Congratulations on becoming a mum! Well done; pregnancy really is quite a feat, as is the wonderful world of parenting. Now that you have had your baby, and even if you had your baby a while back, you may realise just what your body went through during your pregnancy. Loosening of ligaments, expanding tummy, morning sickness. The way in which your body now looks and feels may be a bit of a shock but this may also be your new normal. But what if you aren’t happy with the way that your body is now? Are there any ways to change your ‘new normal’?
Have a look at the most common body gripes of new mums and the ways to solve them.
1. Weight gain
Did you know that the average woman puts on between 10-12.5kg throughout her pregnancy, as highlighted by Tommy’s. Do remember, though, that this is an average and that every single woman is unique. What is important to note is that weight gain is not only normal, it’s expected. Whilst only some of this weight will be body fat, much of it will be made up of things such as the placenta and amniotic fluid (and of course, your baby!). If, like me, you decided to eat for two and ate what you felt your body needed at that time (bacon sandwiches and crisps, anyone?) then you may have found that, post-baby, you have rather a bit of unwanted body fat left over.
Firstly, it’s OKAY. You have a baby to look after, so weight-loss may not be your priority. However, once your doctor has given you the all-clear to return to exercise, it may suit your body to try low-intensity fitness. Show your body some love and ease yourself back into exercise with classes such as Barrecore or Heartcore. These classes have zero-impact on your joints which may be a little looser than usual due to the relaxin that can remain in your body for up to 12 months post-birth. Understand that with a baby it won’t be as easy to fit exercise into your life. I probably only manage two classes per week, and that’s purely because the children are at nursery and I freelance. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a class or two. If childcare is not an option, try the many online post-natal classes around. Frame have created Mumhood which offers easy to follow online classes. And don’t forget about their studio classes where you can bring the baby, no sitter needed.
2. Diastasis Recti
Erm, diastasis what now? Diastasis recti is a condition whereby the abdominal wall (specifically the rectus abdominal) separates during pregnancy and remains separated post-birth. You can view what this separation looks like in the following image. Note that the gap that you are experiencing may be larger or smaller in comparison.
The NHS has suggested that if the gap is still present when your baby hits eight weeks old, it’s best you get checked out by your GP. This is so that you can be referred to a women’s health physiotherapist to close the gap and reduce the chances of back pain and injuries caused by a weak core. Diastasis recti was a big issue for me after the birth of my second child, with the gap measuring eight fingers (anything less than two fingers is usually considered ‘normal’). My GP referred me to a physio who’s exercises did help; however, I then decided to go back into high-intensity exercise before my core was strong enough which unfortunately widened the gap again.
With my daughter now twenty-one months old, I have gone back to basics and now stick to Barrecore with modified ab sets and reformer pilates at Ten Health and Fitness. Despite being nearly 2 years’ post-natal, I am not afraid to tell the instructors that I am a post-natal client, as i am dealing with issues caused by my pregnancy. So ensure you tell the instructor that you require modifications, and do not feel out of place for doing exercises that are different to the rest of the class.
I’d also recommend that you try The MUTU System, an online holistic programme that aims to heal your diastasis recti within twelve weeks. MUTU is also unique in that it focuses on diastasis recti not as a problem, but as a symptom of a problem (ie the core not functioning correctly). Following this programme would help you to strengthen your core, including your pelvic floor (read more about your pelvic floor in the next section), thereby reducing the abdominal gap. I’m only on week three of the programme, so a little early to see any improvements, but the many positive testimonials and ‘before and after’ photos are proof that the exercises actually work.
Do you try to stop yourself sneezing (impossible) or avoid coughing (again, difficult) for fear that you may wee yourself? Stress incontinence is common after pregnancy. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy reveal that out of a poll of 1900 women, 34 per cent said that they experienced urinary incontinence a year after having their baby. Damage to your pelvic floor during childbirth or the extra weight on your pelvic floor muscles during pregnancy are risk-factors.
However, despite being a common problem for mothers, the condition is by no means normal. Do not brush it off and accept the usual advice of wearing a pad and forgetting about it. When I first suffered from incontinence, it was when I had naively decided to take up netball four weeks after my daughter was born. 10 minutes into playing, I had to excuse myself due to leaking every time I landed from a jump. The advice from my teammates? Wear a pad. Luckily, I ignored their ill-informed advice and went to my GP who referred me to a women’s health physio. It is important to see a specialist as they will be able to examine you and suggest pelvic floor exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor. For me, one year on, the exercises seem to be helping. If you are suffering from incontinence, speak to your GP. Do not feel embarrassed to ask for help as you are not the only one experiencing this, and this is not something that you have to live with.
These are just a few of the issues you may face after having a baby. Weight gain is to be expected during pregnancy and it is very rare to return to your original weight as soon as your baby is born (ignore all the ‘perfect’ #newmumbody Instagrams!). Picking a safe exercise is the right step towards losing the weight. A separation of the abdominals is a normal occurrence and can certainly be helped by a women’s health physio, as can stress incontinence post-pregnancy. The most important thing is to realise that you have options and although life will certainly be different after having a baby, you will be able to regain the strength within your body that you once had with help and dedication.
For more information, visit the sites below which link to specific information and advice surrounding your post-baby body:
- www.shape.com 9 things you should know about Postpartum exercise
- babycentre.co.uk Your body after pregnancy
- www.tommys.org How much weight should i gain after pregnancy?
- www.nhs.uk Keeping fit and healthy with a baby
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