If you’ve just had a baby, your stretch marks, bulges and sags are all making you eager to get back into shape. But just how soon can your body bounce back? Here’s a reality check and the best approach to safe postnatal exercise.
After giving birth, it’s normal to still look pregnant, right? Absolutely! After all, it took nine months to build a baby and regardless of shape, bodies undergo some radical changes during this time (some less welcoming than others) – so changes overnight are never going to happen.
First thing to bear in mind. There’s an overwhelming focus on “bouncing back”, especially celebrated by the tabloids. When someone like Adriana Lima walks the runway just weeks after giving birth, it can feel like there’s some kind of magic bullet to dropping the baby weight pronto. Remember you are you – and everyone is different! So ease back on scrolling through your Instagram feed for inspiration. Let’s face it: you might be sporting a sizeable maternity bra, strapped with a bladder that can’t hold onto its urine and limping on feet so swollen your shoes barely fit. The truth is, a mother’s body may never be exactly the same as it was before.
Here are 4 things to keep in mind when bouncing back from your bub and what you can realistically expect when it comes to weight loss in the weeks and months post-birth:
It takes at least four to six weeks for the uterus to shrink back its normal size, so the inevitable belly bulge will follow suit. In other words, don’t expect your tummy to be back to flat in a matter of weeks.
Breastfeeding burns calories, but it’s not a diet. Sure, breastfeeding is a legit calorie burner, but you shouldn’t use it as the only means to reach your pre-baby weight faster. Likewise, eating less or restricting your food intake could actually hinder your milk supply and possibly lead to exhaustion (on-top of your already sleep-deprived self).
“While breastfeeding, it’s best to lose the extra weight gradually, using healthy eating principles and adding in some extra exercise,” advises the Australian Breastfeeding Association. “A loss of up to half a kilogram per week is generally safe for breastfeeding mothers. Avoid fad diets, where you lose weight quickly. These diets don’t have a good balance of important nutrients needed for both you and your baby.”
It’s now seven months post-birth and your tummy still looks pregnant after delivery. Many women mistake the extra baggage for excess body fat, instead it may be from a condition called diastasis recti – a separation of the deeper layers of the abdominal muscles. During pregnancy, the connective tissue joining the abdominal muscles (called the linea alba) stretch and thin out creating abdominal separation and thus ‘a gap’. After bub is born, that thinning generally improves as hormones return to their pre-pregnancy levels, but in many cases, the tissues get too stretched and lose their elasticity and, therefore, the ability to retract back into position. “Cosmetically, it can look unsightly, but more importantly it may be the cause of lower back pain, incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse” says Anna Lanyon, physiotherapist at the Physiotherapy Clinic in Sydney.
There’s no point doing countless numbers of crunches to flatten the tummy as this will only make the separation worse. In order to put the six-pack together again, Lanyon advises “it’s not about closing the gap, in fact the gap is somewhat irrelevant. It’s about making a stable base by providing a tensile force to the linea alba, and training the deep stabilisers to turn on at the right time, and coordinate movement”. A physiotherapist will best guide you through the correct techniques.
As for getting back into fitness – ease right in. Postpartum activity isn’t about marathons and HIIT classes; it’s about functional movement and repairing your muscles. As a general rule, it’s recommended to give yourself a recovery window of 6-8 weeks (possibly longer if you’ve had a caesarean). Beyond that, the key is listening to your body. If you’re feeling well and up to moving sooner, a walk with bub in tow is a great way to ease back in, or low impact movements, such as post-natal yoga or pilates, with a strategic focus on your pelvic floor, deep abdominal muscles, lower back and hips is key.
The warning signs? If you experience bleeding, diastasis recti (separating of your abdominal muscles), regular incontinence, feelings of pain or pressure, or severe scar tissue, you may need to sit exercise out for a little longer. Don’t beat yourself up – allow your body to heal in its own time and rely on your health professional guide you. Book a session with a Fitness First personal trainer to design a fitness program for you.