I’m almost three months postpartum, and while I can fit (aka squeeze)into all of my pre-pregnancy jeans, I’m by no means back in shape. I was out of breath today trying to clip my dog’s toenails. (She is quite a feisty fighter, though.) And I’ve got a little extra-extra on my midsection and rear. But I’ve really been OK with the change in my body. It’s really hard to worry about flat abs when I’ve got an adorable, chubby little baby to worry about instead.
My main concern when it comes to my extra 10 pounds is an accumulation over time. With my recent lack of willpower in avoiding Halloween candy, added to the upcoming holidays, I hope I don’t have a hard time maintaining my momentum with the 25 pounds I’ve already lost. The first 25 pounds have fallen off—baby, extra fluids, breastfeeding. But this remaining 10 is more stubborn. Mostly, I don’t want my now-weight to be my new normal. Add a second pregnancy and you can see how it’s possible to end up 30 or so pounds heavier over just a few years.
Annie Martens, an ACE-certified fitness trainer, certified doula and founder of Hoboken, N.J.-basedfitness studio Bella Bellies, says fear and apprehension at the overwhelming task of not only giving birth but also recovering from it, is natural. But she says it’s possible for women to emerge from pregnancy stronger than ever. One of her goals with her Bella Bellies fitness studio was to address one issue that every postpartum woman battles: the inescapable baby belly.
“There’s a myth that women who try to regain their flat tummy after giving birth are preoccupied with vanity and that they should just accept their ‘mummy tummy’ with grace,” Martens says. “That could not be further from the truth. The presence of excess fat over the midsection puts stress on a woman’s heart, other vital organs, core muscles and her spine. Women need to return to a healthy muscle-to-fat ratio following their pregnancy for the obvious benefits to their health but also to their overall well-being. They deserve to feel as good as possible and to be proud of their bodies!”
A Happy Pregnancy Is a Healthy Pregnancy
The first step to “losing baby weight” begins during pregnancy. Martens encourages expectant mothers to approach fitness as a way to nurture the body and baby during a time when they need it most. While weight gain should be a concern for every woman, it is not the only concern or even the primary concern. Instead, fitness during pregnancy should focus on stress relief and strengthening the muscles used during birth to make it as safe an experience as possible, and finally, to help ensure that the recovery from pregnancy is as easy as it can be.
There are some important components all prenatal fitness and nutrition plans should cover, according to Martens.
- Kegels. While we’ve seen information on Kegels not being the perfect exercise, Martens says the exercises are a pregnant woman’s best friend. “The muscles used in labor cannot be ignored, and Kegels are the best way to tone and strengthen those muscles before and after,” she says. “Regular Kegels can help the body heal more quickly after a vaginal birth and prevent incontinence and hemorrhoids, among other things.”
- Pregnant position. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises against exercises in a back-lying position after the 16th week of pregnancy. Martens urges pregnant women to err on the side of caution and avoid them all together. “When a pregnant woman lays on her back, her much-heavier-than-normal uterus puts quite a lot of pressure on the vena cava, which is her main blood vessel. Additionally, back-lying exercises can lead to a greater separation of the abdominal muscles than is desirable.” Modified Pilates and yoga created for pregnancy take this into account.
- Don’t keep ’em separated. Speaking of a greater separation of the abdominal muscles, Martens says that all fitness programs during pregnancy should closely monitor diastasis recti, the technical term for that separation. “As women begin to show in their second trimester, their abdominal muscles separate to accommodate the uterus,” she explains, adding that while a separation of the muscles is expected and completely safe, strengthening those muscles will help manage it. “We can safely strengthen the ab muscles to avoid overstretching the tissue connecting them with isometric transverse abdominis exercises developed especially for pregnancy.”
- Water does a body good. It is more important to stay hydrated throughout pregnancy than at any other time, especially for those whose doctors have cleared them to participate in cardio-intensive workouts. Martens’ guidelines: Drink at least 32 ounces of water two hours before any workout to ensure mom and baby stay safely hydrated.
Stay tuned tomorrow for Martens’ guidelines on how to battle the bulge once the baby arrives! —Erin
Founded in 2005, Bella Bellies is a full-service fitness studio located in the heart of Hoboken, N.J., that caters to the unique needs of women with special emphasis on the effects pregnancy and childbirth have on their bodies. From Pilates to the modified “Momilates,” Bella Bellies maximizes fitness through tailored exercise and nutrition programs.