“You don’t look like you’ve had a baby!”

It’s a ubiquitous comment, meant in kindness to reassure a new mum she looks great. There’s no malice there, and I’ve said it myself in the past.

It begs the question though: what does someone who’s had a baby look like exactly? This is meant as a compliment, but it acheives this with the implication that looking like you HAVE had a baby is a negative thing.

What’s so bad about looking like you’ve created life? I suppose ‘you don’t look like you’ve had a baby’ could be referring to looking radient despite sleep deprivation. It could be a lack of stretch marks (although again, what’s wrong with stretch marks?). But I think we all know it’s really about size: well done, you’re small again.

Telling someone they’re small is still a compliment, and I’m not sure how I feel about this. Naomi Wolf’s words spring to mind for a start:

postnatal baby weight

“You don’t look like you’ve had a baby!”

Something else about this comment nags at me though- it only works as a compliment if you’re comparing yourself to other women. Which we do. We’re in this monster of a competition that none of us signed up for, one that reaches its tendrils into every aspect of our lives.

Women and girls are often made out to be bitchy, as if it’s just one of our characteristics, but this isn’t inherent to our nature; society continually pits us against one another, from using each other’s insecurities to feel better about ourselves, to failing to give each other the support we deserve in the workplace, having been led to believe there’s not enough space at the top for us all.

“You don’t look like you’ve had a baby!”

Thing is, and what I didn’t expect, isn’t how having children affected how I look. It’s how it has affected how I feel.

I feel stronger, more confident. I feel more concerned with how my body feels than how it looks. I feel more concerned with the person than the vessel. We’ve gone through labour, known love like never before, sleepless nights and exhausted days, and still found the energy and patience to answer the endless questions about who is stronger, Hulk or a T-Rex?” (Well, most of the time anyway. And it’s definitely Hulk).

Recently this amazing post on Facebook came up on my newsfeed.

“No one is comfortable in their own skin 100% of the time. Constantly labelling people and piling expectations associated with these labels on them is harmful to everyone…including those doing the labelling.

What we should be worrying about is if people are ok, not what they look like.”

And she’s right. There’s nothing wrong with complimenting a mum (or anyone) and making them feel good, but I’d like to do it without pushing a standard of what society considers ‘good’ on them. Without making it sound like showing signs of being a mother is a bad thing, and without reinforcing the idea that how we look is what’s important when you’ve just given birth. Without putting smallness before health.

From an early age this focus on appearance is ingrained into us, and then we unconciously perpetuate the problem. We’re so used to our bodies being subjected to an ongoing stream of public scrutiny and commentary, from how we look to how we use them (think breastfeeding in public), that it barely even registers anymore.

What if we stop focusing on how we look and start focusing on how we feel? We are not our bellies (or any other body part), and whilst I know to many of us it really does matter what we look like after childbirth, do we want our children thinking women should to look a certain way (usually for the male gaze), regardless of whether it’s healthy?

Remember that what matters, what people see when you walk in to the room, is not a woman whom they love because she looks like she hasn’t had a baby, or whom they judge because she does, but a wonderful person whose smile lights up the room, or whose laugh is infectious, or whose shoulder is always there to lean on, or whatever amazing qualities make you, you.

Imagine a society that focused on what women’s bodies are capable of, rather than what part needs ‘fixing’, or what we could achieve if we got our brains focused on other things, and our confidence up as a result. I know it seems a small thing, but perhaps thinking about how our daily dialogue influences this is a good place to start. First and foremost asking how someone feels, and really listening to the answer.

I love babywearing. Unfortunately, I’m a bit crap at it. I gaze longingly at the amazing mamas with their beautiful wraps (especially Oscha Roses. I want the roses), but I never managed to get the hang of them. In a way this may have been a good thing: having seen the size of some of the stashes out there, I think it’s a slippery slope to wrap addiction…

I managed a stretchy wrap with my second when he was teeny, then moved on to a soft structured carrier (SSC) for back carries as soon as I could (4 months). I got to keep him close, while staying hands free to play with big brother (and do household chores and stuff. But I won’t pretend any of that got done very often).

babywearing and diastasis recti

Back carry with the Boba!

And after starting out in the dreaded Baby Bjorn (more about why the ‘dreaded’ part later), big brother progressed to a toddler SSC too.

Look at the sleepy dust in action!

Babywearing works its magic!

But what was happening to my diastasis recti while I was strapping baby to my back for hours every day?

There are 2 aspects I want to look at here: the core itself, and what the pressure of a strap around the tummy is doing to it; and posture, and how baby wearing can affect that.

