Not sure how to check for diastasis recti yourself? Concerned about ab separation? Not to worry, learning how to test for diastasis recti at home can be done in a few simple steps!
Diastasis recti is most common during and post-pregnancy as the tummy muscles (rectus abdominis muscles) expand to make room for the growing babe.
However, diastasis recti can technically happen any time there is a big growth or stretch.
Learning how to perform a diastasis recti test is the first step in learning how to heal diastasis recti which more often than not can be done with exercise!
As a mom of three and a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, I know how scary it feels to look down at your abdominal wall and see a bulge or gap.
Or even to try and perform a basic movement like picking up your toddler only to realize that your body isn’t supporting you.
And while it can feel disheartening, know that just about all pregnant and postpartum women (regardless of how they birth) experience some form of diastasis recti.
And the good news is that once you know you’re starting point, you can work towards a plan of how to treat diastasis recti (and you can understand why there are exercises to avoid with diastasis recti).
What Is Diastasis Recti?
In short, diastasis recti is when the six-pack muscles (the rectus abdominus aka deep core muscles), specifically the connective tissue, separate during pregnancy from being stretched.
This diastasis recti abdominis separation can cause poor ab engagement as well as the abdominal wall to almost “stick out” post-pregnancy. This is where the “pouch” term comes from. However, there are more reasons you have a mom pouch than just diastasis.
This is where diastasis recti occurs the most but make note that any extreme weight change can cause the connective tissue around the rectus abdominis to stretch.
However, it’s worth noting that there are different degrees of diastasis recti.
And believe it or not, the width of your abdominal gap is actually not the most important part of diastasis recti in regards to its severity.
Symptoms Of Diastasis Recti
Though I’m going to teach you how to physically check for diastasis recti, below are some common symptoms of diastasis that many moms experience.
- Low back pain
- Belly pouch
- Poor posture
Poor abdominal function can also result in issues with your pelvic floor (think leaking).
For more information on your pelvic floor and your pelvic floor muscles, check out these tips from a pelvic floor physical therapist.
If you’re experiencing any of the above, it’s probably best to test for diastasis rectus abdominis.
Notes On Self Testing
In order to get the best idea of your diastasis recti, you’re going to both test at rest and test during engagement during the postpartum period.
Likewise, there are also three areas in which to test diastasis recti: above the belly button, below the belly button, and at the belly button.
Diastasis isn’t just about the size of the gap, but how well you can activate the deep abdominal muscles.
Truth be told, you can still have a large gap but be fully able to engage the muscles necessary for sports, performance, and daily life.
Once this is the case, you no longer need to worry about the abdominal separation.
How To Test For Diastasis Recti
Start by testing in the resting position.
- Lay on your back on the ground with your knees bent and feet flat.
- Lay one arm beside your body and have the other hand walk the fingers down the middle of your tummy until about two inches below the belly button.
- Press in the belly and simply notice how it feels. Does it feel springy? Squishy? Does it feel like you hit a wall once your press 1-2 inches in?
- Repeat this procedure at the belly button itself as well as two inches above it.
Next, test for diastasis recti by trying to engage the necessary muscles:
- Lay on your back on the ground with the knees bent and feet flat.
- Place on hand under your head and have the other hand walk the fingers down the middle of your tummy until about two inches below the belly button.
- Take a big inhale and slowly lift your head about one inch off the ground and exhale slowly.
- As you exhale, press your fingers into the midline tummy muscles.
- When you run out of breath, lower your head and repeat the above step. You want to do this at each checkpoint (below the belly button, at the belly button, and above the belly button).
- At each checkpoint, make note of what you feel: are your fingers going as needed as they did at rest? Is there more tension? Tightness? Does it feel the exact same?
What Your Findings Mean
After you make notes on your test, consider some of the following:
- If your tummy muscles felt the same as when you rested versus lifted your head, chances are you have some diastasis recti and struggle to engage the muscles.
- If you felt some tension on the engagement test, that’s great! But if you’re still experiencing symptoms then there’s still work to do.
- Maybe you only felt a difference at one checkpoint and not the others, that’s ok!
The truth is, it’s not just about how big the gap is (or how deep). What you’re looking for is how well you can engage the muscles in those areas.
Technically speaking, diastasis recti is when there is a gap of approximately 2 finger widths or greater.
What To Do If You Have Diastasis Recti?
Don’t panic! Again diastasis recti abdominis is very common and very treatable.
What you want to do is focus on first reconnecting your breath with your body. Then look at learning how to pelvic tilt, opening up the upper body as well as teaching your body to engage the deep abdominal muscles.
Here are some great resources to get you started:
- Crucial postpartum exercises
- 10-minute diastasis recti workout
- How to heal diastasis recti (even years later)
- 5 exercises to heal your mummy tummy
All exercises to rehab diastasis should be initially done on the floor, are low-impact and take much more focus than movement.
If you're feeling overwhelmed, heading to a pelvic floor physical therapist is the way to go.
Sick Of Feeling Self Consciousness About Your Stomach?
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Frequently Asked Questions About Checking For Diastasis Recti
It’s best to wait until at least six weeks postpartum before checking for diastasis. This is because during those six weeks a lot is still happening body-wise. Your uterus is still enlarged, you’re healing, etc. Give your body time to just be during the first few weeks before checking. After that, you can check any time during the postpartum period.
If you’re working on healing your diastasis recti? You can check your engagement every other week or so. There’s no “schedule”. For some people, learning the activation and healing diastasis recti takes longer than it does for others. Keep yourself on track by checking semi-monthly and make sure to make good notes about your tests.
You can still check for diastasis if you have a lot of belly fat. Just follow the steps listed to self-test and make sure you’re pushing deep enough to get to the muscles themselves.