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Abdominal separation is a painful condition that can affect women during the late stage of their pregnancy and greatly impact comfort and mobility in the early days of motherhood. Thankfully, there are things you can do to prevent it from occurring and encourage healing and strengthening if it does.

Also known as diastasis recti or diastasis recti abdominis, abdominal separation occurs when the two large panels of the abdominal muscles, which run parallel to each other down the center of the abdomen, begin to pull apart from each other due to the expansion of the uterus, according to the Mayo Clinic. While this condition typically develops during the final trimester of pregnancy, you may not notice it until after your baby is born. The abdomen may have a noticeable bulge in the center where the muscles have stretched apart.

What causes abdominal separation? Women who have had multiple pregnancies in a short period of time, those who give birth after the age of 35 or women who give birth to a child with a high birth weight are more likely to experience this condition. Taxing the muscles of the abdomen during pregnancy, be it through physical exercise or everyday tasks, can also lead to the development of this condition.

Abdominal separation can cause symptoms such as lower back pain and weakness in the abdominal muscles as well as digestive issues like constipation. This condition can make delivering your child vaginally more challenging, may mean that a cesarean section a safer option. In extreme cases, a hernia can develop.  Doing everyday tasks like lifting your child can be just as difficult as exercising. This is why abdominal separation is a condition that requires special care leading up to the birth and following the arrival of your child.

If you suffer from separation of the abdominal muscles, working with a physical therapist and your physician can help you safely strengthen these muscles once again to bring them back together. Abdominal separation typically begins to clear up within a few months of giving birth, but it can take up to 12. It’s important to note some separation may be permanent, but not threatening to everyday life. However, for more severe cases, surgery may be necessary to correct the issue.

The best way to prevent abdominal separation is to take extra care when exercising your abdominal muscles during pregnancy. Most doctors agree continuing with your regular exercise routine while pregnant is safe as long as you don’t push to increase the difficulty or length of your workouts, especially if you lift weights. Be mindful of everyday strains on your abdomen as well — this includes lifting heavy shopping bags or even bending to pull something out of the oven. Make sure to honor and listen to your body throughout your pregnancy.
If you’re concerned about abdominal separation, be sure to speak with your physician about it. They can help you determine which exercises are best for you throughout and after your pregnancy so you can feel more like yourself again sooner.

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