How To Lose Belly Fat After Delivery – By Polly Logan-Banks | Medical Review Hanna Dabbour PgCert, MSc, BSc (Hons), MCSP, Senior Physiotherapist | January 2020 |
Why do I still look pregnant? Your body, and especially your stomach, takes time to fully recover from pregnancy. You’ve had a baby, but you might look like you’re still six months pregnant, with a belly that’s more attractive and rounded than you expected.
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Think of your belly as a balloon that slowly inflates as your baby grows. Birth doesn’t release the balloon, it just starts a slow leak. The reduction in the size of your belly may be slow, but it will be steady.
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From the moment the baby is born, hormonal changes cause a decrease in the size of the abdomen. However, it takes another six to eight weeks for your uterus (womb) to shrink to its pre-pregnancy size (Berens 2019).
The extra fluid that has accumulated in your body during pregnancy will gradually decrease, reducing swelling and bloating (Berens 2019). And any extra fat you put on while nursing your baby will begin to burn off, especially if you breastfeed and exercise (Berens 2019). But it will take at least a few weeks to see noticeable results.
After giving birth, you may still have a dark line along your belly, called a linea nigra, as well as a network of stretch marks.
The black line is caused by pigmentation on the skin where the abdominal muscles are stretched and slightly separated to accommodate your baby as it grows (APA n.d.). This line of pigmentation usually disappears within a few months after birth (APA n.d.).
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Stretch marks are caused by the stretching of the skin on your rapidly growing body during pregnancy (NHS 2019c). You can have them on your stomach, thighs and chest (NHS 2019c).
You can’t get rid of stretch marks completely, but they will disappear over time. Eventually, the lines will look like fine lines that are closer to your skin color (NHS 2019c). Try to be patient. You may not like your stretch marks now, but in six months they will be much better. How long will it take for my stomach to return to normal? We’ve all heard the stories of new moms getting their pre-pregnancy bodies within weeks of giving birth. While it’s possible, it’s not the case for most moms. Keep in mind that your body can change shape after pregnancy. You may find it difficult to return to your exact pre-pregnancy weight or shape.
Patience is key. It took nine months for the abdominal muscles to stretch to accommodate the full-term baby. So it makes sense that it can take weeks or months to grow back (Berens 2019).
Most women do not return to their pre-pregnancy weight until about six months after giving birth (IQWiG2018, Adegboye et al 2013). How can I safely lose weight so that my stomach looks better? Breastfeeding can help, especially in the first few months after birth. If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll burn extra calories making milk – around 300 calories a day (NHS n.d.), although the exact amount is different for everyone. You may lose more weight during pregnancy than formula-fed mothers, but this is not guaranteed (Jarlenski et al 2014).
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Breastfeeding also causes contractions that help shrink your uterus, which can help you get in shape faster. However, if you eat more than you burn, you will gain weight even if you are breastfeeding (Adegboye et al 2013).
It is good to lose weight while breastfeeding. Your body is very efficient at producing milk and losing up to 1kg (about 2lb) per week should not affect the amount of milk you produce (Adegboye et al 2013, NICE 2010).
However, if you have a newborn baby to care for, you will need a lot of energy. Trying to lose weight too soon after giving birth can delay your recovery and make you feel even more tired (IQWiG 2018). It is especially important not to follow a very low calorie diet (NHS 2019a). So try to wait until you have had your postnatal check-up before trying to lose weight (NICE 2010).
A healthy diet combined with light exercise will help you get in shape (Adegboye et al 2013). The following general guidelines will help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight:
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There is no right answer about how many calories you should have per day. The amount you should eat depends on your weight and your activity level (Amorim Adegboye et al 2013). For more tips on healthy weight loss after giving birth, check out our diet for a healthy breastfeeding mum and tips for parents to manage their weight after giving birth.
What else can I do to restore my pre-pregnancy belly? Exercise can help strengthen stomach muscles and burn calories (Evenson et al 2014, Amorim Adegboye et al 2013). You can do light exercise, such as walking and stretching, even in the first few weeks after your baby is born (POGP 2017).
