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As a young, naive girl, I assumed that the belly disappears and returns to normal once you have a baby. Imagine my surprise when the first of my friends popped out a beautiful baby girl, and her postpartum belly closely resembled a 6-months pregnant belly (which is TOTALLY normal, btw).
Here’s the thing they don’t tell you about those extra pounds you put on during pregnancy: they’re not just going to slide off overnight. In fact, most of them aren’t even due to fat gain; they’re due to natural processes like the fact that your uterus doesn’t return to its normal size until well after the baby is born.
Sure, some women will lose approximately 13 pounds during natural childbirth or a c-section, but the remaining 20 to 30-some pounds (based on average weight gain during pregnancy,) might stick around for a little while…or a long while.
So, what’s a girl to do?
When you feel desperate to get your body back after birth, it might seem frustrating that you have to wait. There are a few things you can do to manage your postpartum belly, though. From postpartum belly wraps to healthy nutrition and exercise, you do have options to help get your belly back down to a more normal size.
Remember, though, if you choose to exercise (with the go-ahead from your physician), diet, and/or wrap your postpartum body, don’t forget to go slowly and give your body some grace.
Pregnancy is TOUGH on our bodies, and bouncing back immediately isn’t in the cards for the majority of mamas, and that’s OK! Please don’t forget that it’s very important to consult your medical care team before starting any kind of postpartum exercise routine.
What Should You Expect from Your Postpartum Belly?
As I mentioned earlier, your postpartum belly isn’t made entirely of extra fat you put on during pregnancy.
The primary reason you might still look pregnant is that your uterus is bigger than usual. Your uterus will have grown to the size of a watermelon and stretches from your pubic area to the lower part of your rib cage by the time you deliver.
During a process known as involution, your uterus will gradually shrink back down to its pre-pregnancy size. This can take up to six weeks.
In terms of the other “things” your body is losing after delivery, there’s a lot to keep in mind.
Aside from your baby itself, you’ll lose additional weight right after childbirth by shedding blood, amniotic fluid, and your placenta. When looking at your postpartum belly week by week, the continued loss of amniotic fluid during the first week after delivery is responsible for more weight loss.
By the end of your first month postpartum, you’ll likely have lost around 20 pounds. Since the average person gains 25 – 35 pounds during pregnancy, that puts most people near pre-pregnancy size.
For the record, we certainly don’t think you have to be concerned about your postpartum belly at all! Weight loss after pregnancy is incredibly personal. Focusing on yourself and the baby should come well before worrying about your pregnancy belly. But if you have the bandwidth and want to spend some time focusing on reducing your postpartum belly, there are ways you can support and encourage your belly back in the direction of its pre-pregnancy days.
1. Belly Support During Your Postpartum Period
Postpartum belly support can be a great way to help your postpartum belly, but only if you’re careful! Many belly binding with postpartum belly wraps actually push down and increase the risk of prolapse, so we love support from postpartum leggings.
Effective belly compression can provide benefits such as:
- Support for your pelvic floor after childbirth
- Pain relief during your postpartum recovery
- Easier movement after delivery
- Help reconditioning weak muscles from childbirth
Check our our favorite belly support garments for postpartum, and get 15% off with code undefiningmotherhood.
2. Postpartum Exercise (With Your Doctor’s Clearance)
While postpartum belly exercises are a great way to combat pregnancy weight gain in your midsection, medical professionals warn not to do too much too soon.
Sure, it can be tempting to throw yourself into a marathon-style workout straight out of the gate, but you have to keep in mind everything your body has been through during the last nine-plus months.
If you’ve cleared it with your doctor and you’re looking for gentle but effective postpartum belly exercises, the National Academy of Sports Medicine suggests:
- Breathing Exercises
- Heel Slides
- Leg Extensions and Advanced Leg Extensions (when you’re ready!)
- Toe Taps
- Double Leg Lowers
When is it Safe to Start Postpartum Belly Exercises?
In the days after my girls were born, exercise was the last thing on my mind. I was more in the habit of figuring out when it was time for my next snack than deciding when I could start working out the old postpartum belly.
Not everyone is like me, though.
Some new parents might be ready to rush into an exercise routine as soon as they’re home from the hospital – but is that safe?
On average, most doctors suggest their patients wait 4 – 8 weeks after delivery before beginning a new workout routine.
If you feel like your body is ready to move before that point, however, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that might be okay, too. New research shows that you can probably start working out 20 – 30 minutes a day right after birth if you feel strong enough to do so.
However, and we cannot stress this enough, talk to your doctor or care team BEFORE starting ANY kind of exercise routine!
Have you heard the rumor about how breastfeeding can help you lose postpartum belly fat more quickly?
Well, it’s not just a pipe dream – it’s the truth for many women!
If you’re looking for ways to get rid of your postpartum belly, studies show women who breastfeed tend to lose more weight than those who don’t. As a general rule, nursing mothers lose around one to two pounds a month.
Breastfeeding isn’t an option for everyone, though, so please don’t shame yourself or feel bad if you can’t participate in this particular method of reducing your postpartum belly. Feeding your baby however you can is the most important thing you can do for your health and theirs.
Can There Be Permanent Changes to Your Postpartum Belly?
As you give yourself grace during the postpartum period, keep in mind that some changes to your body are more permanent.
During the final weeks and months of pregnancy, abdominal separation (known as diastasis recti) often occurs. While this condition sometimes corrects itself, for some people, it becomes the new “normal” for their body.
If the issue doesn’t go away on its own, your doctor can refer you to a physical therapist for the problem, or if that doesn’t help, surgical treatment may be considered,
Don’t Forget to Appreciate Your Postpartum Belly
Here’s the thing about your postpartum belly: while changes in your belly and/or weight gain aren’t always the most comfortable thing to come to terms with, it’s crucial to see the beauty in what your belly has done for you (even if you don’t always appreciate how it looks).
For nine months, you housed your child and provided them with the nutrients and space they needed to grow and develop.
Your body is exquisite – give yourself the grace to see it that way, and if that doesn’t work, just know you aren’t alone. Change, particularly when it comes to our bodies, is tough to deal with.
There’s nothing wrong with researching postpartum belly exercises or using a postpartum belly wrap if those things will make you feel good. And if those things aren’t for you, don’t feel bad about not using them. This is your journey and your postpartum belly.
Have you struggled with the look of your postpartum belly or learned to love the changes to your body? Us, too! Let’s talk about it!
Kristen Bergeron is a freelance writer from Florida. In addition to writing, she is a wife, mother of two beautiful girls, Hadley and Scarlett, and a part-time photographer. After overcoming infertility and having two successful IVF cycles, she’s made it a personal goal to help educate men and women on the realities of fertility struggles. She is passionate about supporting fellow women who are trying to navigate the complicated world of conception, pregnancy, and learning to be the best mothers we can be.