How To Lose Your Post Baby Belly
The day has finally arrived, your baby is here and you finally get to meet that little bundle of joy that's been growing inside you. You get to now see their face, their fingers, their crying and cooing. You may be elated that your pregnancy journey is finished and you're into the next phase of motherhood. Everything's all good and you're over the moon by the cooing and sighing of your new little one…and then…you look down. There’s this unfamiliarity with the space on your body where your baby was living for almost the past 10 months.
You're looking at your tummy. You touch it…you poke it…you maybe even squish it all up but it pops back out. You realize you still look 5 months pregnant! But whatever, you toss that feeling aside because you're excited yet exhausted and you just need some rest.
Now it's two weeks later…or two months later…or nine months later and you look down and you realize you still look 5 months pregnant. Arrgghh! A whole bunch of words fill your head and you’re wondering what has happened. Congratulations ladies, you have a “pooch-after-baby” belly. Every woman who has had a baby will have one of these. 100%. You can’t avoid it.
“But what about those stories you hear that a women has a flat belly after she gave birth?…why don’t I have that?” First off, those stories are extremely rare and even though they may look like they have a flat tummy, chances are there’s still separation, squishiness and looseness through their midsection!
For most women this level of pooch-belly awareness is bothersome. But it is not the end of the world and in most cases completely rectifiable and recoverable. But this is not something that can be changed or go away in a couple of days. Sorry to burst your bubble ladies but this is going to take a little bit of patience, dedication and a touch of effort.
Why do I have a pooch?
Reason #1:As your baby is developing and getting larger, it puts pressure on your abdominal wall, namely your Rectus Abdominis or “6-pack” muscle. The tendons and tissues that surround and hold both sides of this muscle, namely the Linea Alba, stretches to accommodate your growing baby. Once baby has been born, this tendon may remain stretched and the separation between your “6-pack” is called Diastasis Recti. It takes time for this separation to contract back to normal but left unchecked, it can remain separated and weak, allowing your deeper internal organs to push through and is one common cause of pooch-belly.
Reason #2:During pregnancy your body is also stockpiling body weight and mostly in the form of body fat. Fat is a great energy source for the baby as it's developing in a woman's uterus. And unfortunately for our mental state, we can’t control our baby-building hormones and they pretty much tell your body to store fat all around your growing baby. This is another contributor to pooch-belly.
Reason #3:Maybe you had a few extra crackers, cookies, ice cream or other treats during pregnancy that we don’t really need to dig deep into (wink wink). If you packed on some extra pounds from this, hopefully you enjoyed it, take it in stride, don’t feel any guilt and let’s move on.
Reason #4:One last cause of pooch-belly that’s important to note is lack of sleep (which is pretty much every new mom) and not eating enough or properly through the day. These circumstances can slow your metabolism.
How Do I Get Rid of My Pouch?A lot of women look down at their belly and immediately think , “I need to go on a diet”, “I need to do crunches…like 1,000 of them a day” or “I need to sign up for some 30 day challenge”. These are not the answers to getting rid of your post-baby pooch belly. Go ahead…do a happy dance…we know you didn’t want to do these things right now anyways!
Eat WellGoing on a diet is not the answer. In fact that word should be stricken from our vocabulary. The word diet can often set off feelings of stress. And no one needs any more of that. Instead, this is a great time to focus on maintaining the healthy eating habits you had during pregnancy or building new ones.
If you are the kind of person that's eating one or two times a day or just snacking, then you need to get into more of a habit where you're eating more often and probably eating a little bit more in each meal. When we don't eat enough or frequently through the day our bodies go into ‘starvation mode’ so-to-speak. Your body will hold on to every single bit of extra body fat and calorie it can get its hands on.
Now is a great time to take up someone’s offer of wanting to help you out. Ask someone to make you a meal or two to have available in your freezer. Get a friend to come over and prepare all your vegetables or make you a big batch of rice. Whatever it is, that little bit of help will go a long way to helping you lose some of the pregnancy weight gain.
Minimize StressStress is terrible for our bodies and actually prevents us from losing body fat…especially around our waists. And you’re too busy for it. Your time is for figuring out how to read your baby’s language and bond with them. Be aware and identify elements in your life that are causing you stress. Cut out the ones that are in your control. Then find ways in which you can calm yourself when you encounter stress that’s not in your control. For example, closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths, doing some stretches, listening to your favourite music or trying a guided meditation on a podcast.
