How long after having a baby should you start chasing the yummy mummy look? When should you reach to get your pre-baby body back? When should you fit back into your skinny jeans, rock the mini skirt or start modelling your bikini bod?
Today when I opened my laptop and searched for inspiration on ‘post baby body image issues’, the top story on news.com.au was titled “Kylie Jenner outfit: Reality star flaunts post baby body… wearing skin-tight leather-look “Geldof” pants”. The story doesn’t discuss how Kylie is transitioning to new motherhood, whether she has been given lots of support from her family and friends, if she is feeling mentally and physically well or what kind of dreams and aspirations she has for her family and new baby. That doesn’t sell news right? My first emotions are anger and blame for the people and companies that put this kind of pressure on new mums. Then I slowly transition toward sadness that this is a world where we are judged on how quickly we get our pre baby body back, not on our virtues of kindness, love, commitment and hard work that we put into raising happy and healthy children. There is a slightly more complex issue at play here however. As a physiotherapist working with post natal and pelvic floor health clients, I ask myself: Are we actually doing ourselves physical health damage by becoming yummy mummys?
Is being a yummy mummy bad for your health?
I often have women come to my clinic in the first 6-12 weeks of having a baby ready to get back into exercise. Sadly, this is not always for health and mental wellness reasons, but more often it is to shed the baby weight, get their flat tummy back and chase the so called ‘yummy mummy’ look. This can be a really difficult conversation to have because in actual fact, returning to your pre-baby weight after having a baby is the strongest predictor of reducing or curing urinary incontinence (accidental bladder/urine leakage). Sounds great! Go for it right? Well actually hold on… while this may be true, there are a few other things to consider.
I touched on this briefly in my last blog titled; “Please stop telling new mums that a healthy baby is all that matters”. 5-20% of women will experience depression or anxiety during or following the birth of their baby. This can be confounded by a traumatic birth or may be occuring for no obvious reason at all. While I am not a trained psychologist, I do know that adding one more pressure on a new mum, like ‘getting back to their pre baby weight’ may prevent her from focusing on her mental health and how well she strives toward a happy, balanced and fulfilling life with her new baby. It can also lead to feelings of guilt, anxiety and stress when the pre-baby body is more difficult to achieve than first thought. I won’t even start on the issues of eating disorders and self esteem, although these can be very real consequences of such pressures.
Is your pelvic floor ready to return to exercise?
This is now the field that I feel confident in dishing out advice for. When is the safe time to return to exercise after having your baby? This is a hard one to answer as well. Every women is different. I have advised some women 6 weeks postnatally that they are at a low risk for pelvic floor problems if they return to running. I have also advised women 2 years postnatally that they are a high risk for problems if they return to running. Because all our pregnancies, childbirth experiences and bodies are different, so too are our healing times. We depend on our pelvic floor muscles, ligaments and nerves to maintain continence (bladder and bowel control) as well as support our organs. We need to allow the pelvic floor to recover from the trauma of pregnancy and childbirth before we begin to apply stress again through the form of running and exercise. Let’s be clear here…
“Pregnancy and childbirth will damage your pelvic floor to some extent. Obstetric trauma leads to real muscle, joint and ligament damage that needs to be rehabilitated”.
I like to think about the injuries we sustain during pregnancy and childbirth as similar to that of a football player. A football player strains his hamstring and the physio recommends 6 weeks off playing to allow the tissues to heal. Some football players have severe injuries requiring surgery or crutches to walk. Some just need to take it easy for a the rest of the season. Pregnancy and childbirth injure the tissues of our pelvic floor to some extent. My belief is that even the best birth, the easiest cesarean or the smallest baby has the potential to cause tissue damage and it is important for all woman to rest and slow after childbirth to allow the tissues to heal. Some women will experience greater trauma and they will need the right health care team, physios, doctors, nurses, surgeons and/or psychologists to help them recover and get back to the things that are important in life, even if that is running around the backyard with the kids.
So what is the answer? The answer to how much recovery you need depends on how much physical damage has occurred to the muscles, joints, ligaments and nerves. Yep, you guessed it! Following the birth of your baby I believe that every woman should have a pelvic floor assessment. Every woman! Now this is different from your 6 week check with your doctor as it involves objective measurements, strength tests, prolapse screenings and pelvic floor assessments that will give the full picture on how much damage has occurred, how much capacity the pelvic floor has to recover on its own, weather you need any further specialised therapy and indeed… if it is safe to return to exercise! … we wouldn’t guess how much damage has occurred to a football player’s hamstring, we get an assessment, perhaps even an MRI. We wouldn’t just hope a footy player gets better in his own time, we would offer physio, medical and health care to speed up their recovery and raise flags for when further help is needed.
So… back to my first conundrum… returning to your pre-baby weight after having a baby is the strongest predictor of reducing or curing urinary incontinence (accidental bladder/urine leakage). Yes I support this, we need to work toward a healthy weight and good fitness levels, IF it is done in the right way and for the right reasons, e.g. mental wellness, social participation, healthy hearts and lungs… not because Kylie Jenner’s post baby body was the top story of your news feed.
What is the right way to return to exercise after having your baby?
As I mentioned, a thorough assessment by a pelvic floor physio is a must. Without the assessment we are running blind. After that, how we get you back to exercise safely is a discussion you should have in collaboration with your physiotherapist and includes talking about your goals, preferences, apprehensions and preferences for treatment. Our treatment toolbox has everything from pelvic floor muscle exercises to weights, splints and bowel care. We ensure you understand what has occurred in your pelvic floor, what types of exercises you should be aiming to return to and expected time frames for reaching your goals… just like a football player. Remember… we are just a ‘different kind of sports physio’.
New mums: Please don’t reach for your pre baby body and the yummy mummy look because Kylie Jenner rocked skinny jeans or because you think that is what is required to keep up in this fast paced, high pressure world. Instead, aim for a healthy, happy life, in the safest way possible.
Friends of new mums: Please support our new mums to be the best, healthiest and happiest person they can be… regardless of their skinny jeans.
Let’s make a better world for all women. #InternationalWomensDay
Calm & Connection talk about all things wellness. We are opening discussions on pain, injury, pre and post natal health, mindfulness and how to keep up in this big world.
Be kind to yourself,