Understanding diastasis

Being a new mom is demanding enough. But then there’s the added pressure of having to lose the weight gained during pregnancy. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem to matter how hard women work. The bulge doesn’t seem to budge. It almost looks like they’re still pregnant.

Most assume they’re just not working hard enough. But the cause may actually be something else—a condition called diastasis.

What is diastasis?

Diastasis (technically diastasis recti) is a separation of the left and right sides of the abdominal wall that often occurs during pregnancy. It can cause the abdomen to protrude—hence the name “mummy tummy.”

What causes diastasis?

Hormones released during pregnancy loosen ligaments and other connective tissue to help the body accommodate the growing fetus. The linea alba is part of this network of connective tissue. It runs up the midline of the abdomen. During pregnancy it can become overstretched, separating the abdominal muscles in half.

What does diastasis look like?

Typically diastasis looks like a bulging tummy. This happens because when the two sides separate the internal organs are exposed. Any pressure from food or gas pushed the organs through the gap.

The diastasis can extend from the sternum to the public bone, and from the superficial rectus abdominis muscle (also known as the 6 pack) to the deepest core muscles, the transversus abdominis.

Why is diastasis a problem?

Many women don’t even know they have a diastasis. Of those who do know, many are more concerned with how their tummy looks than anything else.

But take note! That separation in front means less support for the organs and spine. In particular, lack of abdominal support adds strain to the lower back. That’s why pregnant women often experience back problems. Digestive and other issues can also develop.

Who is at risk of developing diastasis?

The statistics vary but as many as 1 in 3 pregnant women develop a diastasis of some size. The chances of developing a diastasis increase in the later stages of pregnancy and in subsequent pregnancies. It’s less common but diastasis can also develop in men and women who have large amounts of abdominal fat.

How do you test for diastasis?

Typically fingers are used to measure the size of the diastasis gap. Clients can test themselves, you can test them or they can have a diastasis practitioner do it.

To check for diastasis, tell clients to follow these steps:

1 Lie supine with feet flat and knees bent,

2 Place fingers along the midline of the abdomen near the navel.

3 Keep the fingers there and curl forward.

4 Repeat the same steps above the navel and then below.

If there is a gap as the client curls forward, that’s a diastasis. A diastasis can vary from 1 to 2 fingers wide, all the way to 4 or 5 fingers wide. Typically the separation is largest at the navel.

Regardless of the result, rest assured that diastasis is fixable!

How do you close the diastasis gap?

Closing the gap involves re-joining the connective tissue and muscles in the abdomen. The work is similar to strengthening the deep core muscles in neutral.

There are practitioners who specialize in helping people close their diastasis and rebuild spinal support. Check out the Tupler Technique on sites like belliesinc.com, diastasisrehab.com and mutusystem.com.

Can Pilates help?

As Pilates instructors, we are in an excellent position to help clients with a diastasis rebuild abdominal support. What we do is a perfect complement to diastasis training, especially strengthening the transversus abdominis, pelvic floor and other deep spine stabilizers.

When Body Harmonics post natal specialists work with clients with a diastasis they focus on fundamental core training. The key is to start small and avoid flexion, especially in the beginning.

What to avoid with a diastasis

Many women turn to crunches and sit-ups after their pregnancy, thinking that these exercises will help flatten their tummies. Diastasis experts agree that this type of exercise actually makes matters worse.

It’s best to avoid ab curls, twisting, and bending forward. Clients with a diastasis should also stay away from running and exercises like plank that put increasing pressure on the abdominal wall and pelvic floor.

Question for you

What exercises have you used with clients who have a diastasis? Please share your experience so we all have more strategies to help!


Jane Aronovitch

Jane Aronovitch

Jane Aronovitch is a Pilates & Movement teacher. She is also a writer and author. Her book, Get on it: BOSU Balance Trainer, is available at Body Harmonics, Amazon and Chapters Indigo.

“I love making ideas clear so teachers can directly apply what they learn in concrete and practical ways – and people can make connections, feel better, move with ease, and have fun.”