Expectations and preconditioned imagery of what a woman’s body will look like after having a baby don’t always match the reality, from that belly bump that doesn’t seem to want to budge to shedding more hair than the family cat. Knowledge of what to expect, the longevity of these changes and how to embrace these newfound womanly curves can make the transition into motherhood a little less rocky and the road forward a lot smoother.
Obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Robyn Aldridge says there isn’t a strong focus among expecting mothers to discuss or seek information on the changes that occur to their bodies after birth, with many understandably more focused on the labour.
Dr Aldridge says changes in the size and shape of the abdomen, breasts and shoe size, as well as hair loss and a weak pelvic floor are particularly common occurrences for most women after having a baby.
“It is important for women to expect some or all of these changes and recognise that they are part of the process,” she says.
“It will take time to recover, but if you’re worried about any particular ramifications, it is a good idea to discuss them with your obstetrician at the postnatal visit – usually six weeks after birth.”
Feeling like a so-called ‘yummy mummy’ in the early days is a phrase many new mums don’t feel they can relate to. After the abdominal muscles have stretched and strained over the nine-month pregnancy, what’s left for many women is a little extra, unwanted baggage.
Mater Mothers’ Hospital in Brisbane encourages women to move well and get plenty of rest during their pregnancy to help with the recovery of their body post-birth. Reducing excess strain can help protect the tummy and pelvic floor muscles.
Sunshine Coast author and mother-of-two Rebecca Mugridge says adjusting to life as a mum was a challenge in itself, let alone dealing with the visible changes to her body after giving birth to her daughters.
“My body was very different and I didn’t feel like myself anymore after putting on more than 30kg during my first pregnancy. I felt ugly, overweight and extremely stressed,” says Rebecca.
“I had this expectation that my body would bounce back, like the celebrities bodies do. I felt this pressure to look like I did pre-pregnancy and was surprised by the many changes that had happened to my body.”
After feeling like she was trapped within her own house and her own body, Rebecca decided to start walking with her baby in her pram to get some fresh air and a new perspective. Building back up her confidence with each step she was taking, Rebecca used her personal experience of the changes to her post-birth body to write the parenting book, The Pram Diet.
“Even after all the walking there are still saggy bits on my tummy and stretch marks, but I have embraced these changes and have let go of that image I had of my younger self pre-baby,” Rebecca says.
“I became more realistic that, as a mum, I am going to look different and that my tummy is going to be a little saggy from now on.”
In life what goes up, in most cases, has to come down. As a new mum, this isn’t something that you expect to relate to your cup size. With increased levels of hormones pumping through the body during pregnancy, many expecting mums may notice that their breasts have gotten bigger. Despite all the stretching and growing the body goes through during this time, some mums notice that they have a smaller cup size, months after giving birth.
Writer and mother Jenn Rian has seen the humorous side to the change in her cup size, creating the hashtag #ThingsThatLookLikeMyPostBabyBoobs. Using everyday items and placing them on her chest to illustrate how her body has changed, Jenn has likened her breasts to such things as deflated balloons and bread dough.
A big surprise for some new mums after having their baby is the discovery that their favourite pair of heels no longer fit. This is extremely confusing for a sleep-deprived mum who can’t quite work out why all the shoes in her wardrobe have now shrunk.
Doctors believe that due to the extra weight and increased looseness of joints during pregnancy, the arch of the foot can in fact flatten out.
Rebecca says after making peace with all the changes to her body after giving birth to her two girls, she was shocked to discover after her second pregnancy she could no longer fit into her shoes.
“I knew that sometimes your feet swelled during pregnancy, but I was unaware that your feet can increase in size completely and even become wider,” she says.
“There are all these heels and boots that I can no longer wear. It could be seen as a good excuse to go shoe shopping.”
During pregnancy, most women are thrilled to witness their hair growing at a rapid rate and, in some cases, becoming thicker. This is caused by an increase in oestrogen levels in the body, which prolong the growing phase of your hair and result in less hair falling out. A pregnant woman will lose less hair on a daily basis compared to what she did beforehand.
However, once bub is born, it is very common for these luscious locks to shed as the hormone levels in the body drop.
Doctors find this to be a real concern for new mums who are fearful of going bald. But they assure new mums that this is a temporary phase and should calm down when bub is around six-months-old.
It’s drilled into you from the start of your pregnancy right through to after bub is born, but those simple pelvic floor exercises you do while brushing your teeth actually make a world of difference.
Exercise physiologist Esme Soan says 50% of women have some degree (symptomatic or asymptomatic) of pelvic organ prolapse postpartum. She says it is very important to do your pelvic floor exercises every day with 92% of mums with stress urinary incontinence at 12 weeks postpartum still having issues five years down the track.
“The pelvic floor is a complex web of muscle, fascia and fibrous tissue. It functions to support the pelvic organs and help control bladder and bowel function,” Esme says.
“At the end of pregnancy the weight of the baby on the pelvic floor has been found to be equivalent to a 100kg man standing on a trampoline.
“Many mothers I see are really keen to get back into shape and exercise after having their baby, but steps should be taken to repair and protect the pelvic floor prior to engaging in any high impact or high intensity exercise.”
Esme says five great exercises that are appropriate and pelvic floor safe for pregnancy and postpartum include:
Personal trainer and mother-of-two Cassandra Porter runs a ‘me time’ mums fitness class in Brisbane, encouraging women to dedicate some time to themselves, nurturing and empowering their bodies.
Cassandra says the ‘me time’ class is about mums looking after and caring for themselves, while releasing those feel-good endorphins that make you feel calm and relaxed.
“As women, we spend so much time devoted to our children and our family. It’s equally important to look after ourselves as well as feel positive about our bodies,” she says.
“My body went through so many changes after having my two girls, but I acknowledged that it was all part of the process. At the end of the day you have created this amazing human being – that’s what is most important.”