The Baby Bulge: The Real Cause and The Real Cure

baby bulge

What’s the real cause of the pooch?

Let’s pull the curtains back on the baby bulge. Contrary to what many assume, the baby bulge is not about fat.  It’s about muscles!  That’s why the tummy pooch seems stubbornly immune to weight loss and “slimming” treatments. 

The true cause of the baby bulge is diastasis recti (also called abdominal separation), a condition where your vertical rectus abdominis muscles (six-pack ab muscles) separate.  Thin connective tissue lies between the two vertical ab muscles. As pregnancy progresses, the connective tissue thins and stretches and your abdominal muscles separate.  It’s an entirely natural occurrence to make room for your growing baby.  

About 2 in 3 women experience diastasis recti during pregnancy.  In ideal circumstances, the connective tissue recovers after you deliver and the separation closes on its own in the postpartum weeks. But according to Cleveland Clinic, diastasis recti persists for six months or more in 40% of cases. The long term abdominal separation that leads to the stubborn pooch happens when the connective tissue that brings the abdominal muscles together loses its elasticity and remains stretched.  

Do certain factors make me more likely to be affected by diastasis recti?

Age, greater number of births, small gap between births, a large baby, multiples are all contributing factors that make diastasis recti more likely.

What can I do to help my abdominal separation go away and flatten my tummy?

Diastasis recti can effectively be addressed with exercise.  However, it’s very important to do the right kind of exercise as some common exercises can actually worsen the condition. Avoid sit ups, crunches, push ups and front planks and any other movements that put outward pressure on your abdominal muscles and can make your abdominal separation worse.  Don’t lift anything heavier than your baby.

To ensure that you are exercising safely and appropriately, consult a physio therapist or follow an exercise program designed by professionals specially to address diastasis recti. Online exercise programs can be especially practical in your early post partum period.  We recommend the Recore Online ProgramThe Recore Post-Natal FITsplint comes with access to 5 ReCORE Exercises.

We highly recommend splinting in combination with exercise to best support your recovery.  Splinting brings your abdominal muscles together and provides safe support.  The Recore Post-Natal FITsplint splints abdominal muscles without restricting range of motion or breathing patterns.  It’s made of breathable neoprene with silicone to keep it in place and is used by physical therapists and athletes world-wide.  Recore recommends splinting for the first 4-6 weeks after delivery.

What is the difference between a splint and a post partum belly band?

Both have their role to play in post partum recovery.  A split gives targeted support to a narrower area, specifically to bring together the stretched abdominal muscles.  It covers a smaller section of the torso than most post partum bands and is more flexible, allowing for full range of movement for exercise.

A post partum band’s primary use is to provide compression and support.  Most post partum belly bands cover a wide area of your torso to provide generalized compression and support to your entire core as you recover.  Compression improves circulation and reduces swelling.

Is there any medical benefit to reducing my pooch or is it purely cosmetic?

More than cosmetic benefit, it’s important not to leave diastasis recti unaddressed as the condition leaves your core weakened.  When your abdominal muscles remain separated your internal organs are not being supported by muscle.  Diastasis recti can affect your posture and contribute to lower back pain and pelvic pain, pelvic floor dysfunction and in extreme cases, hernia.

Could I be experiencing diastasis recti even though I’ve never been pregnant?

Definitely.  Pregnancy is just one of the many causes of diastasis recti.  Other common causes include unsafe form when doing abdominal exercises such as sit ups and heavy weight lifting.  Diastasis recti affects both men and women.

I’ve been living with a tummy pooch for years.  Is it too late to fix my diastasis?

No, it’s not too late.  While your body does secrete hormones that help recovery along during your postpartum and breastfeeding period, it’s never too late to start working on healing your abdominal separation.  Follow the same exercises in combination with splinting.