If you have stopped exercising during pregnancy or are just starting to exercise, start slowly and gradually increase your level of exercise (POGP 2015).
As well as fitness, all new mums can start pelvic floor exercises and gently strengthen their lower abdominal muscles as soon as they feel ready (Evenson et al 2014, POGP 2017). It can help you get back to your pre-pregnancy shape and flatten your belly (POGP 2017).
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If you feel like it, take your baby for a walk in his pram (Evenson et al 2014). Going outside will help you lift your spirits and gently exercise your body (Evenson et al 2014, NHS 2019b). You may find that your local park hosts training sessions with other new moms.
If your stomach is stretched or you just want to tighten your stomach after having a baby, try these simple exercises.
My stomach muscles are weak. Is this normal? If your abdominal muscles feel very loose, it may be because they have been stretched too far during pregnancy (St George’s Healthcare 2018, Berens 2019). If this is the case, you may also notice a lump in the front of your abdomen, above and below your belly button (St George’s Healthcare 2018).
The medical term for this overstretching is diastasis recti (DR) (St George’s Healthcare 2018). Diastasis simply means separation.
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There are four layers of muscles on the abdomen. The superior layer is a pair of long, flat muscles that run vertically down each side of the abdomen (the rectus abdominis), commonly known as the six-pack muscle (Guy’s and St Thomas’ 2014). DR occurs when the two halves move apart and the connective tissue between them stretches and thins (St George’s Healthcare 2018).
At least half of women experience DR after giving birth (St George’s Healthcare 2018). This is more likely if you:
There is not enough research to tell us whether pre-pregnancy obesity or large weight gain during pregnancy increases the likelihood of DR (Nahabedian and Brooks 2019).
It is likely that DR can run in families (Donnelly 2019), so if your mother or sister has DR, you are also more likely to have it.
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If the gap you feel is wider than the width of two fingers, you may have DR (Nahabedian and Brooks. 2019).
The separation interval often normalizes within the first eight weeks after birth (NHS 2019d, St George’s Healthcare 2018). If the size of the cleft has not reduced, or you are worried about it, see your GP or medical session. She can refer you to a women’s health physiotherapist who will give you specific exercises to help you (NHS 2019d). In some areas of the UK, you can refer yourself to physiotherapy.
Leaving DR untreated isn’t harmful, but it can weaken your core. This can increase your chances of back pain and make exercise and other activities more difficult (Hills et al 2018, Nahabedian and Brooks 2019).
References Amorim Adegboi A.R. and Lynne Y.M. 2013. Diet or exercise, or both, for weight loss in postpartum overweight women. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. www.cochrane.org [Accessed December 2019]
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Behrens P. 2019. Overview of the postpartum period: physiology, complications, and maternal care. UpToDate www.uptodate.com [Accessed January 2020]
Evenson KR, Mottola MF, Owe KM, et al. 2014. Summary of international guidelines for physical activity after pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol Surv. You; 69(7):407-14 [Accessed December 2019]
Guy and St. Thomas. 2014. Dilation of the rectus abdominis muscles (DRAM) after childbirth. Information about patients of the physiotherapy department. Brochure number: 3913/VER1. www.guysandstthomas.nhs.uk
Hills NF, Graham RB, McLean L. 2018. Comparison of trunk muscle function in women with and without rectus abdominis diastasis at 1 year postpartum. Phys Ther 98 (10): 891-901.
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Jarlenski M, Bennett W, Bleich S, et al. 2014. Effect of breastfeeding on postpartum weight loss among US women. Prev Med, December 2014, pages 146-50 [accessed December 2019]
NHS. 2019b. Stay fit and healthy with your baby. NHS, Health A to Z, Your guide to pregnancy and baby. www.nhs.uk [Accessed December 2019]
NICE. 2010. Weight management before, during, and after pregnancy. National Institute of Health and Medical Services. NICE Health Guidance 27. www.nice.org.uk [.pdf file accessed December 2019]
POGP. 2015. Suitable and safe for sports during the childbearing period. Pelvic obstetrics
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