Now that your belly is growing bigger, you are probably becoming more and more excited about your baby’s arrival! But you may also be finding that the added weight of baby is taking its toll on your own physical wellbeing. Many women find that, as the months pass by, they become more tired, fatigued, and prone to pregnancy symptoms, like back pain and Braxton Hicks contractions. If you have been exploring your pregnant stomach lately, you may also have noticed a strange bump or separation in your stomach muscles. Separation of the stomach muscles is very common during pregnancy, particularly during the later trimesters.
What are Separated Muscles?
During pregnancy, many women experience a separation of their stomach muscles. Known as diastasis recti, this condition occurs when the main abdominal muscles (called the rectus abdominus) begin to pull apart. The left and right sides of this muscle separate, leaving a gap in between. Separated muscles do not tear or rupture, so little pain is involved, at least initially. Instead, the muscles thin out, creating a space in the abdomen. This gap can get worse over time and may result in future health complications.
What Causes Separated Muscles?
The rectus abdominus is kept in line by your transverse abs (the girdle like muscles that help keep your stomach flat) and your oblique abs (the muscles around your sides). During pregnancy, your abdominal muscles are tend to separate due to the growth of your baby in your uterus. This growth exerts pressure on the rectus abdominus muscles, causing them to split. Women who experience rapid growth of their stomachs during pregnancy are more likely to suffer from separated abdominal muscles. Women with particularly weak abdominal muscles may also end up with a split between the left and right side of the rectus abdominus.
How Common are Separated Muscles?
Separated muscles are actually fairly common during pregnancy. About one-third of all pregnant women experience separated muscles at some point throughout their pregnancy. Separation of the stomach muscles is more likely to occur during the second trimester or third trimester of pregnancy. However, separation also frequently occurs during labor and delivery.
Who’s At Risk for Separated Muscles?
Every pregnant woman is at risk for developing separated abdominal muscles during pregnancy. However, some women are more at risk for developing this condition. The condition appears to have some type of genetic link, so if your mother or sister suffered from separated muscles, your risk also increases. Other risk factors include:
- previous pregnancy causing separated muscles
- multiple pregnancy
- being overweight or obese
Symptoms of Separated Muscles
Separation of the abdominal muscles is typically painless but there are a few symptoms that will help you to identify the condition. These include:
- a gap or space just below your navel
- a bump or ridge running from your breastbone down to your navel
Complications Associated with Separated Muscles
If you are suffering from separated muscles during pregnancy or in the postpartum period, it is important to take steps to encourage your muscles to reattach. It is unlikely that these muscles will reattach on their own and they may actually continue to separate after you have given birth. If left untreated, separated muscles can cause health complications, including:
- Chronic lower back pain (due to the fact that the abdominal muscles help to support your back and spinal column)
- Altered posture due to weak abdominal muscles (which in turn weakens your back muscles, leading to back pain)
Read on to learn more about how to check for separated muscles and how to treat separated muscles.
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