Natural, assisted or unassisted, c-section… What does your birth experience mean for the strength and the look of your tummy and the condition of your core? What exercises will help reduce your belly after pregnancy and how soon can you start? TalkMum expert Wendy Powell shares her advice.
In the days and weeks after having your baby, your midsection and pelvic floor will probably be feeling tender, battered and bruised… to say the least.
You may be healing from stitches after tears or an episiotomy; you also may feel like your entire body is going to fall out if you sit on the loo. Your tummy will be looking like a slightly baggier version of its pregnant self and if you had a c-section, you will have a very tender scar area as well as reduced sensitivity. You also probably feel slightly like you’ve just been hit by a bus, totally ecstatic but at the same time you can’t stop crying.
Oh the joys of childbirth. But don’t worry, its gets better I promise!
First, congratulate yourself!
Just because gazillions of women give birth, that doesn't mean it's not a big deal. Don't underestimate the physiological trauma your body has undergone, and don't let anyone make you feel like you should get over it and get on with it any time soon. Giving birth, however you did it, was a strong, powerful, amazing feat and don’t let anybody (including you!) forget it!
So now we’ve established how clever we all are, we can start trying to put ourselves back together.
0 - 6 weeks post birth, your mission is to just find the muscles again
Er… what muscles?
You need your core if you want to stand up, sit, move, twist, pull, push, bend or turn. These muscles are connected (literally) to the muscles of your pelvic floor, which you need to prevent you from wetting yourself or having a prolapse. And you need strong core muscles to help close a diastasis recti, or separation of your abdominal muscles. And if you want to reduce your belly after pregnancy, you need all of the above in spades.
So start as soon as you can! You're not 'exercising', you're breathing and re-connecting your brain to your tummy and your pelvic floor. And the sooner you do this after any type of birth, the better. But if you're reading this and your stomach muscles can't remember last Tuesday, let alone how to synchronize with your pelvic floor, don't worry!
How do I find my pelvic floor muscles?
The movement you’re aiming for is to draw your belly button down and back towards your spine at the same time as a deep lift of your pelvic floor. Practice this on an exhale. So breathe out, long and slow, as you gently draw back your belly button.
At the same time, engage your pelvic floor muscles. Not a little squeeze at the front, a deep, high lift in the middle. More on how to do pelvic floor exercises properly here (no, ‘squeezing like you're trying not to wee’ doesn't cut it!)
Get as used to this movement as you can. Practice as you sit in bed recovering, and as you feed your baby - just take long slow breaths in time with the muscle contractions. When you move around - roll out of bed (always from your side!) when you start to try lifting things, when you do anything that is going to place forward forceful pressure on your scar site... engage the muscles.
Can’t feel anything?
Following a natural / vaginal birth, your tummy will look somewhat deflated (but not completely – don’t expect it all to disappear right away!) and your pelvic floor will feel tender and lacking in strength or even any feeling at all. Trying to ‘lift your pelvic floor’ (think of it more as a ‘lift’ than a squeeze) will likely produce no discernible feeling or movement at all. But keep trying - your brain needs to re-connect those nerve pathways to the muscles!
On the other hand, after a Cesarean section, you will experience numbness around your scar site, and so the visualization of ‘gently drawing belly button to spine’ may be unhelpful even though you may be able feel something stirring in your pelvic floor.
Try this instead: imagine your abdomen as a clock, with your belly button at 12 o’clock, your pubic bone at 6 o’clock, and your hip bones as 3 and 6. Imagine you are slowly and gently drawing the hipbones, or 3 and 6 o’clock, together. It will also work if you imagine you are drawing them apart! Don't worry that you can't feel much happening for now. Go gently and do the movement on a long, slow exhale. Over time your muscle strength will improve and you'll be well on the way to flattening that belly after pregnancy!
Wendy is a qualified personal trainer who specialises in pre and postnatal fitness. For more information and free reports and video, visit www.mutusystem.com