How to get rid of that post-baby pooch

It happens to most women during pregnancy: diastasis recti. The problem is the gap doesn't close for everyone once the pregnancy is over.

Kimberly Emerling is in the best shape of her life, but for years her stomach didn't match the rest of her body, even though she was doing CrossFit five to six days a week.

"I looked like I was nine months pregnant," she said. "All of the crunches, planks, anything that was thrown my way I was trying to flatten my stomach."

Turns out those were all of the wrong exercises, because she had diastasis recti.

DR is when the muscles on either side of your stomach part because of organs pushing against the connective tissue that holds them together.

"That layer is what keeps the insides in and everything else out, and then that's also what makes the abdomen look flat," said Dr. Daniela Carusi with Brigham and Women's Hospital.

She says it happens to almost all women during pregnancy.

"About 30 to 40 percent of women have permanent separation after having their baby," Carusi said. 

DR can cause low back pain , urinary incontinence and constipation. For most it's just cosmetic, and surgery can fix it.

Emerling didn't want to go under the knife, and in February she found Caroline Johnson with Belly Rebuild.

"It offers people a way to heal the diastasis recti non-surgically," Johnson said.

Johnson teaches the "Tupler Technique," one of several programs developed by DR experts. It involves wearing a splint 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"The purpose of this splint is to reposition the muscles back to where they should be," Johnson said.

In addition to the splint, women do breathing and abdominal muscle exercises for six to 18 weeks, depending on the size of the diastasis. For Emerling, it was 15 weeks.

How to check for DR

There's a simple way to see if you have DR.

"You would have your fingers pointing down towards your pelvis. Your going to bring your fingers in and then lift your head up slightly, and then lower it down," Johnson said.

With DR, there is a gap between the muscles at least two to three fingers wide. Emerling's case was severe at six fingers.

"In terms of everything, it's given me more confidence, it's given me a happier body image and I feel good. It's an actual physical good feeling," Emerling said.