It’s normal to still look six months pregnant for a few weeks after giving birth,” says nutritionist Elsa Marais. “Immediately after birth, your womb is 15 times bigger than it was before you fell pregnant, and it will take six weeks to return to its normal size.” Other changes take longer to rectify: “Your body releases the hormone relaxin during pregnancy to loosen your joints in order to help your baby to be born. This means that your ribcage and hips widen,” adds Elsa. “And your growing baby stretches your stomach muscles.” But if you do these gentle exercises every day, you will soon see some tone return. They’ll take no more than 10 minutes, and you’ll have a tighter tummy in four weeks.
“This is the most effective move to firm, tighten and tone your stomach,” says Elsa. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, knees slightly bent, and hands on your hips. Lower yourself into an almost-seated position for a few seconds, as though you’re going to sit on a chair behind you. Hold for a few seconds, then slowly return to the starting position and repeat. Keep your feet flat on the floor, your shoulders back, and your tummy tight at all times.
Use your abdominal muscles to do as much of the work as possible, particularly as you move from a sitting position to upright. You should feel as if you’re lifting your tummy up, rather than using your legs.
If you’re a new mom, only squat as low as you feel is easy, and only hold it for as long as is comfortable, which may only be a second. Start with just a few squats, and build up.
If you’re six months or more post-birth, go lower. The closer your butt is to the floor, the harder your muscles will work. Once you’ve mastered it, hold a small weight in each hand (tins of baked beans are ideal). Spend four minutes doing slow squats: do these for one minute, rest for 30 seconds, do another minute of squats, rest for 30 seconds, and then do a final minute of squats. Don’t rush: fewer slow, careful squats using your abdominal muscles are more effective than lots of fast squats.
The stomach retraction
“This yoga-based exercise is superb for flattening your stomach and cinching in your waist,” says Elsa. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart and your knees slightly bent. Place your hands on your hips and push your elbows forwards slightly. Take a deep breath, and then exhale all the air. Don’t inhale until after you’ve completed the next move. Pull in the part of your tummy just under your rib cage. Hold it for as long as is comfortable, even if it’s just a second or two, and then breathe normally. For maximum effect, aim to produce a deep concave in your abdomen, from your rib cage to your pelvis. Make sure you fully relax your muscles between retractions.
If you’re a new mom, hold this position for just a second. Start with a few retractions and slowly do more over a few weeks.
If you’re six months or more post-birth, suck in those muscles. Do it fully and you’ll feel tightness in your throat.
Spend two minutes doing stomach retractions. It’s important that you get your breath back between each move, but reduce these rest periods as your muscles strengthen. Start with five to 10 retractions with long rest periods, building up to 20.
The pelvic tilt
“The pelvic tilt is good for strengthening your lower stomach muscles,” says Elsa. Lie on the floor with your knees bent. Place your hands, palms down, on the floor, at your sides. Think about, and tighten, your stomach muscles, including abdominal muscles, tilt your pelvis upwards. You should feel as if you’re tucking your bottom in and pushing it upwards. You don’t need to lift it off the floor; simply tilting it will work sufficiently. Return to the starting position and repeat.
For maximum effect, keep your chin lifted away from your chest – check that you’re looking up to the ceiling before starting each tilt.
If you’re a new mom, take it very slowly and rest in between each tilt. Start with just a few tilts and build up gradually so as not to stress your body. Your stomach muscles are likely to be very weak, so be careful not to use your lower back muscles.
If you’re six months or more post-birth, work those muscles a little harder by imagining that you’re pulling your belly button in towards your spine. Once you’ve mastered the technique, lift one heel off the floor as you do the tilt. Alternate heels with each tilt to work both sides of your body equally. Spend four minutes doing pelvic tilts: do them for one minute, rest for 30 seconds, do another minute of tilts, rest for 30 seconds, and then do a final minute of tilts.
Eat right, too
- Avoid sugar. Sugar converts into fat and gets stored around your stomach. Snack on nuts, oat cakes, or fruit instead.
- Cut back on coffee. We know it’s hard when you’ve been up most of the night, but excess caffeine releases the stress hormone, cortisol, which increases fat storage around the stomach.
- Take a fish oil supplement. Studies show that it helps your body to burn more fat around your mid-section.
- Eat plenty of lean protein like grilled chicken and turkey. Protein takes far longer to digest than carbohydrates, so more calories are burnt, and you’ll feel full for longer.
- Increase your magnesium intake by eating nuts and dark, leafy greens like broccoli and spinach. It helps keep blood sugar levels steady and curb sugar cravings.
- If you’ve had a C-section, speak to your GP before exercising. Only do what is comfortable for you.