It can be discouraging to look in the mirror after pregnancy and look at a tummy that wasn’t quite like that in the first place. While it does bear the battle scars (or stretch marks, at least) of having carried and nurtured life, the sudden body change can feel odd to many women.
The thing is that your tummy troubles may simply be a side effect of pregnancy or it might be something a bit more serious, as we’ll talk about in a bit. In any case, there are a few ways that you can help out your abdominal muscles in their process of post-pregnancy recovery.
Here are a few of the most effective methods to do this.
First of all, it’s worth checking if you simply have sore and flabby abdominal muscles after childbirth or if you have a medical condition called rectus abdominis diastasis or RAD. This condition is the separation of your ab muscles due to an expanding tummy during pregnancy. It occurs in up to two-thirds of women who are pregnant. It is not life-threatening condition and often heals on its own. Still, some women are not too keen on having it and will want to get it healed as soon as possible.
It’s important to determine this because there will be some exercises, such as sit-ups, that are not indicated for this condition. Make sure to consult your doctor or physical therapist if you’re planning a new exercise regimen to make sure you don’t put additional strain on your abs.
However, chances are that you’re experiencing normal post-pregnancy flab. That is, you’re still going to look pregnant some time after childbirth. This is expected, as your tummy will have stretched out quite a lot in such a short time. In fact, towards the end of your pregnancy, your uterus will have blown up to about the size of a watermelon!
While your uterus and your lady parts are both elastic, it may take some time and patience for it to go back down to normal. So cheer up and don’t feel bad that you still look large after childbirth. There are still plenty of things you can do to ensure that all that flab goes away. Be patient, remember it took 8 months to get that way so give your body some time to return to normal.
Abdominal muscle healing, of course, begins during your pregnancy. Chances are that your doctor or midwife has recommended a number of prenatal exercises that you were encouraged to do daily. If you’ve been diligent with these exercises, you’ll find that you’re going to heal up faster. If you’re still in the middle of your pregnancy, make sure to continue to keep up with them to keep flab at a minimum.
Experts also find that gaining less than 32 pounds during your pregnancy can also increase your chances of getting back to normal quicker. However, this still isn’t a reason to go on some crazy diet regiment during pregnancy! You’ll still need to gain a healthy amount of weight to ensure your baby is developing properly. Just eat healthy and don’t overdo on your cravings and you should be fine.
Healing muscles require proper nutrition so that they can repair themselves. Make sure that after childbirth, you continue to have a balanced diet with consideration for the extra calories that you will need while you’re breastfeeding.
You’ll need adequate protein and essential fatty acids in your diet to promote muscle healing. This means that you should eat appropriate portions of meat. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, eat plenty of beans, nuts and other protein-rich plant foods. Speaking of plant-based foods, eating fruits and vegetables will also give you vitamins and minerals for better healing.
Another thing you’ll want to do is to keep yourself hydrated. When you’re busy taking care of your brand new baby, among other things like work and household chores, you might forget to take a sip of water frequently. Keeping yourself well-hydrated helps promote healing, ensuring that your muscles have an adequate blood supply to deliver all those healthy nutrients.
It helps if you always carry a water bottle with you. You will naturally be taking swigs whenever you’re thirsty. However, another lesser-known sign of thirst is restlessness and discomfort. So if you feel a bit cranky, some water might be just the thing to calm you down.
Breastfeeding has plenty of benefits, not only for your baby but also for you. It burns extra calories, helping you lose weight after childbirth. This can help reduce some of the perceived sagginess and largeness of your belly.
Breastfeeding also encourages the contraction of your uterus back to pre-pregnancy size. Sometimes the perception of saggy abdominal muscles is simply the extra volume of the uterus pressing against your abdominal wall.
One thing you must do when your abdominal muscles are injured is to avoid additional damage. This can be done through the use of proper body mechanics. This is simply moving your body in a way that prevents unnecessary strain. This is useful not only in controlling abdominal damage, it’s also great to prevent back and joint pain.
There a few basic principles to proper body mechanics. First, make sure that when you stand, you spread your feet so that you have a more stable base of support. You must also avoid bending your waist. If you must pick something up, bend your knees instead. When you’re carrying something, make sure that you carry it as close as possible to your center of gravity.
Any sort of healing requires plenty of rest. In some cases, abdominal injury heals on its own after rest. Make sure you make the most of your maternity leave and spend plenty of time replenishing your energy at home.
Get help, if you must, to avoid overworking yourself and to prevent sleepless nights. Not getting enough rest can delay your healing, meaning you’ll have to cope with that sore and saggy tummy for a bit longer.
One simple, but effective way you can help your abdominal muscles heal is through deep breathing exercises. This may not sound like much, but it can do wonders when done on a regular basis.
You can do this by lying down on your back, putting pressure with your hands on your tummy. Take a deep inhalation, making sure that you’re breathing from your tummy and not from your chest. When you exhale, try to expel as much air as possible, contracting your abdominal muscles in the process.
Don’t be fooled by the “pelvis” in the name, this exercise not only strengthens your pelvic muscles, it also safely exercises your abdominal muscles as well! There are many versions of the pelvic tilt. One of the safest, even if you have RAD, is by lying flat on the floor with your knees bent and a pillow tucked under your buttocks and lower back. As you inhale and exhale, tuck your pelvis under your body, basically moving the small of your back towards the floor and hold for a few seconds before relaxing.
Some variations of this exercise involve pressing your back against the wall or standing on all fours. Experiment with the variety that is the most comfortable for you.
Another great and safe abs exercise after pregnancy is the side plank. This can be done by lying on your side, and then lifting your upper body up on your elbow. Make sure that your elbow is directly under your shoulder and your arm is spread out for the best balance. Lift your hips off the ground and hold the position for a few seconds before relaxing.
Make sure to do this exercise regularly for the best results. It helps if you do a few side planks in between chores or when you’re watching the TV. Sneak in a few of these and your abs will be looking great in no time.
If you’re still feeling too weary for the above exercises, then maybe you just need a good walk. Walks can also strengthen your abdominal muscles and help you lose some of that pregnancy fat. They’re also a great way to get some fresh air. Try taking walks early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when the sun isn’t too harsh.
Of course, right after pregnancy, you might still not be feeling it. In this case, a short stroll down a local park will do. You can gradually increase your outdoors time as you begin feeling better. It might also help if you take your little one along with you as well!
Breathing may not seem like an exercise, but it’s great for your abs! Also it’s something that you can just do indoors while you’re in bed or lounging on the couch. What will help, of course, is abdominal breathing, where your abdominal muscles do most of the work in expanding your lungs.
To do this, you can either lie down on a flat surface with your knees bent or sit straight comfortably on a chair with back support. Place your hands on your tummy and inhale. Make sure you feel your tummy stretching itself under your hands. Hold this position and then exhale, expelling as much air as you can. Do this slowly and repeatedly for several minutes.
In some cases, getting physical therapy is one of the best ways to help your abdominal muscles heal safely. This is especially recommended for mothers who have severe RAD, or perhaps just for those who want to promote abdominal muscle healing.
A physical therapist will be able to determine the extent of your RAD and guide you through a series of appropriate exercises to help your abdominal muscles to heal over time. Do note that this can take multiple sessions as physical therapy banks on your muscles’ own ability to heal and not on instant results.
If you have RAD and your abdominal muscles are stubbornly refusing to heal over time, you can opt for corrective surgery. This procedure is known as abdominoplasty, more popularly known as the tummy tuck. While the procedure is considered by many as primarily cosmetic, it can actually help you avoid back and pelvic problems that go with RAD. Make sure to consult your doctor to see if you are an ideal candidate for surgery.