You may well look down at your body in the months after having a baby and wonder if it's ever going to look the same again. However slim you were before, chances are you've now got a serious case of 'jelly belly' - and very likely a general weight gain over your boobs, thighs and bum, too.
With so many high-profile celebrity moms snapping back from pregnancy with a model-perfect shape in almost no time, it sometimes seems as if they're jumping right from the labor bed to the treadmill. Take a look, for instance, at Katie Holmes, Angelina Jolie, Melania Trump, Heidi Klum, and former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham -- whose record-time baby-fat weight loss has set the bar high for new moms the world over.
But is it realistic -- or for that matter even healthy -- to slim down after pregnancy with such lightning speed? “We don't have the kind of lifestyle that would allow for that kind of quick loss -- and the sooner women recognize that, the better they will feel about themselves, " says Laura Riley, MD, a high-risk-pregnancy expert from Massachusetts General Hospital and spokeswoman for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Experts offer up a resounding "No!"
It's natural and inevitable that carrying a baby for nine months and then giving birth will have changed your body dramatically. Your abdominal muscles were stretched to the limit to accommodate your growing bump, and the extra weight elsewhere is what nature laid down in preparation for breastfeeding (combined - quite possibly - with the effects of comfort eating during pregnancy!)
Also fairly inevitable is a downward turn in the chest department: as the breasts swell during pregnancy and with breastfeeding, the ligaments and tissues are stretched, with saggier boobs (it's known medically as breast ptosis) the result.
You Can Get Back to the Old You with Dedication
So, if you're keen to get back into shape after birth, how and when should you do so? Let's face it, dieting is no fun - and definitely not a good idea if you're breastfeeding. Exercise is your best bet, combined with sensible, healthy eating.
Apart from helping you shift some unwanted pounds, which will boost your confidence and self-esteem, regular activity improves your general health and fitness and is good for the mind, too, since exercise releases endorphins, the 'feel-good' hormones
Exercise is not something to be rushed into after birth. Getting back into shape is something to start when you feel ready - be it six weeks or six months down the line. And even then it should be a slow, gradual process, not the unhealthy race run by all those celebrity 'yummy mummies'.
Ok so maybe, with a personal trainer, a clever stylist, a 24-hour nanny and an expensive plastic surgeon on the payroll, you too could be wearing a size-eight evening gown to your next film premiere, a mere six weeks after popping out your offspring at the Portland.
Ask Your Doctor When You Can Start Exercising Again
Meanwhile, back in the real world, experts agree we should allow ourselves closer to a year to get our bodies back to normal after birth, inside and out. 'It's really important to give yourself a break and not put too much pressure on yourself.
It took nine months to make your baby, so give yourself at least that long to get back in shape', says Judy DiFiore, author of The Complete Guide to Postnatal Fitness, available on Amazon here, The Complete Guide to Postnatal Fitness, available on Amazon here, and co-founder of the buggy-based fitness franchise.
During pregnancy, a hormone called relaxin is released which softens up the body's ligaments and muscles, in preparation for birth. The flipside of this clever bit of physiology is that it leaves us vulnerable to injury and, although it ceases once your baby's born, the effects can hang around in the body for up to five months afterwards.
All mums will suffer from these to one extent or another and, in a large majority, a condition called diastasis recti can occur naturally, when the pressure of the growing baby stretches the connective tissues between the two bands of the main tummy muscle (the rectus abdominus).
It usually takes about four to six weeks for these muscles to realign - but even longer to strengthen to its original state. For this reason, Judy warns against sit-ups, crunches and other intense abdominal workouts in the four to six months after birth.
Too Much Exercise Too Soon Will Hurt in More Ways Than One
If you do want to include them in your workout, at least make sure you do them properly: always pull your tummy in first, and avoid letting it bunch up as you curl and support your head with one hand to prevent neck strain. The movement should be slow and controlled, not fast and jerky - and you don't have to come up a long way off the floor for them to be effective.
Pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and the demands of caring for a newborn baby make the first year of motherhood a tiring time. Moderate, regular exercise can help boost your energy levels....but equally, overdoing it will just set you back. Go easy on yourself - if you've had a bad night, or you're just too tired, leave your exercise routine for another day.
As a general rule, Judy DiFiore recommends waiting six to nine months before going for a run, or any other high-impact exercise class or sport, unless you were very proficient at it before the birth (in which case you probably don't have to wait that long - but you should still take great care to let your body lead you when you do pick it up again). Who needs to pound the pavement, anyway? There are lots of other, safer forms of exercise you can try, including:
An ideal way for new mums to exercise as it can be fitted it into a normal day. If you take your baby in the buggy, you won't need a babysitter - and you'll increase the intensity of the workout, too. Take a tip from Judy, who teaches Pushy Mothers buggy workout sessions and keep an eye on your posture while out and about with your baby.
'We tell mums in our classes to walk tall with relaxed shoulders, elbows and wrists,' she reveals. 'Lengthen your stride to give your legs and buttocks a really good workout and keep up a good pace. For higher intensity workouts take a hilly route or push your buggy across rough terrain, but ensure you keep ‘hips to handles' to avoid straining the back. If you've had a C-section, though, don't try this until you're satisfied your wound is healed.
These vary in their intensity, so stick to one specifically designed for postnatal women, such as Pushy Mothers. (Find out more about what's in your area by checking out your local boards, or visiting the website of The Guild of Pregnancy and Postnatal Exercise Instructors. At the very least make sure you go for one that's 'low-impact' - that means anything where you've always got one foot on the floor. If in doubt, ask the instructor first, and make sure they know you're a new mum - often, there'll be lower-impact alternatives to some of the moves that are more suitable for you.
Another form of exercising you might enjoy more than trying to go hard core back into your work out routine prior to pregnancy, is low impact exercises. Low impact exercises will exercise your muscles, but without putting too much strain on your body. These types of exercises include:
These are great for improving strength and flexibility, but you'll still need to raise your heartbeat with some sort of aerobic exercise a couple of times a week if you want to burn off that belly. (A combination of the two will work a treat). Some moves in Pilates are intense and may not be suitable, so do make sure your instructor is qualified and alert them to the fact that you're a new mum when you start.
A perfect all-round exercise - it will increase your heart rate but as the water offers you support, has minimal risk of injury. It's also good for firming up post-baby boobs. Take care to keep your head down if you're doing breaststroke, though - holding it up can put a strain on your neck and lower back.
All you have to do is be consistent and patient and sooner than you thought your back will be back to its pre-pregnancy shape.
Avoid activities that increase your risk of falls or injury, such as contact sports or vigorous sports. Even mild injuries to the stomach area can be serious when you're pregnant. After the first 3 months of pregnancy, it's best to avoid exercising while lying on your back, since the weight of the baby may interfere with blood circulation. Also avoid long periods of standing.
When the weather is hot, exercise in the early morning or late evening to help prevent you from getting overheated. If you're exercising indoors, make sure the room has enough ventilation. Consider using a fan to help keep you cool. Drink plenty of fluids, even if you don't feel thirsty.
Don't Strain Yourself Working Out While Pregnant
Make sure that you're eating a well balanced diet. Normally, pregnancy increases your food requirements by 300 calories a day, even without exercise.
Stop exercising immediately if you have any of the following:
Be aware of your baby’s movements. If they appear to slow down or stop, have a rest. Talk to your midwife or doctor if you're worried.
Bear in mind that your baby may often be quiet when you’re exercising. If things don’t feel right, always err on the side of caution and see your doctor or midwife as soon as possible.