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

Do I 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 can do to our bodies. Whilst some people seem to ‘bounce back’ almost effortlessly, the more common scenario most of us face is a very different body shape after pregnancy and breastfeeding. Whilst most of us are programmed to think that tummy bulges mean we need to hit the gym or go on a diet, this may not always be the case. In actual fact, the changes our bodies endure as a result of pregnancy cannot all be remedied by exercise alone; because torn abdominal muscles or excess skin folds cannot be exercised away.

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What could be the cause of my excess tummy fat?

Can that bulging tummy or ‘muffin top’ that lingers after childbirth actually be something else? Something that only surgery can fix? Find out if you have torn abs and whether or not a Tummy Tuck procedure to correct your abdominal muscles help.

Can my post-baby tummy bulges be remedied through exercise and nutrition alone? This depends on a number of factors, including:

  • 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
  • the size of your baby or babies at birth
  • how many times you have given birth

Commonly, excess tummy fat or skin folds are actually a result of damage to your abdominal muscles during pregnancy or childbirth. Having more than one child or a large baby can increase your chance of abdominal muscle damage (known as diastasis recti), although any woman can experience it.

What are torn abdominal muscles (Diastasis Recti)?

torn abdominal muscles during pregnancy

The term ‘diastasis recti’ describes a split between the two sides of the rectus abdominis muscle. Other medical and everyday terms used to describe the post-pregnancy condition of split abdominal muscles include: abdominal separation, torn abdominals or split abs.

We know that Diastasis Recti may also be the reason we have a post-baby tummy bulges that exercise and nutrition alone won’t remedy. Although changes to your diet and exercise regime may help somewhat, often patients require a Tummy Tuck (Abdominoplasty) to repair the damage.

What causes torn Abdominal Muscles and how can it be fixed?

There are a few causes for this condition, although the most common for women is, in fact, pregnancy and childbirth.

Put simply, when the uterus is growing during pregnancy, the abdominal muscles also get stretched. Like the skin, this area tends to get overstretched. Although you can see when your skin is overstretched as stretch marks often develop, you are often not aware this has occurred internally as well.

The stretching of the abdominal area during pregnancy causes the two main panels of muscle down the middle of your abs to separate. This leaves a ‘bulge’, which is a sign of the place where those muscles have separated.

The good news is that diastasis Recti can be fixed. Although if your muscles are actually split to the level where they have left a gap, a rounded tummy and a persistent post-baby belly bulge, this will often involve surgery.

How can you know if you have torn abs or something else?

Torn abdominal muscles are very common; a study shows that a staggering 98% of women have diastasis recti after they have delivered their babies.

If you suspect you have torn abdominal muscles as a result of pregnancy, you can perform an at-home check like the one in this link. Basically, if you can fit 2-3 fingers in between your ab muscles, you likely are suffering from diastasis recti.

Should you be concerned with your at-home test results, or would like a professional opinion, we suggest arranging for a medical consultation. This could either be with a Specialist Plastic Surgeon who performs precision Tummy Tuck surgery and/or ask your GP or obstetrician for a referral.

Do exercises help diastasis recti?

Exercise after tummy tuck surgery abdominoplasty

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?

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.

What can be done to correct the condition of diastasis recti?

If you have 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.

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.

Real patient experience

Read a patient’s experience and case study about a first tummy tuck vs second tummy tuck (revision) – her first was by a General Surgeon before she had a second Tummy Tuck by a Specialist Plastic Surgeon.

More patient experiences with Tummy Tuck Surgery are also available:  What Having Twins Does to Your Abdominal Muscles and Second Opinion on a Tummy Tuck Surgery: Revision Abdominoplasty procedure.

Further Reading about Tummy Tuck or Abdominoplasty

Last updated: 01/11/2023
Author profile image
Dr Craig Rubinstein - MBBS, FRACS (Plast)
Dr Craig Rubinstein MBBS, FRACS (Plast), a Specialist Plastic Surgeon, is one of Australia's most respected Melbourne Surgeons for Breast Augmentation, Breast Lift (Mastopexy), Breast Reduction surgery and Abdominoplasty procedures. Using advanced surgical techniques to gain better body contouring and natural-looking surgical results, Dr Rubinstein is highly regarded by peers and patients for best-practice Clinic Patient-care and patient education strategies. He published a chapter on corrective surgery for Breast Asymmetry. Qualifications/Training Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (FRACS) The Australasian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) The Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) The Australian Medical Association (AMA) American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (ISAPS) Founder: Coco Ruby Plastic Surgery previously Cosmetic Surgery for Women and Men Bio Page:

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With a wealth of experience and training, our Specialist Plastic and ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) Surgeons are dedicated to best-practice patient care and education, customising Surgery for each and every patient to best meet their needs and desired surgical outcomes.

What to do next?

Our Patient Liaison Team can assist with any questions you may have when considering a procedure. You can send in an enquiry form below or call our Melbourne Clinic between 9 am – 5 pm Monday to Friday.

Phone 1300 599 990, Email us: or Book a FREE 15-minute Phone Chat with our Patient Liaison Manager or a Consultation with a Surgeon.

Disclaimer: Results depend on individual patient circumstances and can vary significantly. Results may also be impacted by a variety of factors including your lifestyle, weight, nutritional intake and overall health. Consult your Specialist Plastic Surgeon for details. This information is general in nature and is not intended to be medical advice nor does it constitute a doctor-patient relationship. Surgery risks and complications will be covered in detail during a consultation with your Surgeon.