The arrival of a new baby comes hand in hand with a whole host of challenges—sleepless nights, unpredictable feeding patterns and seemingly constant nappy changing, to name just a few. During this time, new mums tend to put their own needs on the back burner, despite the fact that this can be a particularly vulnerable time and they should be taking care of themselves as much as possible.
It’s been widely reported that embarking on a healthy, nutrient-rich diet and incorporating gentle daily exercise can boost energy levels, improve self-esteem, and ultimately put new mums in the best possible position to look after their new bundle of joy. However, even the best of intentions are no match for a lack of sleep, time or motivation. It’s easy for healthy eating to fall to the wayside—especially when comfort food or high sugar snacks can provide an instant energy boost. And as for exercise, forget it!
Looking out for number one
On a plane, you’re encouraged to fit your own oxygen mask before helping others. This also applies to parenthood—you can’t help others unless you’re breathing yourself. So, even though it may feel like an impossible prospect, it’s essential that new mums try to take time for themselves to maintain their own physical and mental resources.
With so much to learn, deal with and ultimately ‘wing’, it’s not surprising that new mums can develop a negative body image in the months following child birth. Clothes are suddenly shapeless and ill-fitting, everything seems to be covered in milk—or worse! The image painted in mother and baby magazines couldn’t be further from the truth.
The truth about post-partum bodies
Despite what Instagram shows us, post-partum bodies don’t simply ‘spring’ back into shape. In reality it can take months—if not years—for the body to settle down after childbirth and begin to resemble its pre-pregnancy size.
To find out more about post-partum bodies, we surveyed mums across the UK asking: ‘Which areas of your body did you find difficult to get back into shape after pregnancy?’
Here’s what we discovered:
- Almost three quarters of mums found the stomach the most difficult area of the body to get back into shape
- Thighs and flanks each attracted 8% of the votes
- The back was a problem area for 2% of mums
- The chin received the least amount of votes, causing an issue for 1% of those surveyed
- Only 5% expressed that they didn’t find it difficult to shape up any area
Expert tips on disguising a less-than-perfect tum
Our survey revealed that the stomach is undoubtedly the trickiest area to shape up after childbirth. This change in shape can mean that clothes which were firm favourites pre-pregnancy no longer fit properly, even after shedding the initial baby weight.
A shopping trip to buy new clothes post-pregnancy can be quite a daunting prospect and it can be difficult to know where to start. Simply choosing a bigger size may not be the answer—a rounder tum doesn’t necessarily mean that the bum and thighs are any bigger—and there’s the small matter of not wanting to spend a fortune now there’s a new family member to budget for.
With this in mind, we spoke to award winning personal stylist Lisa Talbot for some expert tips and advice on dressing to flatter a post-pregnancy tum.
Lisa: Dressing is about accentuating the best bits and being illusionary in the areas we are not so comfortable with. For women after childbirth it is so true that the tummy area is the area that can cause most worry. New mums can lose confidence and also don’t know how to dress their new body shape. They are also learning how to look after their new baby so dressing themselves does sometimes come secondary.
Lisa’s post-pregnancy style tips
- Ignore the label
My main piece of advice to any new mum is if you have to buy a larger size than you were pre-pregnancy please don’t worry, no-one sees the size label you are wearing and more importantly it’s about the fit.
- Create structure
The first thing to know is that we must give structure to the body frame—in this case the torso—while allowing more movement around the tummy area. Choose garments that fit on the shoulders, sleeves that fit the arm and trousers that are not baggy around the bottom. High waisted trousers, jeans and skirts are great for giving the illusion of a slimmer stomach, especially when worn with a top that is looser around the tummy.
- Think about colour
It is true that black is a slimming tone as it carries deep, dark properties known as a blue undertone. Navy, chocolate brown and forest green have the same properties so will also create a slimming effect.
- Distract with patterns
Patterns can cause a great distraction to any area; think animal print or floral this season. When we dress our body shapes it’s all about what other people see. With a print, the eye cannot catch any specific area.
- Consider shapewear
Shapewear can be brilliant, but can also be very uncomfortable and restricting. Wearing a high waisted pair of knickers and a high waisted pair of jeans or trousers will help to flatten the tummy and create a very sleek look. If a new mum feels comfortable in shape wear I would recommend the ‘short’ style.
Accessories are fab: a necklace, earring or a scarf draws the eye upwards and away from the tummy. Bangles and bracelets draw the eye to the wrist, and coordinating a bag or shoe in an accent colour will further highlight the accessory. Personally, I would not recommend a belt to any new mum as they simply draw attention the tummy area.
- Avoid metallics
Avoid any metallic as the light reflects off of any metallic fabric and makes an area look far larger than it is. Also, be careful with a garment that runs with a glitter thread.
- Don’t supersize
Wearing an oversized garment will make the body shape appear larger than it is, and I wouldn’t recommend a fitted top or dress as they will cling. Instead, try items that give structure but also move with the body.
Although exercise is often the last thing new mums feel like doing, the benefits far outweigh the effort. Aside from the obvious cardio and toning elements, exercise also can also provide headspace, open up social situations and, most importantly, release those all-important feel-good chemicals.