The reason I’m so keen to do this is that, if done incorrectly, babywearing could hinder the recovery of your core and pelvic floor. However, I don’t believe this needs to be the case, and I have seen advice out there warning mothers to stay away from front carries until diastasis has healed, or questioning if it’s ok after c-section. And I don’t want anyone to be scared off. BECAUSE BABYWEARING IS AMAZING. Did I mention that?

The Core

I’m going to start with the core itself. And perhaps not the core as you think of it, because for many of us, core means ‘abs’. The ‘Core 4’ that I want to focus on are the diaphragm, the transversus abdominis (TVA), multifidis (low back muscles), and the pelvic floor. This video from physiotherapist Julie Wiebe explains it brilliantly:

So, as you can see, pressure from wrapping too tightly around the tummy is going to put a lot of strain on the diaphragm and the pelvic floor. Plus the first step in post natal recovery is training the breath, and this can interfere with that big time!

 This was my mistake.

 I wanted baby as high up on my back as I could get him. I was advised to have the strap up on my ribs, but I couldn’t get it to stay there, it would slip down. So I strapped it as high up on my tummy as I could, and it felt like if I didn’t have him strapped tight he would drop down and the strap at the front ride up. So I would pull the strap firm, pulling my tummy in with it. This is over utilising that TVA muscle, and tiring for my low back. After 3 hours of this (he went through stages of having MEGA naps back there!) it would feel pretty achy!

It also had the effect of giving me some rib flare (or at least exaggerating some that may have been there as a result of my pregnancy).

So should I babywear if I have diastasis recti?

I have seen the advice that front loading carriers should not be used until any diastasis is closed, to avoid pressure on the abdomen. This advice was accompanied by a picture of a front facing out Baby Bjorn. Just like this lovely holiday photo of me with baby number 1.

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Is a forward facing front carry bad for postnatal abdominal seperation?

BB carriers don’t get such a deep seat for baby as SSC or wraps (you can see my little one’s legs dangling in this picture, rather than being in a hip healthier ‘froggy’ position), and the facing out position is often not advised anyway. Plus, BB is the worst culprit for pulling the shoulders forward into hyper kyphosis (see below). So with regards to this particular carrier, I agree. But others?

Certainly, increased abdominal pressure could worsen diastasis.

And because babywering is usually done for a fairly long period of time (up to an hour+, compared to picking up a buggy or a short time carrying baby in your arms) then comparitavely it is likely to put more pressure on your pelvic floor.

Making sure you engage your core and floor while you babywear is important, and ideally seeing a Women’s Health Physio will make sure you’re doing this correctly, and assess how much babywearing your pelvic floor can cope with.

But you’re going to be carrying baby anyway, and a good fitting wrap or carrier will keep baby snug and closer to your centre of gravity, so easier to carry. And it should also be easier to correct your posture using a carrier, compared to having baby in your arms. In fact, a wrap can make baby feel even lighter, as it spreads the weight. So babywearing won’t necessarily delay healing, or increase abdominal pressure.

But you need to consider duration.

How long will you babywear for? You may need to start with short periods of babywearing and build up as you get stronger. Again, having your pelvic floor assessed for endurance by a WH Physio is the best way to know what’s suitable.

And you need to have the right posture.

You could be doing excellent work on rehabilitating your core, but if you stand in poor alignment all day you will be undoing all that work.

After having a baby you are left with a weakened core- the transverse abdominis, multifidis, pelvic floor and diaphragm work together to maintain stability as a unit, and your TVA and pelvic floor have just had a hard few months! So many women have postural problems after birth as it is. A poor wrap or fitting carrier will not help this.

If you’re not in alignment some muscles may not activate as effectively, while others overwork. Let’s look at what good posture should look like first.

posture postnatal abdominal seperation

How aignment affects diastasis recti

The cues you’re looking for are:

Ribs over hips with a slight arch in the lower back, tall upper spine, and chin tucked in (as opposed to head sticking out like a turtle).

Neutral pelvis. If you fully tilt your pelvic forwards (think glamour model back arch), then tuck your bum right under, neutral is roughly in the middle of these two extremes. The two most prominent points on your pelvis should be level with your pubic bone, forming a tripod.

For more detail here’s another video talking about rib position:

What does poor posture look like?

Imagine you’re standing with your fly undone. If your bum is tucked under (posterior pelvic tilt) or tilted forward (anterior pelvic tilt) the fly is more likely to gape. Same thing with diastasis, and your pelvic floor will not be in optimum alignment with your diaphragm. Regardless of whether you babywear, if you stand like this all day then DR is less likely to heal.

The problem is babywearing can exaggerate these postures.

Hyper-kyphosis is the ‘bell rung down’ position Julie Weibe talks about in the video above. It looks like slouching, and as well as hindering healing, it is a risk factor for pelvic organ prolapse (Altmen et al 2008).

