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Abdominal separation: is that a problem?

It’s common to hear pregnant women and new mums are concerned about “the gap” in their tummies. The truth is “the gap”, medically known as diastasis, will occur in 100% of women in 3rd trimester (also 100% of men with a beer belly!).

The rectus muscle, visible as the “six pack”, is two muscles that sit together like a train track held together by the linea alba (thin connective tissue). Pregnancy and excessive or weight gain causes this muscle, which used to sit neatly together, to separate. In this instance the linea alba gets stretched thinly between the muscles but does not tear apart, a tear would mean you had a hernia and there is a big difference.

I’m always happy to reassure concerned clients. My aim as a physiotherapist, working on a daily basis with both pregnant and postnatal patients, is to get them back exercising their abdominals with a program that is appropriately graded. Never has there been a patient whose abdominal contents falls out through their diastasis. It is important for new mothers to know this when getting back into exercise. Most women will do really well reducing their diastasis with structured loaded exercises.

Only a very small percentage of women will go on to need surgery to bring the muscles closer together again. On average a female who isn’t pregnant and hasn’t had a baby on average will have a 13mm “gap” between the rectus abdominus. The diastasis increases during pregnancy and then decreases spontaneously in the first 6-8 weeks postnatally. At this point a physiotherapist can measure your diastasis.

Ideally it will have reduced back to about one finger width gap by this point. However, many women will have a mild 2-3 finger gap and some a more significant gap of 3 + finger widths. Regardless of the diastasis measurement it’s important to get the all clear for postnatal exercise from the GP/OBGYN before commencing.

Please see our instagram and follow @ericstphysio for a basic series of abdominal exercises to do postnatally by our own women's health physio.

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