressure on your rectus abdomins or causes significant coning of your abdomen.

These include:

  • Sit-ups and crunches
  • Certain planks
  • Twisting exercises
  • Heavy lifting

Additionally, one study found that women who reported heavy lifting (20 times per week or more) postpartum were at greater risk of having diastasis recti 12 months after delivery.

That’s not to say that you will never be able to do these exercises.

Instead, it’s important that you start rebuilding your core using gradual progressions as you work your way up to these types of exercises.

Other Related Questions

Does every woman get diastasis recti?

A study of 300 women found that at least 60% of pregnant women will develop diastasis recti.

A smaller study of 84 women found that all 84 of them had abdominal muscle separation by late pregnancy (third trimester).

Who is prone to Diastasis Recti?

You are more likely to develop diastasis recti if you are overweight, gain excessive weight during pregnancy, or carrying multiples (twins, triplets, etc).

Being overweight places a lot of pressure on the linea alba (the connective tissue of the rectus muscle), which increases the likelihood of the muscles stretching and becoming weak.

A weakened core coupled with a large gravid uterus is the perfect recipe for abdominal separation.

Are there exercises to prevent diastasis recti before pregnancy?

The best exercises to prevent diastasis recti before pregnancy are the same movements used to treat it.

These include:

  • Diaphragmatic breathing
  • Posterior pelvic tilts
  • Side planks
  • Modified planks
  • Cat cows
  • Bird dogs

Does walking help Diastasis Recti?

Walking by itself probably won’t heal diastasis recti; however, it is one of the best exercises you can do during pregnancy and postpartum.

walking is one of the best exercises you could perform in pregnancy

Walking will help increase your circulation, strengthen your legs, and activate your core.

Remember, you need to maintain your core active just to keep your spine erect!

Is a Diastasis Recti support belt during pregnancy helpful?

A support belt during pregnancy might be helpful for diastasis recti, but there is no concrete data on its effectiveness.

Support belts are meant to be tight to bring your muscles closer together, so in theory, they might be able to help.

However, a belt or a waist trainer should not take the place of a proper core strengthening regimen.

In addition, some women might find support belts to be very bothersome.

Experiment for yourself and see if a support belt is comfortable for you.

How do I get rid of Diastasis Recti naturally?

Diastasis recti has the potential to heal on its own.

In fact, one study found that 50% of women had complete spontaneous resolution of diastasis recti by 24 weeks postpartum.

However, if the diastasis does not heal on its own, you can try a core strengthening exercise program.

Check out this safe Diastasis Recti Exercise Program for New Moms that you could do at home!

Final Words On Preventing Your belly from separating during pregnancy

Diastasis recti is a common condition that will happen to the majority of women during pregnancy.

But, you can do your part in trying to strengthen the deep core muscles to prevent it from happening.

Now I want to turn it over to you.

Did you try to do any specific exercises to prevent the separation of the abdominal muscles?

Did it help?

Comment below and let me know.

Related Posts on Diastasis Recti


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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. Benjamin, D R et al. “Effects of exercise on diastasis of the rectus abdominis muscle in the antenatal and postnatal periods: a systematic review.” Physiotherapy vol. 100,1 (2014): 1-8. doi:10.1016/j.physio.2013.08.005
  2. ACOG Committee Opinion #804 – April 2020 Physical Activity and Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period
  3. Thabet AA, Alshehri MA. Efficacy of deep core stability exercise program in postpartum women with diastasis recti abdominis: a randomised controlled trial. J Musculoskelet Neuronal Interact. 2019;19(1):62-68.
  4. 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;50(17):1092-1096. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-096065
  5. Fernandes da Mota, Patrícia Gonçalves et al. “Prevalence and risk factors of diastasis recti abdominis from late pregnancy to 6 months postpartum, and relationship with lumbo-pelvic pain.” Manual therapy vol. 20,1 (2015): 200-5. doi:10.1016/j.math.2014.09.002