Then there’s a sway back, which is quite common when carrying a baby- sticking out the tummy whilst leaning back to support baby up on your chest. The result- weakened core muscles, prevention of abdominal healing, and possibly low back and hip pain.

What about after C-Section?

I have seen the advice to avoid post c-section, but again, if you’ve recovered enough to lift your baby, I can’t see why you wouldn’t be able to wear him. My main concern would be pressure on the scar, and a stretchy or ring sling should sit much higher than that. I’ll discuss all the options below, along with guidelines to follow, but see here for one sling consultant’s experiences with various wraps post section.

Which carrier is best?

This is a bit like having to decide which flavour ice cream, is best, it depends who you ask! (Oh dear, I’ve got Craig David’s What’s Your Flavour in my head now.)

Stretchy Wrap

As the name suggests. It’s stretchy! Simply a length of material, but the stretch means you can pre wrap and slip baby in. Weight is distributed all over the shoulders and waist, and the stretch makes it really comfy.

Woven

A stretchy without the stretch, it takes a bit more getting used to these, but as baby gets heavier he will need more support, so this is the next step. There are multiple multiple ways to wrap with a woven, so there is loads of versatility to find a style comfortable for you, and that spreads the weight in an easy way to maintain good alignment.

Ring Sling

A sling that goes over one shoulder, you can do hip carries with an older baby, or a froggy position with a newborn. The downside is that the pressure is all on one shoulder (although it is spread over the shoulder) so keeping upright can become challenging after a bit. I struggled with more than 20 minutes with mine as it made my shoulder sore, but they were both large by this point and I was unused to the carry. The plus side is they’re quick to use, there’s no pressure on the waist itself, and newborns are light.

Soft Structured Carrier/ buckles

A panel, with a buckle at the waist and for the arm straps. Easy to use, and they come with different degrees of padding, so find the one you find comfiest and fits your shape best, so as to distribute weight as evenly as possible.

Mei Tai

Like a SSC but instead of buckles you tie the straps.

Are you wearing correctly?

Here are some tips-

  • Follow the TICKS guidelines. Having baby close enough to kiss in particular will help with posture.

  • Get help at your local sling library to make sure you’re wearing correctly, if you have one. Also try out a few different wraps to see what works best. There are online stores that rent slings, in the event there isn’t a library near you. For those local to me, Harrow Sling Library or the Chiltern Sling Library are the nearest

  • BUY ALL THE WRAPS! Well, maybe not all, but owning a selection of carriers means you can vary the pressure on your body, kind of the same way it’s good to wear a variety of shoes for your foot health.

  • Take a break. If you do find yourself struggling with posture, or with a large DR, if possible try not to wear for long periods at a time, to give your body a rest. Also, getting dad to wear when he’s there gives you a break. And who doesn’t love a babywearing daddy?

And remember, if you get good posture to start, you’ll get stronger and it will get easier to maintain with time.

Babywearing can feel like a lifesaver if you have a clingy baby, and I wouldn’t want any mum to feel that she couldn’t do it. Plus, I see plenty of mums pushing buggies in poor alignment too.

Get it right and it’s a wonderful way to carry your baby, bond with your baby, and help build your own strength.

If you’re unsure about your alignment and how’s it’s affecting your recovery, it’s a big component of my Restore My Core programme. Click here to learn more and grab a spot on the next course.

Maybe my first question should be have you heard of it? Because unfortunately many mums haven’t. But you know that poochy tummy some women are left with after having a baby? This can be the cause.

And those who have heard of diastasis tend to focus on closing the gap thinking then all will be well, but there’s a bit more to it than that, so read on to learn more…

What is Diastasis Rectus Abdominis?

The six-pack muscle (rectus abdominis) runs from your breast bone to your pubic bone and is joined together with a strong fibrous sheath called the linea alba.  In some pregnancies, the linea alba becomes a little darker in colour and is visible on your stomach. This is called linea negra which simply means “dark line”.

You may have heard people talk about your abdominal muscles “splitting”.  Your muscles don’t “split” because they’re already in a separated state and held together by the linea alba.  A split muscle is like a torn muscle, so if you’ve ever torn your hamstring, for example, you’ll know what this pain is like!  What happens to the abdominal muscles during pregnancy is completely painless, you aren’t aware of it, and I like to refer to it simply as abdominal “separation”.

