Do You Want to get Rid of Your Postpartum Belly?
You have achieved the impossible! You have just given birth. The joy, the pain, the fear all merged together.
You have never experienced feelings like this before and sooner or later you will fall asleep, completely exhausted by the triple marathon your body has just gone through.
You wake up the next morning and hold your baby with fear, pride, and excitement, and you look at the two of you in the mirror, as to imprint this memory in your brain for the rest of your life,
And that’s when you have a “hang on” second: if the baby is out in the world, how come that your belly think you are still pregnant?
It is a really silly thought comparing to all the other things that are happening around you at that time, but as soon as I touched that soft, empty womb, I couldn’t stop staring at it in awe. I wasn’t prepared for it, nobody had told me the belly would stay, as much as no one had told me I had to birth the placenta with the help of a needle stuck to my leg to speed up the process.
The fact is that all women have a bit of a belly for the first four to eight weeks after giving birth, as the uterus shrinks back to size. Sometimes, the “5 months pregnant” belly can last for months and for some of us, even years. On top of new stretch marks, sagging skin, hyperpigmentation and a party of new moles and broken veins that have taken address on your, once different, figure.
Pregnancy and birth are tough on a mum’s body, and instead of fighting the changes, we might as well embrace them, while working towards a healthy and joyful life. Which is why we need to take a few things into consideration when trying to reduce the size of our postpartum belly:
Walk as much as you want, but avoid doing 100 crunches a day.
Diastasis Recti (also known as abdominal separation) is commonly defined as a gap of roughly 2.7 cm or greater between the two sides of the rectus abdominis muscle. It can be quite uncomfortable for women, as it is also known as the mammy pouch, and it can linger around for years. Studies from the Harvard University has shown that isolate one group of muscles (e.g. abdominal) it’s not beneficial to assist the closure of the gap, and lots of crunches have also the side effect of tightening the hip muscles which will then pull on the lower back (as if we need an excuse to increase the tension on our lower back). If you have to opt for a great exercise to strengthen the abdominal muscles, planks are the way to go, along with strength training exercises. As I’m not a physiotherapist, I would highly recommend discussing your concern with an appropriate physician.
In the meantime, walk outside, walk barefoot on the sand or on the grass; spend time in nature to the point that you feel quite sweaty and uplifted, opposing to feeling tired and exhausted. Walking is the best exercise you can do post birth, as it isn’t aggressive on the body, and it is marvelous for mental sanity.
Take it easy if you had a C section
If you had a cesarean birth, don’t think about fitness or how to decrease the shape of your belly for at least 2 months. Make sure that you rest, wait for the scar to heal properly, and then speak to a doctor and start easing into exercising. You will be able to join any class you’d like a few months down the track, so what’s the rush?
Focus more on nourishing the baby and yourself
Instead of thinking “how can I lose my kangaroo pouch”, shift your mindset to “how can I nurture my body the right way”. After giving birth opt for warm, easy to digest foods. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, citric fruits, spices, and nightshades, at least until you have established a good breastfeeding routine. Feeding your baby will help your body to change, and will make you really hungry. Allow yourself to have that extra snack, and opt for nourishing foods instead of junk or sugar. This is a moment when your body does well with soothing, not inflammatory meals and plenty of water. As you keep on breastfeeding, you will notice your belly flattening up, your uterus shrinking and going back to place, and your breasts enlarging. It’s all part of the motherhood package (hair loss included), so enjoy it until it lasts.
Also, don’t eat too many carbohydrates under the form of white flour (bread, pasta, croissant, etc) as they can be taxing for the gut lining and can make you feel full, without delivering the appropriate amount of fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals your postpartum body is really craving.
Avoid (unnecessary) stress
Stress can come under many forms. Your body can perceive overtraining as a stressor, as much as undernourishment or eating the wrong foods. Sleep deprivation, a crying baby, spending too much time with the inlaws can all increase the level of cortisol in the body. Which is why it’s important to put a plan in place even before giving birth. Learn to say YES to homemade meals delivered to you by a friend, learn to say NO to impromptu visits by relatives you didn’t even know existed. Stay home and rest when the baby sleep, communicate with your partner, ask for help when needed, and definitely don’t stress about how your amazing body is looking. This phase will pass so soon, and you will miss those precious (although difficult) first months.
Meaning sleep whenever you can, or put your legs up high when your baby is happy playing in the playpen. It does seem counterintuitive, but the more you move, exercise, multitask, stress out, the more your body will get into survival mode and will start holding on every inch of fat you got, just in case a war is about to come. Going back to the previous point, stressing also deplete your vitamins and minerals; on the opposite side, relaxing, meditation and deep breathing will allow your body to access the parasympathetic nervous system and enter a state of homeostasis, where heal and repair can happen.
Mind over body
We tend to focus so much on the external factors, and our mental state takes a back seat, until a few months down the line when we realize we are not doing so well. Tell your partner what to watch out for (look online for the post-natal depression and anxiety checklist). Seek help if needed. Talk to your parents, siblings, your best friend. Open up with your mother’s group and don’t allow the feeling of guilt to come in. You are nailing motherhood as much as any other mum, you are simply going through a tough stage and need to be supported. Don’t be ashamed to do what is best for you and your baby.