Drink WaterYou need a minimum of 2L of water per day; more if you’re breastfeeding. And if you’re trying to lose some weight, you likely need to drink more than this. You’re all crossing your legs reading this now because you have to pee right? Well this is a good thing. And excellent thing really. Water will always flush toxins and waste from your cells and help to liberate fat stores. Who wants to liberate their body fat (hands up)??? Drink water consistently and you’ll start to see great changes.
Get Some SleepOk so long solid sleep may not be a possibility for you right now but sleep is imperative to help us rest, recover, purge and re-build. Whenever you possibly can, take a nap when baby is napping and ask your partner to take over one of the mid-night feedings. If you don’t have a partner, ask a friend to stay the night and take over one of the feedings. It’s a small favour that will mean the world!
BreastfeedWhile not scientifically proven, many women do report losing weight after pregnancy due to breastfeeding. On the other hand, many women who breastfeed don’t find their weight decreasing because of it. One things for certain, breastfeeding stimulates the contraction of the uterus in the first 6-8 weeks of having a baby and this can help to tighten that pooch-belly.
However, if you are breastfeeding you need an additional 500 calories per day to maintain and/or build breast milk availability. Keep this in mind when you’re thinking about your nutrition (not diet). If you're having issues with breastfeeding, don't fret. We are firm believers in Fed Is Best, and losing your post-baby belly is definitely not dependent on your ability to breastfeed.
ExerciseMost people know that exercise helps you burn calories, and coupled with proper nutrition, can result in losing the “baby weight” quicker than someone who doesn’t exercise. Within the first 6 weeks after having a baby, you should be safe to go for a 5 or 10 min walk and do some light stretching. Do only what is comfortable and don’t push yourself. If you feel any pain, stop! But to really tackle that pooch-belly and make you stronger than ever before, you’re going to want to seek out help from a qualified pelvic floor specialist and/or certified postnatal fitness instructor. They will be able to give you a personal assessment and specific exercises that are safe, effective and staged progressively to tighten up your belly and minimize or eliminate diastasis recti (separation of the front abdominal wall).
A few paragraphs ago, we said crunches aren’t the place to start and here’s why. Your “6-pack” muscle is separated and when you focus on exercises that target these muscles specifically, they will get tight. That’s the point of them. But when they get tight they will tend to push apart more or stay where they are, leaving the surrounding tissues stretched. One of the best exercises you can start with is a Lying Pelvic Tilt which targets your TVA (transverse abdominis)…a deep muscle that helps to stitch your belly back into place, support your core and improve your posture.
Step 1: Lie flat on the floor with your legs stretched out and hands on your hips. Place your fingers 1 or 2 inches in from your hip bones.
Step 2: Take a deep breath in and as you exhale focus on pressing the arch in your lower back to the floor. With your fingers on your hips, you should be able to feel your TVA activate. If you have a lot of belly fat you may need to press into your hips a bit to feel the activation.
Step 3: Relax then repeat Step 2 for 8-10 repetitions. You can start by doing this 3 times a day.
Tip: Be sure you don’t tighten your legs or bend them to help press your back to the floor. The idea here is to activate your deep abs only.
You are the most important person to your baby so before you start getting into your post-partum fitness journey or making extreme changes to your nutrition, you will need to ensure bleeding has ceased and you have received clearance from your doctor to do so. A good time to discuss this will be at your 6-8 week post-labour check-up.
Be kind to yourself. Be patient. And enjoy this phase of motherhood. You got this!
This article is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before starting a new fitness and/or nutrition regimen.
Tamara Vahn is the owner of Body By You, a lifestyle fitness training and events company. She is also a certified Pre & Postnatal Fitness Specialist, former Miss Fitness Canada and mom to 2 little humans. Tamara is passionate about debunking the myths of working out while pregnant and helping women find motivation and perspective when it comes to living an active postnatal life. When she’s not running after or with her kids, you can find her leading confidence events at various Snuggle Bugz stores. Be sure to follow her on Facebook and Instagram at @bbymomfitness.