The rectus abdominis stretches vertically (up and down your stomach) to accommodate your growing baby, and when it can’t stretch any further up and down it starts to separate horizontally (from left to right).

diastasis recti

I guess it’s a little bit like the linea alba is heavy duty cling film stretching apart. And when you’re growing a baby in there, it will stretch apart! When this happens, it’s called Diastasis Rectus Abdominis. It’s not clear how many women get this in pregnancy, as there isn’t a huge amount of reseach to go on. The latest research suggests that 100% of women develop it, but as Physical Therapist Julie Wiebe explains here, there are flaws in this study. Another one found that 66% of women had diastasis in the third trimester, and 53% continued to have it immedietely postpartum (read more here).

It should heal on its own by 8 weeks post partum, (Coldron et al 2008) but if it doesn’t don’t worry, this is far from uncommon! It just means you need to work out why it isn’t healing, and do a few restorative exercises to help.

If you don’t and your DRA remains, your body will be forced to rely on other muscles to stabilize the pelvis, which can lead to:

– Back pain

– Pelvic pain

– Incontinence

Pelvic organ prolapse

– A tummy pooch that never goes away

It’s not just about closing the gap

In fact you can have a diastasis and still be functional. I have about a finger’s gap there still! You also need to consider the tension of the midline: there is a big difference between having a firm and functional gap, and a gap that is soft with lots of give.

You need to consider WHY the gap is there. Yes, you grew a baby (again well done for that! I never fail to be amazed by how awesome it is that we can do that!)

But it should heal in the first few months after giving birth. If it doesn’t, this is down to too much pressure in the abdomen which then pushes out on your tummy or down on your pelvic floor. This happens when your core isn’t functioning as it should, so it isn’t managing to control the pressure.

What to avoid

Any exercise that puts repeated forward pressure on your abdomen could very well be making your diastasis worse.

This means avoiding many common exercises such as crunches, sit-ups, and conventional planks. I discuss this in more detail in this blog.

Diastasis can also be worsened by poor posture and an imbalance in the muscles of the core.

So what do you need to do?

It’s about connecting with your core to recruit the right muscles, and this starts with how you breath. Which sounds too simple but it’s SOOO important, and where I start with all my clients. You can read more about this here.

And you can’t look at your core in isolation. Your alignment, nutrition and stress all affect your diastasis recti. And you have to do the exercises RIGHT (we look at all of this in my Restore My Core programme).

It sounds odd, but one of the hardest things for me is getting clients to back off: the exercises are subtle, and no way as hard as what you are probably used to doing. I struggled to get my head round it. I spent years working in gyms taking abs classes and pushing through that burn. But contracting the deep transversus abdominis muscle is subtle, and until you have connected and it is happening naturally you risk just engaging the abs and obliques and having them take over. Then they pull on the midline and stop your diastasis from healing. This blog has some diastasis safe exercises to get you started.

To learn how to test for diastasis recti sign up to my free Restore My Core mini course.

 Earlier in the year the fitness and lifestyle coach Jessie Mundell shared this meme:
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And as the anniversary of the passing of Maya Angelou approaches, I find my mind wondering back to it as I read one of my favourite of her poems.

We are so quick to celebrate the pregnant body in all its glory, but what about the post natal body? If anything our society is quick to remind us that we should feel shame at this new and unfamiliar shape, hiding behind a blanket, shrinking into ourselves as we perform the natural and beautiful act of breastfeeding our baby.

And all the diet and exercise tips are to banish that unsightly ‘mummy tummy’, or creams to get rid of those stretch marks.

If you want to change, that’s fine. In fact it’s normal: obviously we all want to get back in shape. But that doesn’t mean you need to look (or even not look) down at yourself with horror at the stretched skin and the extra lumps and bumps. Because every contour, every line, is a mark that shows you’ve created life.

This body is the one that has just endured hours of pain, even complications, and withstood more than the old you ever did. It has pushed through every challenge thrown at it. Celebrate that power, because for many who convince themselves ‘when I reach this weight/ size I’ll be happy’, the goalposts then shift to a new target.

Sure, you want to lose the extra weight and tone the belly. But enjoy the journey and celebrate every inch of your body and what it can do. Because if you hate yourself now losing weight alone is unlikely to be enough to make you love yourself. Start from a place of self-love and gratitude for what your body can do.

And stop worrying about what other women look like. Surround yourself with positive images: is your newsfeed filled with unrealistic pictures of fitness models with bodies that most of us will never achieve? Unfollow that page. I don’t find it motivational, and I doubt you do either. I don’t want to be thinking about my appearance all day, and all these pictures do is reinforce the idea that women are for public consumption, broken down into mere physical attributes to be analysed, rather than complex multifaceted personalities.

Besides, most  women look don’t look like that- head over to look at the Real Girl Belly Project for some more realisic photos.

It isn’t all about appearance.

Easy to say, harder to believe, and even harder to carry yourself with confidence in that belief. But Maya Angelou did: “Pretty women wonder where my secret lies. I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size.”

