Post-Baby Belly Bulge – Diastasis Recti or Abdominal Fat?

tummy bulge or bulging tummy after baby born, MUSCLE SEPARATION, tummy muscle separation after childbirth pregnancy

Post-Pregnancy Tummy Bulges – Do you have torn abdominal muscles (Diastasis Recti) or just a bit of excess tummy fat?

We’re never quite prepared for what pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding does to our breasts and bodies.  Whilst some people seem to ‘bounce back’ almost effortlessly, the more common scenario most of us face is very different body shape and sagging skin folds after pregnancy and breastfeeding.  Yet most of us are programmed to think that tummy bulges in the abdominal area mean we need to hit the gym a bit more or go on a diet. But not all things that happen to bodies during or after pregnancy are readily remedied by exercise alone; because torn abdominal muscles or excess skin folds cannot be exercised away.

Can that bulging tummy that lingers after childbirth, and the tummy rolls or ‘muffin top’ look we sometimes find we’re ‘stuck with’ after having our children, be something else? Something that only surgery can fix? Find out if you have torn abs and whether or not a Tummy Tuck procedure with abdominal muscle corrective surgical repairs can help.


The answer to whether those post-baby body tummy bulges are able to be remedied through exercise and nutrition alone are:

It actually depends on what happened during pregnancy as well as:

  • your lifestyle
  • your genetics and body frame
  • how much weight you gained or lost
  • your skin strength
  • the size of the baby or babies you delivered
  • whether or not you had a large baby or multiple births

So it might be YES but often it’s NO.

Sometimes those post-pregnancy belly bulges or tummy fat is actually a result of having damaged abdominal muscles during pregnancy or childbirth. That is also more likely the case if you’ve had more than one child or a large baby, but any woman can suffer abdominal muscle damage (known as split abdominal recti muscles or diastasis recti) after delivering a child.


Tummy Tuck Guide Download


The truth is, that there are a few different reasons you could end up with have an abdominal bulge or tummy bulges after pregnancy.

(Beyond that we may have eaten a few too many donuts, drank a few too many iced lattes or indulged in a few high-calorie cocktails after we’ve stopped breastfeeding.)

Tummy bulges or an abdominal bulge or ‘muffin top’ look COULD be a sign of:

  • Exercise – yep, sometimes working the abs in the wrong way can cause a “rounded” appearance (that’s why your Pilates Instructor is so pedantic about how you do your reps).
  • Hernia – you could have an injury. Abdominal hernias are a common post-pregnancy concern. Get it checked out!
  • Pregnancy – take a test, especially if you are planning surgery not realising you might be preggers again!
  • Torn abdominal muscles or split abdominal muscles – a sign of Diastasis Recti – something your Plastic Surgeon can repair during a full Tummy Tuck (but you should ASK as not all Surgeons perform this corrective procedure and not all Surgeons diagnose the issue – sometimes a patient is simply told they need to lose weight or work their abdominal area harder, when that might simply make the scenario of torn abdominal muscles look even worse – yes, a bigger belly bulge).

Patient experience

Read a patient’s experience and case study about a first tummy tuck vs a second tummy tuck (Revision) – her first was by a General Surgeon and then she had a second Tummy Tuck by a Specialist Plastic Surgeon – browse our blog for more stories on Tummy Tuck Surgery.

Tummy Tuck without Abdominal repair

So let’s look at this last one in more detail and see if you might have Torn or Damaged Abdominal Muscles that are leading to a noticeable belly bulge or bulging tummy after pregnancy.

  • Many of us know that muscles can be torn, damaged or injured.
  • But perhaps fewer of us realise that the abs are no exception.
  • Your abs often have a hard road to get through during pregnancy and delivery, and might get torn or ‘become split’.

Here is what the condition is, what to look for and what can be done to put the condition right again:

What are torn abdominal muscles (split Abdominal muscles or Diastasis Recti)?

torn abdominal muscles during pregnancy

The fancy Latin name for damaged abdominal muscles that have been split during pregnancy or childbirth is diastasis recti. The term diastis recti describes a split between the two sides of the rectus abdominis muscles. Other medical terms and everyday terms used to describe the post-pregnancy condition of split muscles in the abdominal region include:  abdominal separation, torn abdominals or split abs.

We know that Diastasis Recti is also the reason we have a post-baby tummy bulge that exercise and nutrition alone won’t remedy.

This is when you need a Tummy Tuck or Abdominoplasty to repair the damage as well as get you that ‘FLT” (“Flat Tummy Look”) you’ve been craving since giving birth.


What causes torn Abdominal Muscles (Diastasis Recti) and how can it be fixed?

There are a few causes for this condition, and even men can suffer from diastasis recti.  But the most common cause for women is, in fact, pregnancy and/or childbirth. And it can be fixed, but this typically requires Surgical interventions if the muscles are actually split to the level they have left a gap, a rounded tummy and a persistent post-baby belly bulge.


Put simply, when the uterus is growing during pregnancy, the abdominal muscles also get stretched.  Like the skin, this area tends to get overstretched. You see the stretch marks on the outside – letting you know the skin is overstretched – but on the inside, you might not be aware that this has occurred or is occurring.

The stretching of the abdominal area during pregnancy causes the two main panels of muscles down the middle of the abs to separate.

The bulge is a sign of the place where those muscles have separated.

Does exercise make your tummy pooch or tummy bulges worse? You might have torn abdominal muscles related to pregnancy.

best exercises abdominal pregnancy, separated abs

A lot of mummy bloggers speak of this phenomenon and call it the “post-baby pooch,” not realising that this is NOT fat – in fact, this is muscle that has torn, and certain exercises will only make it worse.


How common are torn abdominals after pregnancy?

