Post. Baby. Body.
Three little words. But a whole lot of angst.
I live an interesting conundrum through my work. As someone who works in the field of post-natal rehabilitation and recovery, I talk a LOT about post-baby bodies. But I also rail against the tidal wave of “post-baby body” messages that engulf new mothers – those messages that come from mainstream media, social media, friends, family, fitspo-instagram “experts”, dodgy personal trainers, and society at large. The sort of messages that impress upon women the importance of “losing the baby weight”, and “becoming a yummy mummy”. I don’t buy into any of that BS. Because, it’s BS. It doesn’t matter how you look – what matters is how you feel, and how you function. #formoverfunction
When I talk about “post-baby bodies”, I’m talking about restoring “function” to our bodies after the rigours of pregnancy and childbirth. But by and large, the post-baby body discussions in the media and society are about our body’s “form”. What it looks like, whether it’s firm and perky or soft and droopy.
It’s an unfortunate truth that women face immense pressure to get “beach body ready”, almost as soon as we’ve popped out our little munchkin. There is such a strong message in the media around the importance of getting back into your bikini as soon as possible after childbirth. But why? I’ve never worn a bikini in my life, and I’m not desperate to get into one now, so perhaps I’m a bit biased. But it’s something that gets on my last post-natal wellbeing nerve. I’ve written about it before here.
The “post baby body” message is pervasive.
Whenever I start working with a new Mum for post-natal support I always ask them about their goals. I can honestly say that every single one of them will mention something about “losing the baby weight”.
What I’m really curious about is why women feel so compelled to “lose the baby weight” as their number one priority. I get that weight loss is a goal for many of us – myself included. But I wonder why it’s so difficult for so many of us to accept these natural postnatal changes. Why is it so important to get our pre-baby “form” back super quick? And why is it more of a priority than getting our pre-baby “function” back?
So in an effort to shift the conversation, and to tip the balance in the favour of “function” over “form”, I’m sharing my list of top four post-baby body goals that are way more important than “losing the baby weight”.
1. Restoring your posture and body alignment.
Nine months of hefting around a growing uterus does terrible things for our posture! As our baby bump grows, it naturally changes our centre of gravity, meaning that our body will frequently shift into abnormal positions to counter-balance that bump. This can lead to a completely unbalanced postnatal body – some muscles are overstretched, other muscles are too tight. We call these “upper and lower crossed syndromes”.
But it doesn’t end there! Once that little bundle of joy is out of our belly, we face the additional physical demands of lifting, carrying, feeding, handling and caring for an infant (not to mention the added manual handing of lugging around heavy strollers, capsules and nappy bags). It’s also worth noting that much of this manual handling is done in an asymmetrical fashion – such as always carrying our nappy bag on the same shoulder, or carrying our baby on the same hip. So our unbalanced, out-of-alignment bodies continue to be unbalanced and out of alignment – and they rarely get the chance to re-calibrate to a natural posture post-baby. They often need support and we need to consciously retrain ourselves back to a proper posture and alignment.
2: Restoring your core strength – and recovering from abdominal separation
When our bellies start entering rooms before we do, it places our poor little abdominal muscles under great strain. For many women, this leads to a condition called “diastasis recti”, commonly known as abdominal separation. This occurs when all of the abdominal muscles are stretched to such an extent, that the two bellies of the Rectus Abdominis muscle (the 6-pack muscle) pull apart from each other. The ligament that holds these two parts of the muscle together (the linea alba), can stretch a great distance, and in extreme cases, can even tear or rupture. Once the baby is born, it can take some time for this separation to return to (or close to) it’s original alignment. Until it does, our abdominal strength and function can be compromised.
But core strength isn’t just about our abs. Postnatal women also need to consider the impact of pregnancy and childbirth on all of their abdominal muscles (not just the Rectus Abdominis), their back muscles, as well as their diaphragm, breathing technique, and of course the pelvic floor. Because all of these structures have a role in maintaining our core strength and integrity, and they all need to work together, in perfect harmony, to encourage great core strength. Check out the image below, for a great representation of how the abdominal and back muscles, along with the diaphragm and pelvic floor, combine to create the “core”.
3. Restoring your pelvic floor.
Actually, I really should have made this number one. If you don’t want to be stocking up on the Tena Lady products by the time you hit your 40s, you’re going to need to focus on pelvic floor recovery asap! I think most post-natal women understand the importance of this by now. But understanding doesn’t necessarily lead to action. And when you consider the statistics that 45pc of women still experience incontinence issues seven years post-birth, it’s clear that many women aren’t doing all they should! And for the record, good pelvic floor rehab is about more than just doing your Kegel exercises. It’s also about restoring your posture and alignment (see above), restoring your core strength, improving your breathing technique and learning how to functionally engage your pelvic floor during all kinds of activities. Yes, there’s more to it than “just do your pelvic floor exercise”.
So, here are three of my “top four post-baby body goals”. But really, they’re actually just ONE goal. Did you notice how in each section, I mentioned each of the other two items. Because pelvic floor, core strength, posture – they’re all one and the same really. An issue in one will create an issue with all. So to repair one, we need to work on restoring them all. The body doesn’t segment itself the way we think it does. It’s one big integrated unit that should work together in perfect harmony with itself. When you figure out how your body really works – from a whole body perspective, you start to understand how best to “get your pre-baby body” back in a functional sense, rather than a pants size sense.
But what about point number 4: Learning how to accept your baby body – whatever it looks like?
Easier said than done right? I know I’m currently struggling with this personally. To be honest – I’m actually heavier now than I was at full term during either of my pregnancies. So yes, I had my “pre baby body” back – but then I lost it again. I know it’s not ideal, and there are several reasons behind it, which I’m currently working on – namely addressing the adrenal fatigue that has smashed me for these past two years. Every day is a body challenge for me. Exhaustion is a tricky beast to describe and explain to someone who’s never experienced. I’ve written before about how I so badly wanted to want to run, to work out, to push my body harder. But I simply couldn’t. It’s only really been the past several weeks that I’ve again felt strong and energised enough to start jogging again, which is a great win for me.
I lost a lot of confidence in my body through those two years, and I see-sawed between being angry at my body for letting me down, and being angry at myself for letting my body down. And of course this kind of anger isn’t particularly productive! But the one thing I can be confident of is this – even though I’ve gained weight, and lost cardio fitness in the past two years, my body has stayed functional. I haven’t struggled with pelvic floor issues, or poor core strength, and I believe I can attribute this to my postnatal recovery efforts. I put in the work in those early days after each of my babies and it’s given me a solid foundation to keep moving through this challenging body period. Because effective rehab is useful at, and for, any size.
If you’re a new mum, are you keen to know more and to start really focusing on rehabbing your “post-baby body”? If so please check out my postnatal wellbeing program, Body Mind Baby. Our next five week course is being held in Adelaide (West Lakes), starting on Wednesday June 7. You can book online here.
Please feel free to share with any other new mums who you think may be interested.
Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
I’m looking forward to helping you get post-baby rehabbed!
Until next time,
Cheers Sarah xx