Having a baby is a bit like joining an elite club. You’ve done the training for nine long months. And then there’s the gruelling main event – before you finally become a member of the Fierce Female Fraternity. As part of your initiation, you’ll have noticed a whole lot of changes in your body. Whether you expected these body modifications or not, you may be wondering just when (or if) everything will go back into place. Here’s what you need to know, from an expert (who also happens to be a mum of three).
I can distinctly remember the moment my newborn was taken from my chest for weighing and measuring immediately after birth. I looked down at my belly and asked the midwives if it was normal. Of course they laughed – yes, having a belly that wobbles like jelly after childbirth is pretty much par for the course. There are a whole host of things that happen to your body after giving birth, and we’re taking a closer look at them, with nutrition and exercise scientist, author and mum of three Kathleen Alleaume, Fitness First’s resident expert.
What are the major changes a woman’s body goes through after having a baby?
Kathleen points out that every woman has a different body shape, and therefore each will have a different experience post-birth. “Some women find more changes around their hip area, such as widening of the pelvis, while others are unpleasantly surprised at the look of their belly after baby, which may be caused by diastasis recti (abdominal separation),” she explains.
How can these changes impact fitness, or overall sense of wellbeing? Why is it important to address these changes?
Despite what much of society perpetuates, concerns about your body after having a baby aren’t centred around vanity. Yes, as women we may want to look and feel the same way we did before having children, but as Kathleen outlines, there are also medical reasons to address post-birth body issues.
“Separation of the abdominal muscles during pregnancy not only causes permanent bulging of the abdomen (also known as mummy-tummy or jelly belly); it can reduce core strength leading to back problems, pelvic instability and poor posture. Along with the separation of the abdominal muscles, widening of the pelvis can place extra stress on the pelvic region and alter the strength and elasticity of the pelvic floor muscles, ligaments, and nerves, which can also exacerbate back aches, loss of balance and increased risk of leaking urine (urinary incontinence) – all of which may interfere with the ability to exercise comfortably.”
What are the best ways to improve or fix these areas after having a baby?
Here are Kathleen’s top tips for post-birth exercise and fitness:
- To help regain your figure and avoid the aches and pains of daily activities that come with motherhood, it is important to ease into gentle exercise for the first six weeks, such as short sessions of walking (like pushing your baby in a pram) and carrying out specific (and gentle) exercises that target the pelvic floor and deep abdominal muscles, daily if possible, to speed up the recovery. These exercises are also recommended for women recovering from a c-section.
- Exercising the abdominals will help close the gap, tone the belly and improve the appearance of your stomach. However it’s important to carry out the correct exercises that activate the deeper layers (tranverse abdominus) and avoid exercises like sit-ups and twisting poses which can inhibit the muscles from repair.
- Depending on the severity of the separation, or if you are recovering from a c-section, you may need to work with a physiotherapist or accredited exercise physiologist to ensure the correct exercises are carried out.
- After six weeks, you can gradually increase your fitness levels, returning to normal exercise by about 12 weeks. The key is to address foundational issues like core and pelvic strength and stability before beginning a serious fitness routine designed to help with weight loss.
- As always, it’s important to consult with your doctor or midwife before embarking on any postnatal exercise program, as you may need more time than you think to heal from the rigours of childbirth.
How important is combining both good food and activity in addressing the changes in your body post-birth?
With a new baby to look after, we generally put our own needs a distant last – and that can include not fuelling our bodies with the right types of foods.
“Regular exercise coupled with a healthy eating regime will play a major role in getting back into pre-pregnancy shape. Avoid starving yourself or dropping weight too fast as this can have a negative impact on your body such as muscle and bone loss, and exhaustion. Focus on fresh whole foods, such wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, nuts, pulses and lean sources of meat.”
Kathleen explains that eating regular meals and snacks with lots of variety will give your body a steady supply of energy, particularly if you’re breastfeeding. And it’s not all about being on the go – resting is just as important for new mums: “On top of eating a balanced diet and incorporating regular physical activity, it’s important to be mindful of getting plenty of rest to ensure you’re keeping up with the demands of a newborn baby.”
What can women do if they want to address what has happened to their bodies after having a baby?
Kathleen recommends visiting a health professional before embarking on addressing any body issues after having a baby.
“Discuss concerns with your GP who can give an appropriate referral such as a physio, accredited exercise physiologist or accredited practicing dietitian who can ensure expert (and tailored) advice in fitness and diet.”
(This is a sponsored post for Fitness First)