Are you missing your pre-pregnancy tummy? If you’ve not ‘snapped back’ quite as you’d have liked, then a problem with your abdominal muscles called diastasis recti may be the culprit.

Quick notes:

  • Don’t resign yourself to ‘mommy tummy’ if diastasis recti is to blame

  • This lesser-known condition is caused by tissues over-stretching and not snapping back, creating a ‘pooch’

  • It’s more common if you’re petite, carrying multiples, are older, or have less muscle tone

  • It can be corrected or improved by simple lifestyle tweaks, or exercises during and post-pregnancy

So you’ve achieved the incredible. You’ve formed and carried an actual mini human for nine months, birthed your precious offspring, and are now nurturing your beautiful little creation. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t nurture yourself a little, including maintaining your body confidence. Many mothers miss their pre-pregnancy figure, and while a lot of women believe that pooch or swollen stomach is the new normal, that might not be the case.

Diastasis recti is a lesser-known name for the rather common condition that causes a protruding tummy and lack of muscle definition. When you see a toned midriff, you can probably spot the six-pack muscles connected either side by the longer rectus abdominals. Essentially they’re like two elastic bands that fill the gap where a pregnant bump would sit. After stretching to make room for baby (thanks to a handy hormone called relaxin!), they usually tighten back up.

What if relaxin stays relaxed?

It takes around six weeks after labor, or six weeks after breastfeeding ends, for your hormones to return to normal. This means your stomach stays stretchy – hey, we all remember Meghan Markle’s little pooch in her beautiful white dress after Archie was born. So don’t go crazy on crunches – your body is still healing, and excessive exercise could cause your abdominals muscles further damage or separation.

However, don’t shy away from asking your physician to check for diastasis recti after six weeks. To do a mini test yourself, lay on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Do a gentle, mini sit-up and press your fingers into your stomach just above your belly button. If the gap between those two long abdominals is wider than two fingers, you may have diastasis.

You and your baby’s health are the biggest priority, but that said, if you want to feel – and look better – it’s completely understandable. Once you’ve got the go-ahead from your physician, add in plenty of walking to your post-pregnancy routine, as well as post-partum pilates or yoga. If you’re planning to get pregnant, it’s good to do core exercises such as crunches and planks before you conceive and through your first trimester. But, don’t do this past your first trimester, or before you’ve been tested for diastasis after you give birth.

Can I get more help if exercise isn’t working?

If you have been exercising, and in particular consulted a specialist post-partum trainer once you have been diagnosed with diastasis recti, and you still do not see improvement, then your physician may refer you for surgery.

As with any surgical procedure, you should think carefully before going this route. Although it is a simple procedure, unless your diastasis is particularly severe, causing excess skin or deformity, then you might simply need to give it extra time before going under the knife. You also need to be entirely sure you won’t become pregnant again, as this could cause further damage to the muscles.

Stay fit and well without overdoing it and your body will thank you

Thankfully, diastasis recti is well known to correct itself. And for women who have a big brood – whereby diastasis becomes more common – a perfect bod is often right at the back of the mind. After the impressive feat your body has been through, ensure you enjoy those precious first few weeks and months, rather than rushing to get back to your pre-baby waistline. Overall, stay fit and well without overdoing it, and your body will be sure to thank you.

A deeper dive – Related reading on the 101

How to safely exercise during pregnancy | Parenting 101

With moderate exercise, pregnancy symptoms can be reduced while giving your body a head start in preparing for labor.

Tips for your second pregnancy | Parenting 101

Your changing body will feel a little more recognizable this time around since you’ve gone through it before.