I gave birth – why do I still look pregnant?

You gave birth months ago. You may have even lost most of the weight you gained during pregnancy. So why do you still have a baby bump?

It might be a common condition called diastasis recti, or ab separation. About two thirds of women develop diastasis recti during pregnancy, especially if they are over age 35, have had multiple pregnancies close together, or carried a large baby or multiples. There may also be a genetic component to it, so if your mom has that separation, you might, too.

During the later stages of pregnancy as the baby gets bigger, the abdomen expands to make room. The thinner muscles running down the middle of your belly stretch more than denser muscles on either side. (Picture someone with six pack abs – it’s the vertical channel running down the middle and through the belly button that stretches).

In many cases, the stretched muscle will shrink back to its normal position and that bulge will disappear. Specialized physical therapy can help correctly engage underling muscles and restore core strength. For some women, surgery may be necessary to close the gap if it’s causing difficulties such as back pain, constipation, or incontinence.

It’s possible to help prevent diastasis recti by focusing on strengthening all of the core muscles before pregnancy – not just the surface ones that look good in a bikini, but the deeper stabilizing muscles and pelvic floor muscles, too. Later in pregnancy, if it seems like your abs are starting to separate, a belly band can provide a bit of support and take some of the pressure off your abs and back.

If you’re seeing that separation a year after giving birth or if you’re considering another pregnancy, talk with your OB/GYN to come up with a treatment plan to help your belly heal after baby.

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