The other day I received an email with the subject line “Belly and Love Handles”. The message was from a beautiful mama whom participated regularly in AMC’s prenatal fitness classes and enrolled right into our Postnatal Recovery class when she was seven weeks postpartum.
“I wanted to ask you about belly fat and love handles. I know that all the exercises we did during class are helpful, but what would you say the best exercise would be to get rid of those? I’m getting super anxious and upset and I’m trying to work my way back.”
My first reaction was to reach through my laptop and give her a great big ((((hug)))).
I wish I had a magic answer to this frequent question.
Hear’s the deal, and no mama wants to hear it…have patience, be mindful of nutrition, include movement and healing exercises into your day, and be more patient. And if you are still breast-feeding and/or have an abdominal wall separation, your postpartum healing may take even longer.
As a mom of twins, I totally understand and can empathize with every single mama out there. The extra weight of pregnancy—typically consolidated around the waist, hips and thighs just doesn’t feel good, kind of squishy. As women we have 13% essential body fat compared to men with 9% essential body fat. This extra 4% is…you guessed it, around a female’s waist and hips for the sole purpose of childrearing.
Breast-feeding is awesome, like super awesome, but if you are still feeling soft or experiencing postpartum “side effects”, it may be in part from your badass milk making. Some women lose weight and literally can’t keep it on while breastfeeding, but for many your body simply hangs on to some reserves. The body is actually clever in this way. Fat stores are built up during pregnancy and they sometimes remain so that you can continue to be a milk making machine!
Now because you’re awesome at producing milk you probably aren’t sleeping because you are a round-the-clock milk producer. Lack of sleep messes with your insulin, and also signals to the brain regarding fullness. Hunger is controlled by two hormones that respond to sleep cues: leptin and ghrelin. Research in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism has shown that sleeping fewer than six hours reduces leptin and stimulates ghrelin, causing you to feel more hungry and less satiated! Then there’s the hormone cortisol. When you don’t sleep enough (or feeling stressed), your cortisol levels rise. Not only does cortisol up-regulate food reward centers in your brain that make you want to eat more food, but cortisol can also inhibit the breakdown of fat for energy and increase breakdown of muscle.
Now this brings us to the next subject, an abdominal wall separation also known as diastasis recti. Most of us know that the hormone relaxin is produced to “loosen” things up to make room for baby and birth. But did you know that breastfeeding keeps those “loosening” hormones in a woman’s system for three to six months after baby is weaned. What does this mean? It means that the connective tissue in your pelvis and your midsection may not be motivated to tighten to their full potential until after you wean. Relaxin has a legitimate effect on ligaments and connective tissue, so don’t give up!
Since it took nine months for your body to grow a baby, be prepared for it to take at LEAST nine months or longer for your skin to return to its pre-pregnancy form. And brace yourself mamas, loose skin may even remain as a permanent reminder of your pregnancy even if you did not breastfeed. It is not your fault. But the reality is that sometimes we birth babies and are left with stretch marks, loose skin, diastasis recti or pelvic floor problems. And it doesn’t mean we did something wrong. Our body simply did what it needed to do to bring us the gift of motherhood.
There is good news. Let’s discuss tangible strategies so you can start to feel less anxious and more comfortable in your beautiful skin that created and birthed a human…or two, or three.
STRATEGY #1 — EXERCISE
After you have given your body at least six weeks to recover from birth, ease into movement and begin to incorporate corrective exercises into your routine— walking, stretching, deep belly breaths with pelvic floor muscle activation. Ask your ob/gyn to check for diastasis and ask for a script for physical therapy if you had a cesarean birth. Many ob/gyn offices now have their own physical therapists on staff who specializes in women’s health. These PT’s are also known as a Women’s Health Specialist (WHS). Take a peek at AMC’s comprehensive list of recommended Women Health Specialist in Chicagoland.
Need an arsenal of healing exercises and guidance? AMC’s Postnatal Recovery Class is a great way to ease back into exercise in a supportive group environment and meet like-minded mamas. The best part— no need to hire a sitter, your baby comes to class with you. We’ll teach you all the best moves to help restore your core strength. And if your baby is no longer a baby but still feeling squishy, our Fit & Fab Small Group Training sessions will help you get stronger and leaner so you can rock your badassery! #youknowitsthere
STRATEGY #2 — NUTRITION
Remember we talked about those pesky hormones and the dominance they can have over our nutrition choices. We all know what we should be eating, but we may choose more of what our cravings desire to eat. There are simple strategies that you can put into place to balance the cravings and make better choices without feeling deprived. Better nutrition choices will assist in feeling more in control and less squishy. Control leads to confidence.
AMC’s signature 90-Days of YOU! Fitness and Nutrition Program can help you incorporate new healthy habits into your daily life so you can stay on track, long-term and truly lead your family by example. You’ll learn that healthy eating, getting stronger and being more mindful is not an impossible dream. Instead, you just need small, systematic, baby steps to help you clarify where you’re at, identify where you want to go and take the right path to get there.
You can do this Mama! Trust in yourself. Be kind to yourself. Extend even more patience and take control by making a plan for your fitness and nutrition. AMC can help guide you through your self-care journey.
Grab your spot in the next Postnatal Recovery Class
Find your strength with Fit & Fab Small Group Training
Make yourself a priority to get in shape and lose weight with 90-Days of YOU! Fitness and Nutrition Program