If you're looking for tips on post-pregnancy exercise, what will help reduce your belly after pregnancy and how soon after giving birth can you start?
When you've just had a baby, in the immediate days and weeks after giving birth, it's likely that your stomach and pelvic floor area will probably be feeling tender, battered and bruised, to say the very least.
So what does the type of birth experience you had - be it natural, assisted or unassisted or a c-section - mean for the strength and the look of your tummy and the condition of your core?
As a new mum 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 (yikes!). 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 might still look pregnant; it's totally normal. You might feel fine but you might feel like you’ve just been hit by a bus at the same time as being on an emotional rollercoaster; totally ecstatic but two seconds later, you can’t stop crying.
Want to know a secret? It gets better, we promise!
So, what post-pregnancy exercise should you do right after giving birth?
We mean it. Just because gazillions of women give birth, that doesn't mean it's not a big deal. It is 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 forget it, which includes you.orget it!
Once you've done that, what post-pregnancy exercise you can do at 0 - 6 weeks post birth?
At this point your only mission is to just find the muscles again (we know… what muscles?)
We're talking about your core muscles and pelvic floor. This is the point where your core muscles are so important. 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!
So how do you find - and use - your 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.
What if you 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) 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 visualisation 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!