Getting your body back after pregnancy is no easy feat. Not that you'd know it by looking at pretty much any celebrity who has recently given birth, given their alarming tendency to 'bounce back' to their pre-baby bodies in record time.
It should be noted that (healthy) weight gain in pregnancy is not only completely normal, it's actually necessary to promote the development of your child. There is even evidence to suggest the children of mothers who don't gain enough weight have an increased likelihood of developing obesity later down the track.
In saying that, it's also totally natural for some women who have gained weight during their pregnancy to want to lose it, too. The key? Time and education.
"My biggest advice is to think about it as if you are recovering from a traumatic event," physiotherapist Emma Hindhaugh tells HuffPost Australia.
"There's a perception that if you have a natural birth, you can get back to everything straight away, and that's just not the case.
"In some cultures there is a time of internment almost, where other women help look after the baby and do the cleaning and cooking while the mother rests. In Australia, we are pretty much sent home from hospital four days after the birth and are told, 'here's your baby, go for it, and do everything else [you'd normally do] while you're at it."
"My advice for new mums would be to rest -- quite literally -- and also to apply the RICE approach to recovery," Hindhaugh says.
"This doesn't mean just sitting on the couch, I actually mean lying down. Think of your pelvic floor, and getting the pressure off it."
"Use ice packs to help with your inflammation. The sooner you get your inflammation down, the better."
"There are lots of things on the market to help with this, such as what I call 'suck it in undies' or other types of compression pants. They will help your recovery and also to help support the perineum."
"Once again, lie down rather than sit. Get the weight off your feet and off your pelvic floor."
Exercise after pregnancy
Hindbaugh stresses women shouldn't even think about exercise until receiving the all-clear from their obstetrician at their postnatal check (usually held six to eight weeks after birth) and instead recommends they follow the RICE recovery plan as outlined above.
But if given permission to continue, here are some things to think about.
Sit ups are not your friend
One of the biggest misconceptions new mums make is getting back into sit ups or stomach crunches will give them a flatter tummy. In reality, it's one of the worst things you can do, as you have most likely experienced a degree of abdominal separation during pregnancy and abdominal curls will only make it worse.
"Everyone thinks if you do sit ups you will get your flat tummy back again, and it's just not true," Hindbaugh says. "Instead, focus on improving your pelvic floor and the deeper layer of abdominal muscles. So these are not your six-pack muscles, okay?
"I am talking about the deep abs, the lower ones, that are going to give you stability. These deeper abdominals are like your inbuilt corset, and they work in conjunction with your lower back to give your strength.
"Strengthening these, as well as your pelvic floor, is probably the most important thing you can do. And it will improve your figure as well."
When it comes to what pelvic floor exercises you should be doing, Hindbaugh recommends visiting a physiotherapist for a customised programme.
"There has been a study done about the pelvic floor stuff, and what it found was that when given a verbal explanation of what to do, only 49 percent [of participants] did it effectively. The rest did it worse.
"But I will say, if you are doing the pelvic floor contraction it should be an 'up' feeling, not a pushing something out.
It needs to be done more gently, otherwise you recruit the other muscles. There are lots of people activating their glutes and anal sphincter, squeezing their bum as if they are stopping a fart. That's not the pelvic floor.
"If you're not 100 percent sure you're doing it right, go and see someone. Like any exercise, it needs to be tailored to you."
Get moving (but don't run)
"If you want to look at starting to gently resume your cardiovascular activity, you have to look at anything high impact, like running, as being so definitely out," Hindbaugh says.
"If you think of your pelvic floor, which has taken the weight of the baby and everything else for nine months, it's been stretched out. Even with a Caesar, you've still have that 9 months of carrying a baby and you will still have changes with your connective tissue. The way I describe it is a saggy trampoline, and chances are you are not ready to start running.
"One test you can do is wait until you have a full bladder, do three star jumps and cough at the same time. If you experience any discomfort or any leakage, you can't run.
"What is better is getting out and walking, which can also a fantastic way to promote your general well-being and fight depression. You can also use an exercise bike or go swimming, all of that stuff, but really. Avoid anything high impact."
Often with inadequate sleep, I think we all end up reaching for sugary foods just to get that energy boost. Nicole Dynan, dietician
This may not immediately spring to mind when thinking of getting back into shape, but it's extremely important for new mums, especially those who are breastfeeding.
"Improving your posture and body awareness is definitely something to consider. Those who breastfeed may find themselves often in a hunched-over position, and this can result in really sore thoracics, upper back and neck problems," Hindbaugh says.
"Any breastfeeding nurse will say the baby comes to you, not you to the baby, and to have something supportive behind your back like a lumbar roll or lots of pillows.
"Also be mindful when carrying your baby, to carry them in close to you, not on either side. If you can carry them in front or behind, the weight is more symmetrical. Allow your partner to carry them as well to take the load off."
Managing a healthy diet when you're sleep deprived and adjusting to your new, 24/7 job can be challenging to say the least.
But according to spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia and accredited practising dietitian, Nicole Dynan, the main aim is to keep well nourished and energy levels up and consistent across the day.
"Often with inadequate sleep, I think we all end up reaching for sugary foods just to get that energy boost," she tells HuffPost Australia. "Because as humans we get our energy from sleep or from food, and being sleep deprived actually increases our hunger hormone."
Foods to enjoy
- Sweet potato
- Wholegrain breads or pasta
- Fruit, such as apples
- Low fat dairy
- Lean protein.
"A lot of people tend to cut carbs when they are trying to lose weight" Dynan says. "In this situation it's probably a case of you needing them for energy, especially if you are breastfeeding and want to maintain a good milk supply.
"Our body is really good at getting the nutrients it needs, so depriving ourselves of a potato at dinner time because we are avoiding carbs, might see us reaching for something sugary later on instead.
"So my advice is go for slow carbs, low GI carbs which help sustain energy across the day. So sweet potato is good, wholegrain breads or pasta are good.
"Don't discount fruit either. Something like an apple can be really good."
A balanced diet
According to Dynan, one of the most important things to keep in mind while negotiating a healthy diet is balance, and what it generally looks like.
"So if you look at your plate, you want to be seeing half of it filled with vegetables, a quarter carbohydrate and a quarter protein," she says. "It's a really good way to have a basic model in your head which you can then apply to any meal."
You want a combination of protein and carbs which can be satisfying enough to get you through, even if you don't have time to be whipping up gourmet meals.
Dynan also recommends having healthy snacks on hand (because, let's face it, you're not really going to have time to whip up a pan-grilled salmon in the middle of the day).
"Try to keep your blood sugar levels even throughout the day," she says. "You want to avoid getting to the point of starving, meaning you overeat. For snacks, I'd recommend fresh fruit, little yoghurt tubs and unsalted nuts.
"Basically you want a combination of protein and carbs which can be satisfying enough to get you through, even if you don't' have time to be whipping up gourmet meals."
"And then the water, we can't forget the water," Dynan continues. "Drink lots of water, for breastfeeding as well, it will help you in keeping really well hydrated.
"Also helps fill you up and helps you determine whether the source of hunger is coming from head or from your tummy -- what I call head hunger versus tummy hunger.
"Having a drink of water can really help you determine that."
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