The Duchess of Cambridge, a.k.a. Kate Middleton, may have set yet another new fashion craze: wearing the post-baby bump with pride.
Judging from global chatter, Kate’s departure from St. Mary’s Hospital looking like a woman who, well, just gave birth was delightfully refreshing to many, and served as a healthy reminder just how beautiful “natural” can be.
Though a number of celebrity post-partum appearances had us believing that women could go from ravaged to ravishing in 10 easy days, the reality is the body just doesn’t bounce back that fast.
Dr. Gregory Fountain, OB/GYN at Emory Johns Creek Obstetrics and Gynecology says immediately after childbirth, the uterus is still the size it was when it held a 20-week old fetus, and it can take about 6 weeks for the uterus to return to normal size.
Additionally, most women tend to gain between 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy, Fountain explains. Though a lot comes out at birth, the actual weight loss depends on the baby’s size, the weight of the placenta and the amount of fluid. The amount lost generally equals 10 to 12 pounds, he says.
So that leaves a new mom with a few extra pounds to shed and a bunch of Google results on how to lose those pounds fast. As tempting as those baby bump-busting methods may seem, doctors usually tell women to hold off on vigorous exercise for about 6 weeks after delivery if they have had uncomplicated vaginal or cesarean births. The window may be longer if there were complications. Fountain advocates walking as a new mom’s primary form of exercise.
He also points out breast-feeding burns about 500 calories a day. This great mother-baby activity also releases a hormone called oxytocin into the bloodstream, which causes smooth muscle in both the breasts and the uterine to contract. Lactation experts say the uterine contractions caused during breast feeding can help tone the uterus.
Ultimately, Fountain says, women should set a more realistic goal of three to six months before the return to their pre-pregnancy weight, but that the time frame depends on a woman’s motivation and schedule.
The reality is that most new moms are exhausted and time -trapped in the first six to eight weeks after delivery and most weren’t marathon runners prior to pregnancy. Kay Halbert, Occupational Therapist, Rehab Therapy Services Supervisor at Emory Johns Creek Hospital, recommends women “develop habits that will serve them well from early ‘post-partum-hood’ through empty nesting.”
She even has a no-crunch-required tummy tightening exercise. “The key to a flat tummy is consistently engaging the deep abdominal muscles,” Halbert says. “You can do this throughout your day. In the beginning it will take concentration and mindfulness, but eventually it will be a sub-cortical mindless habit.”
“Sit or stand up straight, shoulders pulled back and down, tighten your belly and pull in your stomach. Imagine your belly button being drawn to your spine,” she advises. Her tip for making this a habit is to tie a string around your waist with your belly tight and keep the string there all day. When you relax or let go of your abdominal muscles the string tightens, reminding you to pull your abs tight again.”
Whatever activity women choose, Halbert advises that women listen to their doctor as to when it’s safe to begin exercising.