Most moms think they’ll bounce back to their pre-baby body, but the reality is that your post-baby body needs time to recoup and recover. Plus there’ll be some changes you just weren’t expecting.
Body changes you can expect after birth
The most dramatic changes occur in the abdomen. Here, one expected adjustment leads to another quite unexpected one – even after birth. “When the uterus expands and moves up out of the pelvis, the abdominal muscles become overstretched and the body compensates with postural changes like a forward tilt of the pelvis and outward rotation of the hips,” says Micky Marie Morrison, author of Baby Weight: The Complete Guide To Prenatal And Postpartum Fitness.
Denise Chester, nutritionist and personal trainer, says that postural changes aren’t limited to pregnancy, but also once your baby arrives. “Rounded shoulders are common due to breastfeeding, heavier breasts, bending over frequently, and carrying heavy loads (car seats, nappy bags and your baby).” Your new posture can often lead to backache.
If you loved your fuller breasts during pregnancy and while they were filled with milk, you’ll be disgruntled to hear that they might become smaller than before when all this started. “Women experience an increase in fatty tissue inside the breast during pregnancy and also an increase in size due to growth of their milk glands and milk production,” explains obstetrician and gynaecologist, Dr Paul Lansdowne. “Afterwards, fat loss, smaller gland size and changes in the skin can leave breasts looking stretched out and smaller. This has a lot to do with a woman’s pre-pregnancy weight, weight gained during pregnancy, age and genetics.
Your pre-pregnancy shoes might now be too small. Dr Lansdowne says: “Almost all women experience some relaxation in the joints and connective tissue between their bones during pregnancy, including in their feet.”
Chester adds: “The increase in shoe size is down to a change in the shape of the foot and a decrease in arch height.”
Joints and swelling
Your joints may shift as part of the natural preparation for childbirth. Some women also experience swelling, or oedema. While swelling usually subsides quickly, changes in the joints can take longer. For some, it may never be quite the same.
Set realistic goals
Post-pregnancy weight loss takes time. The period when you’re adjusting to a new baby should also be the time you allow your body to recover.
“Women should be encouraged to eat healthy foods to support their healing.” She suggests a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, complex carbohydrates (wholegrain breads, brown rice, starchy vegetables and beans), protein and good-quality fats found in avocados, nuts, oily fish and vegetable oils.
Morrison suggests that a good rule of thumb is to allow yourself a full nine months to recover as it took your body that amount of time to change so drastically. “A healthy diet and regular exercise can reduce that timeline to five to six months if you had a normal and healthy pregnancy weight gain of 10 to 14kg,” she advises. She adds that a healthy, realistic weight-loss goal is one to three kilograms per month. If you’re not conscious of diet and don’t exercise, it will take longer and may never come off.
Don’t rush into exercising
You shouldn’t begin to think about starting strenuous exercise until after your six-week check-up. Once you’re given the go-ahead from your healthcare provider, ease into a regime. Chester warns that doing the wrong exercises could do your body more harm than good at this point.
“Telling a mom with a three-month-old baby to start doing sit-ups and crunches to get a flat tummy is possibly some of the worst advice a woman can get,” she says. “These exercises should be completely avoided until the tummy gap, or diastasis recti, has fully healed.” Abdominal separation occurs in pregnancy to make way for your growing baby. The gap tends to close on its own after childbirth, but some women need targeted exercises to help it heal.
“The gap in the muscles leads to weakness in the abdominal wall, which in turn leads to intra-abdominal pressure escaping through the gap,” says Chester. “This can result in pooching or a doming belly, and is the reason so many women find it impossible to get a flat stomach.
Getting physical with your baby in tow
You barely find time to shower, so you may wonder how you can find time to exercise. Morrison suggests exercising with your baby. “A 30-minute walk, three to five times a week has great calorie-burning and cardiovascular benefits,” she says. Just strap your little one into a front carrier or into his pram.
Fitness instructors nationwide have also realised that new moms find exercising with their baby a lot easier to manage time-wise. This means there are plenty of baby-friendly classes you can attend. For full-body recovery, Morrison also suggests strengthening the muscles most weakened during childbirth: your core. Also do core exercises.
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