'Mom Belly' is a real thing

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It happens to so many moms: Months, even years after giving birth, they just can't get their pre-baby tummy back.

It happens to so many moms: Months, even years after giving birth, they just can't get their pre-baby tummy back.

Photos of elite runner and Arizona mother Stephanie Rothstein Bruce went viral back in March. The honest pics of her bare midriff are an example of how giving birth changes a mother's shape -- even if you're extremely fit.

WATCH NOW: Olympic Hopeful Stephanie Bruce Inspires Women With "Real" Post-Baby Body Photos
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Stephanie Rothstein Bruce shares her post-pregnancy body struggles on Instagram and inspires women to be comfortable with their bodies

It can be embarrassing and painful, but thankfully, it can be treated.

Former ballerina Courtney Wyckoff said feeling and looking physically fit was part of her lifestyle, but after her second C-section her body wasn't right.

"I had a lot of back pain," said Wyckoff, who is also the Founder of MommaStrong.com.

As a practicing Corrective Exercise Specialist, Wyckoff spent her career helping clients with muscle imbalances and injuries. So for herself, she tried lots of workouts to fix her body, but it was broken. Then, finally a diagnosis from a physical therapist. She suffered from an actual medical condition called diastasis recti.

"There's a line of tissue that goes straight down your abdomen, and the two rectus abdominous muscles on either side, also known as the six pack, can become separated," said Dr. Suzanne Manzi, a Physiatrist at Performance Pain and Sports Medicine.

The likeliness of women suffering from this condition is staggering. It can happen to anyone - no matter how fit you are -- but it's most common in moms.

"Sixty-six percent of women have diastasis recti, but everyone in the field, all professionals agree that number is more like 98%, so 32% is going undiagnosed," said Wyckoff.

"You can develop hernias, back pain, sacroiliac pain, pelvic pain, incontinence of their bowels or bladder," adds Manzi.

Then, there are visual side effects. The women we talked to were so embarrassed by the appearance of their stomachs, they didn't want to take before photos.

"Usually, it will be almost like a protrusion. You especially see it in thin women where they're thin everywhere, and then they have a pooch, is what we call it," said Wyckoff.

Wyckoff researched and started practicing abdominal bracing techniques. Abdominal bracing is an exercise where you lift the pelvis off the floor while tightening the abdominal wall.

Now, she specializes in helping other moms, like Ana Fuentes, who are suffering from diastasis recti. Fuentes suffered for five years.

"If I leaned back, I could see a serious doming. The muscles are separated, so the middle was weak and your organs are literally pushing out," said Fuentes.

Within a month of practicing her bracing exercises, Fuentes saw improvement.

"I could just stick my whole fist in there, and she's so fit everywhere else. She's come so far," said Wyckoff.

If you think you could be suffering from diastasis recti, Wyckoff says there are a few steps to take.

First, get a professional to screen you. You can go to a physiatrist, a physical therapist, or an OB/GYN. You can also do your own self check.

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Diastesis Recti Demo

"The next thing is to make sure the glutes are working properly. Believe it or not, the gluteus muscles in people with diastasis recti are very underused," said Wyckoff. "Hydration is key to tissue recovery. High quality protein is also very very important."

Finally, practice abdominal bracing and know improvement is possible.

"It's not anything to be ashamed of. It's so easily treatable," said Dr. Manzi.
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