Be the person you want your baby to see, confident, embracing life, not holding back, waiting until you look right, one day. Let your baby see the joy in your feet and the sun of your smile; make sure your “head’s not bowed”.

I’ll leave you with the poem in all its glory.

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size

But when I start to tell them,

They think I’m telling lies.

I say,

It’s in the reach of my arms,

The span of my hips,

The stride of my step,

The curl of my lips.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.

I say,

It’s the fire in my eyes,

And the flash of my teeth,

The swing in my waist,

And the joy in my feet.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

 

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

Men themselves have wondered

What they see in me.

They try so much

But they can’t touch

My inner mystery.

When I try to show them,

They say they still can’t see.

I say,

It’s in the arch of my back,

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.

When you see me passing,

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,

The bend of my hair,

the palm of my hand,

The need for my care.

’Cause I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

By Maya Angelou

As a Fitpro, I HATE the #noexcuses hashtag. Because, as any mum will telll you, there are excuses. (Other people have excuses too, but I’m focusing on mum ones here.) This attitude does not inspire me, and I’ve written about it before here.

I love working out. It used to be a big part of my life, and it took a while for me to accept the fact that, post-baby, I just didn’t have that much time for it any more. And that’s cool. One day the kids will be bigger and I can get to the gym again: this is just a phase of my life. And it’s a phase where I have other priorities, like looking after the children, cooking dinner, and work.

Also, maybe you just don’t want to look like that! Hell, some people could have all the time in the world and they still wouldn’t spend it down the gym sculpting themselves into whatever shape the media has decided we should aspire to.

So no, you don’t need an excuse not to be at the gym getting super fit. BUT, being healthy and being fit are different things.

Having priorities other than the gym doesn’t mean my fitness has to suffer. I may not be as fit as I used to be, but I’m fit enough, and for now that’s fine with me.

Quite frankly there’s a limit to how much I can balance. Which brings me to my tips on how to stay fit and healthy when your time is monopolised by small people.

Soft play and playgrounds.

Yes, I realise other people’s children in an enclosed space with the fragrance of sweaty socks floating through the air may closely resemble hell for some of you. But if you’re there anyway, make the most of it.

GET MOVING! Chase, throw, roll with and generally play with your child. They will love you for it, and there are health benefits to any movement.

My favourite isn’t a soft play centre, but toddler time at a local leisure centre.

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Try carrying an 18mo through that bouncy castle course 5 times! And when it’s quiet runningup the slide at the end is more fun and effective than a treadmill any day. Then repeat for 2 hours.

Similar thing for playgrounds in general- climbing frames, tunnels, monkey bars. Want a leg workout? Try pushing off on a see-saw against someone less than half your weight.

Walking.

Any walking. Just leave the car at home. I’ll save banging on about the benefits of it for another post, but I honestly think it is one of the BEST forms of exercise. For added challenge find some good hills. I was in Winchester a few weeks back and climbed up and down this one:

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And I was carrying the toddler for added ‘ow’ factor. But, as before, much more fun than the treadmill or stairclimber!

Hanging.

This is a basic skill we should all have, but few do. So good for upper body strength, it helps with scapular (shoulder blade) stabilisation (and I see many people who struggle with this) and is great for shoulder mobility.

Even if you can do full pull ups, I’d recommend some hanging work. See here for a beginners guide and here for more advanced challenges.

I use my chin up bar and Olympic Rings at home (although as you can see I have to wait my turn):

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But again, the beauty is you can throw in some hangs when you’re at the park with the kids. (Yes, I do get the odd funny look.)

Home workouts.

They don’t even have to be long. My youngest doesn’t sleep very well, so any intense workout is liable to be interrupted, even in the evening. Plus, I’m flipping knackered by that time anyway, so can’t usually face anything mega.

I have a few little routines that I can do in 10 or so minutes. Sometimes I just work through some dynamic mobility, to maintain flexibility, and because I feel good after. I can increase or decrease the intensity to make it challenging to my strength too, and it gets my heart rate up a bit.

Deep squats.

Ok, so these alone won’t get you fit. But the ‘potty squat’ is another basic movement we should all be able to do, yet many can’t. It’s good for mobility, strength, even just sitting in it is beneficial.

Again, I could do a whole post on the squat. But it’s already been done, so head here for more benefits and beginners tips. I’m just pointing out that by squatting to pick up the hundreds of toys strewn across the floor, instead of bending over and straining your back, you can cram a LOT of reps into your day, whilst simultaneously cleaning. Hooray! Which reminds me…

Cleaning.

Yeah, I don’t do this one much. But apparently  it’s a great calorie burner.

Playing.