A study shows that a staggering 98% of women have diastatis recti after they have delivered their babies. So it is very common indeed!

How can you know if you have torn abs or something else? Arrange for a consultation with a Specialist Plastic Surgeon who performs precision Tummy Tucks and/or ask your GP or Obstetrician for a Referral.

A medical consultation – or even during a full Tummy Tuck surgery – is typically the recommended way to assess torn muscles.

However, there is a non-invasive way to test for torn abs – before your Tummy Tuck or Abdominoplasty surgery – which is good news!

It involves taking palpation measurements of the abdominis at various positions and ascertaining the size of the suspected diastatis recti. The condition has particular dimensions, so your Surgeon will be able to make an accurate diagnosis according to the measurements.

Alternatively, you can perform an “at home” check like the one in this link – if you can fit 2-3 fingers in between your ab muscles, this is very likely to be a sign of diastasis abdomnis.

What can be done to correct the condition of pregnancy damage to your abdominal muscles and the subsequent belly bulge (tummy bulge)?

best exercises for pregnancy abdominal muscles

If you have seriously split your abdominal muscles through pregnancy, the long-term solution is actually Abdominal surgery or a full Abdominoplasty with abdominal muscle repair (such as performed by Specialist Plastic Surgeons who focus on Mummy Makeovers including Our Team of Melbourne Plastic Surgeons – Dr Richard Sackelariou (Melbourne and Sydney)Dr Rebecca Wyten (Berwick and Melbourne), Dr Richard Maxwell (Melbourne or Williamstown/Western Melbourne Suburbs), Dr Geoff Barnett (Melbourne/Hawthorn East) and Dr Craig Rubinstein (Melbourne/Hawthorn East) at Cosmetic Surgery for Women.


Do exercises help with the post-pregnancy tummy bulge or diastasis recti?

Occasionally for some patients, special exercises can also be utilised to help. But if not performed properly they can make the condition, or the bulge, worse.

There are a number of excellent post-partum workout sites that offer special videos showing exercises to help with tummy recovery.  Some physiotherapists also focus their practices on post-pregnancy exercise recommendations.  Send an enquiry form below for more information on surgery corrections or for other Surgeons or Medical Professionals who might be able to assist you.


What should I avoid if I have split abdominal muscles or ‘torn abs’?

One of the most important things to note is avoiding certain exercises, like crunches, which actually make the problem worse. In fact, many of the Mummy Bloggers suggest avoiding planks, crunches and sit-ups, because these increase abdominal pressure and push outwards through the gap – this is the opposite of what you want!

Best to research the advice of post-partum exercise tips, such as those from The Tummy Team and their resources. But Do ask your DOCTOR for advice as this information may not suit your specific condition.

I have tried everything else and nothing is helping with the post-baby body bulges. What are my surgical options and how do I know if I need a Tummy Tuck/Abdominoplasty or Liposuction or both?

If you have tried the right approaches without surgery, and are still unable to get the results you want, and you have tested yourself for potential abdominal muscle tears or ‘split abs’ and believe that’s what you have, of course, you can consider plastic surgery including corrective Abdominoplasty/abdominal muscle repair.   The other option is liposuction but if there are damaged muscles or excess skin around your belly button (navel), you may need both a Tummy Tuck and body contouring using liposuction.

Our custom Tummy Tuck surgeries often include full repair of diastasis recti, repositioning of the navel, and reduction of excess skin and body fat using a combination of surgical techniques and liposuction contouring strategies.

There are a number of procedures that might be suitable, including the very popular “Mummy Makeover” surgery, which is ideal for post-partum ways to get sexy back and feel like you again.  And for the other body concerns that also arise with the birth of a bub (or bubs), such as vaginal laxity, vaginal weakness, mild urinary incontinence and other concerns?  Ask our female GP at Cosmetic Surgery for Women and Men about the potential for MonaLisa touch vaginal laser treatments.

Patient experiences with Tummy Tuck Surgery: What Having Twins Does to Your Abdominal Muscles and Second Opinion on a Tummy Tuck Surgery: Revision Abdominoplasty procedure.


7 Steps Download


Are you interested in an Abdominoplasty or a Mummy Makeover procedure such as a Breast Reduction, Breast Augmentation (Breast lift or lift with implants) or Liposuction?

Please complete a confidential enquiry form below. Or you can speak to one of our Patient Care Coordinators by calling us during clinic hours on (03) 88491444.


Read more information on Tummy Tucks:

Tummy Tuck Surgeon In Melbourne

Visit our Downloadable Guides pages

For more information about Cosmetic and Plastic Surgery options and research in Australia.

cosmetic surgery for women and men Downloadable guides Female Plastic Surgeon Melbourne

Download our free guides or phone (03) 8849 1444 today – and ask for a no-obligation consultation.

Last updated: 13/08/2019
Author profile image
Dr Rebecca Wyten
Dr Rebecca Wyten, MBBS, FRACS (Plas), is a Melbourne VIC Female Specialist Plastic Surgeon in Australia. She is very talented in natural looking Breast Augmentation (Breast Implant Surgery), Breast Lift surgery and Breast Reduction, Abdominoplasty (Tummy Tuck), Body Contouring with liposuction, Labiaplasty and other cosmetic surgery, plastic and reconstructive surgery procedures (women only). She is FRACS (Plastic) qualified and has extensive experience and training in New South Wales, Victoria, and has worked alongside some of the world's top Plastic Surgeons whilst in France.Education: Dr Rebecca Wyten BSci, MBBS, FRACS (Plas) graduated in Medicine (MBBS) from the University of Sydney, NSW. She has since dedicated her artisan plastic cosmetic surgery skills to a private practice in Melbourne and Berwick on the Mornington peninsula.Bio Page: