The enduring mystery of the postpartum pooch

Story highlights

  • Most women who give birth experience some degree of postpartum abdominal separation
  • Experts don't know what heals abdominal separation -- or whether it needs to be healed at all

(CNN)Culturally, the postpartum body is a source of abiding fascination. We are enthusiastic observers of women's shapes after childbirth and celebrate those who shed all evidence of pregnancy a few months after having a baby. These are the women who, as tabloids put it, "bounce back," even though few believe that the effort involved was akin to bouncing or any such rapid and organic movement.

Medically, the postpartum body is basically invisible. In the United States, women generally have just one appointment in this period, six weeks after childbirth, and it tends to be brief. (The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently recommended changing this.) We are largely -- and a little hopelessly -- on our own when navigating the various aches and dysfunction that pregnancy and childbirth leave in their wake.
    Not only did I not bounce back after my pregnancies, but the notion of bouncing, in any direction, sounded awful. Like many women, I had postpartum abdominal separation, known clinically as diastasis recti abdominis and colloquially as mummy tummy: The connective tissue between my rectus abdominis, a.k.a. the six-pack muscles, had stretched out about 2 inches. I also was feeling quite unstable, and I assumed that these two things were related.
      Ob-gyns don't routinely screen for or discuss abdominal separation, despite the fact that up to 60% of women experience it to some degree during the first year postpartum and an estimated 33% are dealing with it beyond that. Many of us discover that we have it after experiencing pain, imp