As life with a new baby is hectic—not to mention unpredictable—finding ways to exercise can be challenging to say the least. Many women opt for baby-focused fitness groups such as buggy fit which allow them to exercise around the needs of their child. Working out with other like-minded parents means that everyone is at a similar fitness level. No one will judge if you need to stop off mid-squat for an impromptu feed!
We spoke to Buggy Fit trainer Lianna Bell about the benefits of working out alongside other new mums and the importance of taking exercise at your own pace:
Can you share your top tips for new mums trying to shift the ‘baby bulge’?
Lianna: My first tip would be to take it slowly—a gradual and consistent approach is always best, especially postnatally. Don’t be hard on yourself as there’s so much else to think about at this stage. Just plug away at safe, appropriate exercise and healthy, balanced eating and you’ll get there. Don’t be in a hurry, don’t go crazy with exercise and don’t diet at a time when your body needs calories.
Secondly, seek expert advice, whether from a women’s health physio or a postnatal personal trainer/fitness coach. There are some really important do’s and don’ts in those early months and you need to be well informed. Finally, find something you enjoy doing! If you find exercise you like and that makes you happy then it’ll never be chore and results will come more steadily.
When is it safe for new mums to start exercising after giving birth?
Lianna: In theory, it’s okay to start exercising once you’ve had your postnatal GP check and been signed off to begin exercising again. Walking is a great way to start, as are postnatal exercise classes. What you need to bear in mind is: 1) this is when you can begin – and this means begin gentle exercise and gentle restoration of your core and pelvic floor. Your GP check is not a green light to go straight back to high-intensity, high-impact exercise. 2) If it doesn’t feel right, and if your body still hurts then only start when it feels okay.
Does this change when breast feeding or after a c-section?
Lianna: Breastfeeding doesn’t affect when you can return to exercise but can affect when you can return to the higher intensity stuff. Recovering from a c-section can take longer, and you need to be sure that there’s no sensation of pulling or soreness in the scar before you begin to do much more than walking.
Over what time frame should new mums expect to see a difference?
Lianna: I think this is an impossible question to answer and any time frame would put undue pressure on new mums that struggle to tone up. On the other hand, if an approach to fitness and health is gradual then results will also come gradually. The improvement in mental health can be almost instantaneous. Fitness and toning can come very quickly, but new mums should never be in a hurry because having a fully recovered pelvic floor and core is the most important thing.
Does it become harder to tackle stubborn fat after two or more pregnancies?
Lianna: No, I don’t think so. Multiple pregnancies can mean more impact on the core and pelvic floor, and so it can be harder to recover from these. But in terms of shifting stubborn fat, multiple pregnancies don’t make a difference. The only thing that might become harder is that the mum has less time on her hands to dedicate to fitness with two or more children to look after.
What types of exercise can be done with a small baby in tow?
Lianna: There are numerous group postnatal exercise classes, of which there are loads of fantastic options available: indoors, outdoors, gentle, more intense etc. Walking with a buggy is always good, and beyond that it depends on how happy your baby is to chill out in a buggy/car seat etc. while you crack on with what you need to do!
Do you find that group exercise provides more motivation?
Lianna: Absolutely – for the social element and the accountability element. If a new mum pre-agrees with friends or a trainer that they’ll be at a specific class then they’re more likely to go for it. Exercise can then be specifically tailored and totally appropriate. The stress of wondering if you’re doing the right thing for your body or not, is removed. Plus there are people to chat to!
How important is it to retain a positive outlook during this time?
Lianna: Very – but new mums aren’t always in control of this. Hormones can wreak havoc, as can sleep deprivation, and I don’t want any new mum feeling guilty for not being unfailingly positive! What a new mum can do is logically look at things that make people feel better – exercise, social groups, being outdoors etc. and find appropriate ways of ticking these boxes each day. Being positive will ultimately lead to better toning and a fitter and more recovered individual.
Is there anything (in terms of diet/exercise) that you would advise new mums to avoid doing?
Lianna: Until you are totally sure that any diastasis recti is fully healed, no prone planks, no prone push ups, no crunches and no sit ups (or similar movements). Also, until your pelvic floor and core are restored, no high impact activity. You only have one pelvic floor and it needs to keep you continent for your whole life. Be patient and kind to it! Finally, until you’re several months post-birth or post-breastfeeding—whichever is last—I’d say to avoid putting 100% effort into anything that is high impact, even if you’re recovered in other ways. Until this time, your joints don’t have the strength and stability to control sustained all-out efforts.
In the years following childbirth, once ‘normality’ has resumed and the body has fully recovered, some women find that as much as they try, they simply cannot shift areas of stubborn fat, specifically around the stomach area as our survey highlights. This is a particular problem for women approaching middle age, when metabolism naturally becomes more sluggish.
The obvious solution is to take a stricter approach to diet and exercise. However, this can be unsustainable and yo-yo dieting can result in the body hoarding fat, making it even more difficult to achieve a slimmer silhouette. As a result, an increasing amount of women are taking an alternative approach and turning to non-invasive laser surgery options such as SculpSure. The treatment is non-invasive, painless and requires no recovery time, meaning that women can permanently get rid of lingering lumps and bumps without taking time out from the whirlwind of family life.