Stemming from a Pre and Post Natal Fitness accreditation weekend with Body Beyond Baby’s Jen Dugard, (which was great by the way for anyone fitness professionals who work with women). I’ve been thinking a lot about our general perception of what happens to our bodies after we have a baby. That old ‘Get your Pre Baby Body Back’ chestnut.
I remember back in the day when I had babies. I read somewhere that if you didn’t have a body like Elle McPherson before you have a baby you won’t look like Elle afterward. Besides referencing Elle McPherson making it sound like a long time ago, it was only 11 years, it was the best advice I heard. I didn’t have a body like Elle, even if I were a foot or two taller. But in my own little competitive mind I thought, but wouldn’t it be great to bounce back really quickly.
The reality is that our bodies aren’t ever the same after having babies. Other than stretched abdominal muscles and a pelvic floor that has held up both our insides and a growing human being for 9 months. It then has to push the same baby out again. The idea of getting out Pre Baby Body Back is like peeling an apple then trying to put the skin back on, it might look similar but there have been some fundamental changes.
There is a huge amount of change that goes on in our bodies, and just because the baby is out doesn’t mean all of those changes go away overnight. Your tummy stretched to capacity over 9 months then you’re left with a weird soft squidgy bulge like a deflated balloon. It took 9 months to get to that point so realistically it can take 9 months or more to return to what is your new form of normal. The uterus alone takes at least 4 weeks to return to its usual size after birth.
I’m pretty sure we all think we’re Invincible
In our crazy lady minds, we think we can do it all. I have 2 gorgeous boys who are a year and a half apart. Both were over 4kg, and both thankfully 2 weeks early by their own accord. At the time I owned a ballet school, and my second was due the day of our theatre rehearsal for the end of year performance. Being self-employed and expecting myself to be a superhuman, I taught classes on Saturday, had Sunday off, delivered him on Monday, spent a few days in hospital, then his first full day out of hospital was spent in a basket under the table in the kitchen, while I ran a full performance run through and photo day.
Most people didn’t even realize I’d even had a baby. I remember one mother saying she’d tried to call me a couple of times during the week, Sorry, I told her, I was in the hospital having a baby. And it’s that thing where you still look like you’re pregnant after you’ve had a baby because all the baby making fluids and stretching is still there. I battled on, put on a performance for 200 students then fell in a gigantic heap.
Where we should be focusing instead
Rather than trying to get our pre-baby bodies back, we should be focusing on a time of resetting our bodies and making them healthy and strong. A great point made by Jen throughout the Safe return to Exercise training was that we spend so many years treating our bodies badly, ruining our metabolism with yo-yo dieting, that this can be treated as a great opportunity to reset the clock. Fortunately, many women really look after their bodies when there is a baby on board, we nurture it, eat well, stop drinking alcohol and coffee, and refrain from our unhealthy vices, then once the baby is out we return to putting our own needs and health last.
Once we become Mums, the motherly instinct to put yourself last kicks in. Instead of showing our darling offspring how to love themselves and have a good relationship with food and their bodies, we focus on the negative. Our own negative, which does not go unnoticed, and becomes what our kids learn to know as ‘the truth’.
Do you know when it’s ‘safe’ for women to return to exercise? The generally accepted time period is 6 weeks if it’s a natural birth or a few extra weeks for a cesarean. As a fitness professional, to be covered by insurance all you need to do is check they have had their 6 weeks check up and you’re good to go. I had my boys in Melbourne, but here in New Zealand, the 6-week checkup is all about the baby and not the mother. Yes, she’s had her 6-week check, and cleared to exercise but no medical professional has actually looked at her for weeks.
Where to Begin
We need to start slow and we need to start the rebuild our poor stretched tummies from the inside out.
The very basic start for returning to exercise needs, to begin with, the pelvic floor, and preferably a visit to a women’s health physio to check you are actually doing pelvic floor exercises correctly. According to the Continence Foundation of Australia, research shows that up to 50% of women trying to do pelvic floor muscle exercises by reading how to do it get the technique wrong. And I bet that most of us weren’t taught to do it properly by a trained professional. For both men and women, practicing the wrong technique will not help and could even make the problem worse.
Instead of thinking about getting our Pre Baby Body back, we should focus on creating our best bodies now. Feeding ourselves nutrient-rich food as fuel, moving and stretching and strengthening to make our bodies strong. We need to lead by example for our babies and show them how a strong healthy woman looks after herself. Of course, we want to drop the excess kilos, but weight loss is a byproduct of all our internal systems working properly, when we have a fiber-rich diet for digestion, and flourishing gut flora. If you are breastfeeding your baby is still taking its nutrients from your food. It’s not about ‘dieting’ to lose weight, it’s about eating whole foods and providing good milk for your baby.
Starting Points for creating your Best Body Now
Eat plenty of whole foods. That is food as close to its natural state as possible like you’ve just picked it yourself. Aim for at least 8 serves of fruit and veg each day.
Take the time to be selfish Warrior Woman. Look after yourself so you are the best Mum you can be. Happy mother, happy baby. Find someone to watch the baby while you have some self-care time. Even if that just covers half an hour for a bath, or walk down the street by yourself.
Ask for Help. If you’re struggling with life, nutrition or getting moving, there are plenty of people who can help. Send us a message if it’s about nutrition or exercise, or talk to your local doctor. Neither babies or motherhood come with manuals, but plenty of people have done it before us. On a side note, If your baby isn’t a sleeper, get someone who can help you learn to settle and create bed routines, even if it’s just a friend who’s done it in the last few years.
Use Exercise as a way to clear your mind and improve your emotions. It doesn’t need to be excessive exercise to start with. Grab the pram and get out the door for a walk. Find a Mums and Bubs class or just follow along to a youtube video in your lounge room. Exercise lowers stress levels, boosts your self-confidence and helps you sleep better the opportunity arises.
See a Women’s Health Physio. Make sure your pelvic floor is on track to recovery, and get any rehab exercises for abdominal separation, pelvic floor or prolapse.
Ditch the Idea of Getting your Pre Baby body back. Wear your stretch marks with pride, liken them to a scar from a shark bite. It looks a bit gnarly, but it’s a sign that you faced a battle and won. Be a stronger and healthier version than you were before.