Why some women struggle with pregnancy belly long after giving birth

Doctors say most women will have some degree of abdominal separation during and after pregnancy, but some have so much tearing they could require surgery to fix it.

“I was still a size two,” Raintree Sumazin said, “In peak physical shape, was barely showing and just noticed that my tummy started making funny shapes when I would do certain exercises.”

A condition known as 'Diastasis recti' is where the two abdominal muscles widely separate during pregnancy. After baby is born, it can correct itself but for some moms, like Sumazin, it does not go back.

“It was debilitating, I couldn't do anything for myself,” she said. “My husband had to come wrap me up in a medical grade binder and roll me over onto my feet and hand me the baby, there was no abdominal support whatsoever.”

Dr. Selena Zanotti of Cleveland Clinic said Diastasis recti can actually impact all age groups, as some people are born with it. It can even happen to men as a result of improper exercise.

“With the more pregnancies we have, you have a higher risk of it.  Also if your uterus gets very large as if having twins or a very large baby you're more likely to have that separation,” Zanotti said.

Sumazin says her doctors recommended waiting to repair the damage after she was done having children.

She uses the width of her fingers to describe the size of the separation.

“After my first baby I was at three fingers but after my second I was at an eight-finger diastasis which means you could put eight fingers through and touch my spine,” Sumazin said.

There are supposedly no health risks with Diastasis recti but it's bothersome. Options for treatment include wearing an abdominal binder or doing exercises that strengthen the core. However, doctors warn not to do sit-ups or crunches.

"You're having separation of your muscles and so anything where you're pushing more pressure out against it, it's going to separate it more rather than strengthen the muscle,” Sumazin said.

For severe cases, surgery is an option.

To avoid surgery, Sumazin formed a holistic healing exercise with yoga moves and a binder.

Click here for a link to her postpartum program.