Yeah I know, I kind of cover this on soft play. But, for anyone a bit more advanced, locomotion is a great way to goof around with the kids, doing animal walks, while getting strong at the same time! Hip hip hooray! See here for a beginners routine. Just don’t be fooled by the inclusion of the word ‘beginner’ (some of this is quite advanced and should NOT be attempted by anyone who has given birth recently, or who is not already in pretty good shape).

Also, this isn’t really playing, but since some of those are a bit hardcore anyway, single leg squats can be done pretty much anywhere- think standing around while the kids are playing. Don’t waste time standing! Single leg squat!

Okay, I think I’m done. Hopefully these are some useful tips for getting more movement into your life when time is not your friend.

P.s. I know this is for busy mums, but if you’ve just had a baby or still have any core or pelvic floor problems some of these suggestions won’t be suitable. Remember, you are post-natal FOREVER and even if you measure your child’s age in years, not months, you could still have weaknesses resulting from pregnancy if you haven’t gone through a good restorative core programme.

If you’re interested in getting a personalised home workout designed so you can fit exercise in to your life more easily, contact me to find out about personal training.

There’s no shortage of advice on what exercises you should be doing to get your ‘pre-baby body’ back. Problem is, not all of it’s good advice.

postnatal exercise advice

First off, I hate the ‘get your pre-baby body back’ thing. It is not a race to see who can shift their pregnancy weight fastest, and it encourages mums to throw themselves into exercise and dieting to do so. Not healthy.

And whilst it’s fine (not vain) to want to change how you look, you shouldn’t have to feel ashamed of your post-baby body. You need to take it slowly and be gentle on yourself, take time out and be a little selfish (except it’s not really selfish- happy mum means happy baby).

But back to the advice itself.

The Good.

Let’s start with some exercises you CAN do. I’m going to link to someone else’s website here, so you don’t have to just take my word for it!

Marianne Ryan is a top Womem’s Health Physio, and I’ve shared this blog of hers with clients before, to reiterate what we’ve talked about in the session. It includes safe, effective exercises, that I use with personal training clients and in Restore My Core.

Good advice is about how to connect to your deep core. Training the breath and pelvic floor. Click here for Marianne’s advice on how to get a flat tummy.

The Bad.

Here’s a blog with ‘4 Moves to Target Your Mummy Tummy.’

However it’s more like 4 exercises to make your mummy tummy worse!

While this article does say to check with your GP if you have diastasis recti, it’s misleading in saying these exercises are how you should get a flat tummy post partum.

I’m not saying never do planks or crunches (although crunches would never be my exercise of choice to get a flat belly, postnatal or not), but you have to go through a progressive restorative programme first.

Any exercise that creates a lot of abdominal pressure, like these, runs a big risk of pushing your tummy out, not giving you a flat stable core. For example, the strain of the double leg lifts could lead to the low back arching, or pushing it into the ground to compensate, both of which put the pelvis in a non-optimal position for the transverse abdoninis and pelvic floor muscles. And the rectus abdominis and obliques can end up taking over, placing strain on a weakened linea alba.

Bad advice involves ab exercises, feeling the burn and anything that leaves you straining while you train.

The Ugly.

This one is actually part ugly, part good. But then I wouldn’t have had a nifty blog title, so I just went with ugly.

The first link mentioned girdles, and I want to talk about that some more. Are they a good idea postpartum?

Waist training has been in the news a lot recently, in large part thanks to the Kardashians making social media posts like this:

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And because this was after giving birth (although over a year later), women can see it as a good way to get their tummy down. But wearing a supportive garment after having a baby is completely different to waist training, so please don’t confuse the two.

To start with I wouldn’t recommend this type of waist training. If you squeeze your tummy in like that, where do you think all your organs are going? Where is the pressure going?

Up or down is where. And pressure down on your pelvic floor is not a good idea, ever. Especially not when postnatal. It is going to put you at huge risk of pelvic organ prolapse.

And pressure up on the diaphragm? Hiatus hernia anyone?

On top of  which you will actually be preventing your core from functioning properly. Here’s a video from Women’s Health Physio Julie Weibe that explains this beautifully.

But a supportive belt postpartum is different. They provide support spread around the torso, rather than just squeezing one area. This can give extra support to weakened abdominal muscles, reduce postnatal swelling, and encourage them to close back together whilst regaining tension.

Because it isn’t just the gap between the muscles that’s the issue. It’s the ability to create tension along the linea alba, which is the tissue in that gap. And if you close the gap without restoring function, your core still won’t be able to do it’s job properly, and any symptoms you may be having, like pelvic girdle pain, low back pain, or incontinence, will likely remain. You need to relearn how to use the deep core muscles and address your alignment.

