How to get your body back after pregnancy

Mrs Ojo (not real name) had just given birth to her first baby and like many mothers, was ecstatic.
However after about three months of her journey to motherhood, she has begun to nurse some misgivings. “I love my baby more than anything in the world and won’t trade the experience for anything. But whenever I look in the mirror, I’m a bit discouraged at how fat I have gotten and bulgy my stomach has become. I used to pride myself of a relatively flat tummy and I know with pregnancy would come a bigger tummy but it’s taking too long for my body to return to shape. It gets worse when I visit the social media. I see pictures of celebrity mums who say they got their bodies and tummies back after few weeks of putting to bed. I remember seeing dancer Kaffy’s picture few weeks after she gave birth to her second baby. She was so toned with no single fat. Even Annie Idibia didn’t have such a huge bulge after some weeks of putting to bed. I saw Toyin Lawani’s picture and was just amazed. I don’t even want to go into foreign celebrity mums. Even my sister in-law that has three kids still looks like she has not had one. Looking in the mirror makes me feel lazy and insecure. I’m beginning to worry that my husband may not find me attractive anymore.”

Unfortunately, Mrs Ojo is not alone. For many women, the realisation that they are nursing a life inside of them comes with joy and a bit of nervousness but after nine months of morning sickness, strong cravings, weight gain, mood swings, sore breasts and fatigue, and they hold their baby for the first time, the sense of relief and accomplishment makes it worth it. After the birth comes the adjustment, both physically and psychologically. And although new mums have intense love for their babies, the same may not be said of their bodies which sometimes go through drastic changes. As if the adjustment to motherhood is not pressure enough, in today’s world, new mums are hassled to speedily lose baby weight and gain their pre-pregnancy bodies back in as short a time as possible. With celebrity mums splashing “post natal swag” pictures all over social media of how they regained their pre-pregnancy bodies barely a month after birth, the already existing pressure on women about their bodies and the presumed ideal body size becomes worse for the post natal mum of whom demands are made by her partner, society and sometimes herself to have the same body as she did before birth. Although some women may choose to ignore such expectations, but the judgements and snide comments about her weight and belly (such as asking if she has again taken in owing to a bulgy belly months after putting to bed) sometimes push the new mum to the point of anxiety. Hence, a period where she should bask in the post pregnancy experience and allow her body transit naturally is spent worrying about getting back her body, especially her belly.

However, experts say this should not be so. Dr Steven Adegoke, a gynaecologist/obstetrician, said: “There are lots of changes that occur during pregnancy and these include hormonal changes and physical changes, especially with the skin and the muscles.  Although these changes generally occur in every pregnant woman, the fact remains that each woman is different and the extent of each change is peculiar to her body system.  It takes a nine-month period for the changes to occur so it is only natural that it would take some time for the body to heal and try to get back to its former state. It used to be six weeks needed for the body to heal but recent discoveries show that women might need up to a year to heal and recover from pregnancy.”

For women who are in a hurry to get back their bodies, intense exercises and diet modification are usually adopted. In fact, celebrity new-mums on the social media attribute their trim, tone bodies to this. While exercises and diet changes are welcome, Dr Adegoke calls for caution. He said: “For each week post partum, there are required exercises that are needed and this is different for every woman. So, it is wrong to throw a blanket statement saying this particular exercise is what every new mum must do to get her body back. However, light exercises are recommended at the initial weeks after putting to bed. These include stretching and even sex. As early as four weeks, a woman can resume sexual activities. They should stay away from strenuous physical activities and exercises all in a bid to get their bodies back. In fact, in some women no exercise is even needed, yet their bodies return to normal after the required time. However, that depends on the woman’s body makeup.”

Head of the Ante-Natal Clinic, State Hospital, Adeoyo Ring Road, Ibadan, Dr Adekunle Aremu, added that  “there is usually, on the average, a 12.5kg increase in weight during pregnancy. It is not likely that a woman would lose the entire additional weight after pregnancy. However, it is expected that there be an appreciable change in her weight. If she follows dietary and exercise advice as prescribed by her doctor, she would be on her way to getting her body back. It is important for women to realise that no two pregnancies are the same. That one dietary/exercise routine worked for woman A doesn’t mean it would work for woman B. In fact, that a routine worked for a first pregnancy doesn’t mean it would work for a second pregnancy in the same woman.

“As a result of innovations in terms of drugs, machinery and physical therapy, so many factors have come to play such that there is an adjustment in the six weeks recovery period. But this calls for caution. It is not advisable to rush an incident, that should under normal circumstances take six weeks, to less. We encourage light exercises and diet to get back to the original pre-pregnancy state on time but this should be at the body’s natural pace. When women come out to say they got their bodies back in two weeks, it is more of an exaggeration just to create an impression; the body needs longer than that to recover.”

Besides exercise and diet, it has also been discovered that breastfeeding is a potent way to reduce pregnancy weight and get the tummy back in shape as adequate breastfeeding encourages involution (shrinking of the uterus).

Experts advise women to not be misled by social media. “The fact that a celebrity put to bed and is flaunting a flat abdomen few weeks after may be as a result of accessories she’s wearing in the said picture such as corsets and girdles. These can help to an extent but women should not be deceived into going through strenuous exercises shortly after childbirth just because of the pressure to have a flat abdomen. The body should be given time,” Dr Irene Bassey, a medical practitioner said.

In some cultures, it is believed that using a towel soaked in hot water to press on the post-natal tummy would flush clotted blood and enable the uterus to shrink so as to get back a flat abdomen. Certain spicy and hot foods are also said to help shrink the uterus. However, experts say this is neither practical nor necessary. “If hot water compress is the only way to remove blood clots what happens to women who undergo caesarean section and can’t be pressed? One can even suffer scalding and burns from such a practice. The body will naturally and gradually return to a normal state after the baby is born,” Dr Aremu said.



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