"Why Do I Still Look Pregnant?"

The Rundown

If you’re past 8 weeks postpartum and still looking preggo, you may be dealing with deep core weakness, postural dysfunction, or an ab separation (or maybe all three!)

Stephanie Stamas, PT, DPT, ATC, PRPC
Stephanie Stamas, PT, DPT, ATC, PRPC
Mom of a 2yo and 4yo. Doctor of Physical Therapy. Pelvic Floor Expert.

Immediately after giving birth, every mother still looks pregnant. The baby may be out, but the uterus is still the size of a watermelon. This leaves newly postpartum moms looking around 6 months pregnant. Don’t worry: after 6 weeks the uterus will shrink back to its pre-pregnancy size.

If you're still looking pregnant after 6-8 weeks postpartum, it’s one (or more) of three things: ab weakness, posture, and diastasis recti.

Ab Weakness

During pregnancy, your abs don’t just stretch, they grow.  The muscles add more fibers—called sarcomeres—that allow the muscle to lengthen around the baby. This helps your abs stabilize your back and pelvis until the end of your pregnancy.  

After delivering the baby, your abs remain long and it’s common to feel like a popped balloon. The deepest core muscle, the transverse abdominis (TA), is your body’s natural corset. As it heals it’s supposed to start drawing everything back in. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. Imaging shows that even at four months postpartum, the TA muscle is thinner and weaker.

The solve? Strengthening! All moms can benefit from targeted deep-core work, but you’ll really benefit if your belly still feels like jelly. Focused breathwork, pelvic floor strengthening, and TA activation are key for getting your natural corset back online. Chelsea’s six-week Foundations challenge is daily workouts to guide you through that healing process. You can get started here.

Posture

Your body changes greatly during pregnancy to accommodate your growing baby, including your posture! As the baby grows, your ribcage tends to tilt back and your pelvis rolls forward. This posture is often maintained—if not exaggerated— postpartum. And that’s not a good thing.

Our core muscles work best when the ribcage is positioned upright over the pelvis. It’s common for the ribcage to tilt back postpartum, leading to a tightening of the lower back (ouch!) and a jutting out of the stomach. It’s also a hard position to engage your abs.  If you’re living in a tilted back posture, your stomach will naturally look larger.

Diastasis recti

The most common reason for looking pregnant for months postpartum is a diastasis recti (DR), or ab separation. It sounds scarier than it is, so keep reading.

A diastasis recti is a lengthening of the central vertical line of the six-pack muscles, called the linea alba. The linea alba is a thickening of fascia (connective tissue) that serves as an anchor for your abs. During pregnancy, it naturally stretches and thins. A DR is when it stays stretched out after you’ve given birth. 

A thinning linea alba has more difficulty holding everything in. Your guts can’t actually fall out, but many moms feel that way. It may also get visually worse after a large meal or with bloating. If you lie on your back and lift your head, it often looks like a cone or football-shaped protrusion.

The good news is that fascia is adaptable. It’s a type of connective tissue that has contractile components called fibroblasts. This means the fascia itself can contract to create tension and shorten.

If you have ab separation, you’re not alone.  One hundred percent of moms will have a diastasis recti by the end of their third trimester, and 60% of them will resolve within six months postpartum. For the 40% with a lingering separation, you’ll need to address it, because there’s little evidence it improves past six months without intervention. It’s also correlated with postpartum incontinence, prolapse, constipation, and back pain, so working on your DR is a great place to start if you’re on the struggle bus after having your baby. Deep core stability exercises have been shown effective in reducing the gap.

If you’re looking for expert, step-by-step guidance on treating your diastasis recti, our Heal Diastasis Recti course is available to start streaming today.

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