If you do have abdominal separation and are considering a belt, I really recommend you see a Women’s Health Physio first. They can make sure the belt is fitted correctly and address any underlying issues with a tailored programme.

You can be referred by your GP, or you can find one to see privately here, just make sure you pick Women’s Health from the drop down menu.

Anyone local to me, I recommend www.beckyastonphysiotherapy.co.uk, having seen her myself.

I hope this article helps give you a bit more confidence in being able to distinguish between the fitness advice that’s worth following, and that which is best ignored. And as a mum, I trust you’re pretty good at listening to bad advice, nodding along, then going along on your way whilst ignoring it completely!

Bone Broth is becoming quite trendy at the moment! The benefits are being touted all over the place.place. I’ve talked before about the benefits of broth here and here, but even so, let’s not go overboard! There is little evidence to back the claims up, and studies that have been done are using nutrients from the broth in a supplement, so not the same (read here for more info).

Nonetheless, I love it. For the simple fact that it’s cheap (unless you buy it out, then it’s suddenly not anymore!) and lets me add extra protein to other dishes such as soups, I like making it. And although I’m sure a lot of the claims are over-hyped (you probably won’t look 21 again from drinking collagen!) it doesn’t mean there’s not some wisdom in it: many cultures give new mums bone broth as part of their post natal diet, and I’m sure they have their reasons.

So, my recipe. I always do broth in my slow cooker, as I leave it overnight and my stove switches itself off, but you can do it in a stock pot on the hob. Just bear in mind you need to leave it for a while: I aim for 24 hours with bones this big (smaller bones like chicken don’t need as long).

First, I put this bone, which was £1.50 from the local butcher, into the oven for about 40 mins on 180 degrees. This is for 2 reasons: first, it gives the broth a much nicer flavour (and smells lovely!); second, roasting the bone helps it to break down so you get more nutrients in your stock.

This is a marrow bone, which is nutrient dense and has a great flavour, but you can use any bones you like. Bones like hooves or knuckles are more gelatin rich, and have more collagen and glucosamine in them, so great for joints and postnatal recovery.

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Then I put it in the slow cooker (or stock pot), cover it with water and add about a tablespoon of cider vinegar or lemon juice (again this helps to break the bone down), and I also add a tablespoon of orange juice. I read somewhere that this helps with drawing out nutrients too, and I got a really nice flavour when I tried it so have stuck with using it!

In the slow cooker you just leave it on low, otherwise bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer. Over the first few hours you can get some scum rising to the top; just scrape this off. (OK, confession- I never do this. I just always read that you should. I’ve never found this scum, although I do sometimes find there’s sediment in the finished broth that I throw away.)

For the last few hours of cooking I add a few vegetables; usually whatever I have lying around. Here I’ve chopped up 2 carrots, an onion, some old celery (soup or juicing is a great way to use up fruit and veg past it’s best)  a clove of garlic (which I smashed open to help the flavour), and a couple of bay leaves:

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Depending on what you’re using it for and how strong you like it, you can take the lid off and reduce it down when you’ve finished. I like to do this and get a ricker flavour. Then just cool and drain through a sieve.

You can change the concentration of the gelatin in there, which is visible on the consistency when the broth is chilled, by decreasing the ratio of water to bones. Less water and more bones will result in a higher concentration of gelatin, so the broth will be more jelly-like when cold. Sometimes I return the broth to the heat once I’ve drained it and reduce it down to get a stronger flavour.

Once chilled it looked like this:

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mmmmm, yum. I scrape the fat off and you can see the consistency underneath:

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I often divide it up into 500ml containers and freeze some for stock. You can use it in casseroles, or for soup, or just heat and drink it. I know this doesn’t look hugely appealing, but once you’ve warmed it it’s runny again.

This is old news. I did a post about it on Facebook a while ago after I saw this photo on Instagram:

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But despite the fact that a lot of fitness professionals spoke out against it, I still see it happening.

I’m talking about #noexcuses.

I’ve just seen this picture being used to promote a local gym to mums:

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And that’s why I’m writing this blog.

In all honesty I think (hope) they were just using it because of their creche, to say ‘that’s one barrier to your gym attendance that we’ve removed.’ But that’s not what the picture says. The picture takes her body, and says ‘what’s your excuse?’ Are we seriously going to pretend none of us has a valid ‘excuse’ for not looking like that?

Well here are what I think are 6 perfectly good reasons for not having visible abs.

1. Not wanting visible abs.

This may come as a shock to some, but not everyone wants a six pack.

Having goals is great. But having abs is HER goal, and there’s no need to judge others because they don’t live up to it. They’re not the be all and end all. They will not bring you happiness. They are not necessary in order to look attractive.

