It’s undeniable that having a baby changes your body in a myriad of ways. Hormones take the blame for many of them, the birth process culpable for others. Some changes, however, are due solely because of the physical strain of carrying a baby for 40 weeks.
A prevalent change that many women struggle with is the effect pregnancy has on your abdominal wall muscles.
What Happens To Your Abs During Pregnancy
We only have so much space in our abdominal area to carry a baby. Think for a moment of all the organs that take up space in this area normally, and now think about the inevitable pressure your abdominal wall muscles experience as a result of your baby growing in your uterus.
Fortunately, our bodies are miracle-workers, and your abs are designed to expand to accommodate your growing baby. These muscles are stretched, lengthened, and weakened throughout pregnancy.
Both sides of your abdominal wall muscles (rectus abdominus) are connected by about half an inch of connective tissue. As your baby grows, your uterus naturally pushes outward, stretching this connective tissue to make extra space.
What Happens When Your Abs Are Stretched Too Far
The gradual and continual stretching and lengthening of your abs can unfortunately cause them to weaken because the connective tissue we mentioned above stretches too far. This completely normal process is known as “diastasis recti.”
You may notice a bulge in the center of your abdomen where this connective tissue lies, especially when your abdominal wall muscles are tense, such as when you move to sit up from lying down or when you cough.
If you have diastasis recti, you may also be at risk for developing what we have just described as an umbilical hernia. This bulge could be as large as a grapefruit or as small as a blackberry.
Preventing Umbilical Hernias
First and foremost, if you think you may have diastasis recti or an umbilical hernia, please consult with your OB-GYN and your groin and pelvic pain doctor right away. They will know how to best treat you during and after your pregnancy.
For now, if you are not noticing any bulging or experiencing pelvic pain, Healthline lists excellent strategies to prevent an umbilical hernia and keep your abdominal wall muscles strong during your pregnancy:
- Wear loose and comfortable clothing that encourages good blood flow
- Similarly, wear clothing that supports your expanding belly, such as pants with elastic waistbands
- Use support to pull yourself up from a sitting or lying down position
- Do your best to avoid picking up heavy things
- Try to control a hard sneeze or cough
- Elevate your feet
- Do low-impact exercises like walking, stretching, or light yoga