Have you noticed changes to your abs during pregnancy or after having a baby? Let’s talk about why this is normal, how to check for diastasis recti, and what to do about it!
Here at Postpartum Recovery Timeline, we simplify postpartum recovery. Kristina and I (Alex) are doctors or physical therapy who have studied women’s health and we are real moms too! Today, let’s demystify how to check for diastasis recti at home.
*Disclaimer: We provide information on postpartum recovery not healthcare advice. We encourage you to discuss any content with your healthcare provider – we value their role in your recovery and this site is not a replacement for healthcare services like obstetricians, gynecologists, midwives, primary care providers, physical and occupational therapists, and mental health providers. See our Terms & Disclaimer and our Resources for more information.
What’s a diastasis recti?
Great question! ‘Diastasis’ refers to a separation and ‘recti’ or rather ‘rectus abdominis’ is referring to what most people know as their six pack. So, when asking how to check for diastasis recti or diastasis rectus abdominis (DRA), you are really just checking the distance between the two sides of your six pack.
Ok. So, there should be no space between my abs?
Actually, no. Some space is normal and that space can vary from person to person. Did you know that in some research studies, all pregnant mothers in the study experienced DRA at the end pregnancy (da Mota et al 2015)? No wonder so many moms are concerned about their abs postpartum. It can take up to 6 months for your ab spacing to return to a new normal after having a baby (da Mota et al 2015).
If you are having pain or difficulty doing activities, for screening purposes, a distance of more than 2 finger widths is considered a positive screen for diastasis recti.
So, when can I check for diastasis recti after having a baby?
TLDR; you can typically check anytime after 6 weeks postpartum, but if you are 6 months postpartum and experiencing pain or difficulty with activities, now would be a good time to screen for a DRA.
If you don’t have clearance from your provider to exercise or you are less than 6 weeks postpartum, you should have guidance from your OB provider when performing this screen, especially if you have had complications in your pregnancy or recovery, had a C-section, or you have a hernia. Your abs may continue to recover for at least 6 months after having a baby (da Mota et al 2015), so if you screen before this time, keep that in mind.
Ideally, you would check this pre-pregnancy and postpartum to get the most accurate picture of how YOUR body is doing, because a change in what is normal for YOU is more significant than whether you have more separation than the average human.
What is more helpful than knowing how to check for diastasis recti?
There are 2 other things that may be more important than just screening for a gap between your abs. Those are:
1. Are you able to generate tension in the space between your abdominals? Or does it feel soft?
2. What issues is this causing you? How are your abs working with the rest of your body during painful or difficult activities?
As mentioned above, the spacing between your abs isn’t as important as how YOU are doing, so if you can generate the tension you need to do the things you want to, this space may not be an issue.
So, how to check for diastasis recti:
Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Take your fingers and place them parallel to your abdominals in the space between your six pack muscles. You can focus on assessing at the area that you notice the widest distance.
Curl your head and shoulders off of the surface and gently use your fingers to assess distance between your 2 six pack muscles. This should not cause pain. A distance of more than 2 finger widths is considered a positive screen for diastasis recti. Also note if your fingers sink in or if there is tension below your fingers.
If you are wanting to assess this at a few locations, you could also check ½ way between your breast bone and your belly button and then halfway between your belly button and your pubic bone.
Does this space feel squishy?
What happens if you add an exhale as you curl up? Does that add any tension?
How to check for diastasis recti with other movements
Is there an activity that you are having trouble with? How are your abs working during that activity? Can you change the activity in a way that helps your core? Make it easier? Or add an exhale? Or maybe modify your posture?
What to do for diastasis recti?
We recommend seeing a women’s health PT. While we feel they can be helpful for all moms postpartum, they can be especially helpful if you have a diastasis, have difficulty generating tension with your abdominals, or are experiencing pain or difficulty doing your regular activities. They can help develop a specific program to help you address any issues you are having related to your abdominal recovery (or even other parts of your body like your pelvic floor).
General Core Exercises Postpartum
If you don’t have a diastasis recti and aren’t currently experiencing pain, here are a few core exercises to start with:
Once you have mastered the basics, start adding more movement with:
After a few weeks, when these are easier, start working your core with more everyday movement with:
For more guidance and tailored workouts, we have partnered with Expecting and Empowered to bring you a $20 discount on their annual workout membership or $5 off a monthly subscription with code PRT.
Check out our monthly guides to learn more about each phase of recovery and to see more exercise progressions.
Or have us send you your guide each month.
Don’t see your guide? Find guides for birth to 12 months postpartum here.
Mom holding baby – Arren Mills
da Mota, Patrícia Gonçalves Fernandes, 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, no. 1, 2015, pp. 200–205., doi:10.1016/j.math.2014.09.002.
*Note: We provide information on postpartum recovery not healthcare advice. We encourage you to discuss any content with your healthcare provider – we value their role in your recovery and this site is not a replacement for healthcare services like obstetricians, gynecologists, midwives, primary care providers, physical and occupational therapists, and mental health providers. See our Terms & Disclaimer and our Resources for more information.