2. Not being a fitness model.

These women get paid to look like this. Well done to them for all the hard work, but for the rest of us, who don’t get paid, and may even have other jobs that take up our time, it’s not such a priority.

Also, the fact that they were fit before they had children makes things a lot easier. Are we really going to turn around to the mum who hasn’t done a workout in years and say, ‘hey, this mum who has 10 years training experience got her figure back in 6 months, what’s your excuse?’

3. Having a life.

Yes, I could exercise more and eat less, but having body fat low enough to show your abs has trade offs. Those trade offs for me include less time with my children and feeling more stressed when I am with them as I struggle to squeeze in a workout around running a house and a business.

This doesn’t mean I don’t exercise. I train, I stay fit, but my goals at the moment are health related, I’d rather not waste time and energy worrying about a few pounds or inches here and there.

4. Not having obsessive/ disordered eating habits.

Otherwise known as having a healthy relationship with food.

This means when you have to consume food outside your own home it comes on a plate in a restaurant/ cafe, not in a Tupperware box filled with chicken and broccoli from the steaming marathon you had on Sunday evening.

And you don’t feel guilty afterwards.

See here and here for a couple of examples of the damage competitive fitness can do to your relationship with food.

5. Genetics.

People come in different shapes and sizes. Some people are naturally slim and can quite easily get visible abs. For others it just isn’t going to happen. So let’s stop this message that certain physical attributes or body types are better than others. Let’s stop comparing ourselves to others.

6. You don’t need a fucking excuse.

You’re an adult. Not a child turning up late for class. You do not answer to the gym police about your appearance.

Are you healthy? Happy? Then good for you.

Stop worrying about the rest.

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As a trainer, I feel it would be irresponsible of me to post these ‘no excuses’ pictures. I don’t want to tell women they should look a certain way and I don’t want to play on their insecurities to get clients. I want them to learn to be happy with their bodies and to stop comparing themselves to others. To train to feel good physically and mentally, because a happy mum means a happy family!

I started writing this blog because I felt annoyed about the message the fitness industry send out sometimes. Hopefully I’m finishing it on a more positive note.

But even when I’m being body positive, I still feel a bit sad. Because it’s still about bodies.

How we look.

And we’re more than that. If you really want to feel better about yourself, step away from the scales/ mirror. Learn a new skill. Laugh with friends. Develop yourself inside as well as out.

Because your children don’t love you for your dress size or well applied mascara. They love you for the comfort in your hugs and words, the fun you have playing games, the safety of knowing you’re there when they need you, putting them first.

Because you’re a mum. And you don’t need an excuse.

There’s a Japanese practice called shinrin-yoku, or ‘forest-bathing’, which is about engaging with the atmosphere of the forest. It is shown to help lower pulse rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels.

Part of this response is attributed to breathing in/interacting with chemicals called phytoncides, given off by trees and plants. They’re meant to ward off harmful bugs and rot, but the compound seems to benefit us.

We may not have been forest bathing, but as one mum put it during one of my Stroller Strength classes, ‘it feels good to get outside.’

Fresh air and phytoncides, free with every class 🙂

Click here to find out more about our classes.

One day I’ll blog about a recipe and not start by talking about my children and their eating habits. Not today though.

I’ve called them fussy before, but it’s not so much that they refuse to eat everything, it’s that they’re irrationally selective about what they eat. They’ll refuse something plain like a cheese sandwich, and then want scotch eggs or broccoli smoothie. Where the hell does a request for broccoli smoothie come from?!

What works one day won’t work the next, and I swear they’ve organised themselves as a tag team, where when one eats dinner the other refuses.

So whereas sometimes they’ll eat their veg, I often have to get creative, and in this case it’s with a veg packed passata. (Confession- Ella’s Kitchen are the creative ones here, this is from their cookbook). I can use it in recipes like this chicken cacciatore to add extra veg.

Ingredients

  • 1 carrot, chopped.
  • 200g butternut squash, chopped.
  • 50g frozen peas.
  • 415g tin baked beans.
  • 400g tin chopped tomatoes.
  • 200g tomatoes, chopped.

I use this as a guide, I had extra butternut squash this time and didn’t weigh the peas.

Cool the squash and carrot until soft then add baked beans and blend with a hand blender.

Return to heat, add canned and fresh tomatoes and simmer for 5 mins. Purée again, et voila!

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This is roughly 500ml, and I had 2 of these which I froze, and enough to use to make a ragu straight away.

It really didn’t take that long and produced a decent batch. The colour isn’t as appealing as a shop bought pasta sauce/ passata, so the ragu wasn’t as red as when I’ve made it before, but other than that it’s pretty good. If I were to have it on its own with pasta I think I’d need to add a bit of seasoning and herbs though.