It’s beautiful, if you ask me.
Does this body look Vogue-cover ready? Probably not.
Is this body exactly the way it was 9 months ago? Absolutely not.
Does this body bear several “trophies” after triumphantly completing its most amazing and challenging 9-months-long marathon? Definitely yes.
Sometimes it’s hard for mothers to view their bodies with so much love and contentment. I know that for a fact because I’ve been there.
There is nothing worse than somebody coming up to you after you have had your baby and asking “When are you due, honey?” Or hearing a “thoughtful” comment from a know-it-all well-wisher during the pregnancy “You look fat, sweetie. You really need to keep your cravings under control.” It’s hard not to feel self-conscious after hearing that.
To make things even worse, media is always trying to pour some gasoline into the fire of mothers’ self-image (keep this video in mind the next time you see a perfect-looking celebrity or photo model) by covering some controversial post-baby picture (too fit, too fat, too skinny, too flabby…)
After being pregnant with twins twice I personally understand the constant inner struggle of a new mother trying to find her new self.
I remember the first time I looked at myself in the mirror after my first set of twins was born. I didn’t recognize the girl that was looking back at me. The pregnant glow was gone and instead the look of exhaustion and sleep deprivation was stamped on my face. A cute belly bump (a belly mountain in my case) disappeared and in its place I saw an empty wrinkled potato sack that once used to be my flat tummy. I was ready to burst into tears (and I think I did.)
Now imagine feeling the same way and then seeing a picture of a woman who has perfect washboard abs just several weeks after pregnancy. Life just doesn’t seem fair, does it?
I’d been a fitness instructor for 6 years before I got pregnant but I can honestly say that I was completely unprepared to tackle my biggest fitness challenge yet – getting back into shape after having twins.
Here are a couple of things that make getting back in shape so difficult after having a baby:
- Absolutely no time (can anyone argue with that?)
- No time away from the baby. You don’t have the freedom to go wherever you want anymore.
- Low energy because you can never get enough sleep.
- Diastasis recti (my personal #1 enemy) is separation of the abdominal muscles that makes you look 4-5 months pregnant permanently. The tricky part is that most regular abdominal exercises (crunches, sit-ups, oblique twists etc) make this condition only worse.
- Loose skin will most likely stay with you no matter how much weight you lose or how tight your muscles are going to get.
- Diet is the last thing on your mind right now (and it should be, especially if you are breastfeeding.)
- Back pain that gets only worse from holding and breastfeeding the baby.
My personal journey to emotional and physical recovery after the pregnancy started with Pilates. And I ask every mother to find a little “me-time” in her busy schedule to see how Pilates can transform her body and mind.
7 Practical Tips for a Perfect Post-Baby Body
1. Define “perfect”
What does it mean to have a “perfect” body? You are the only person who can set standards on what you want to look like.
Very few women can get their pre-baby body back 100% so don’t set yourself up for disappointment by trying to look exactly the way you did before you got pregnant (mommy pooch, anyone?) Instead, enjoy the more feminine shape of your body and love your body for what it has done – fulfill its most amazing purpose by bearing a perfect little miracle.
If you want to see what perfect post-baby bodies look like then visit Ashlee Wells Jackson’s 4th Trimester photography project. It will make you fall in love with a postpartum body.
2. Pilates matwork to the rescue
Finding time for exercise outside of the house is difficult that is why doing something at home is the best thing for your body. Pilates with its focus on working from the core (and, yes, flat tummy is a “side-effect” of a strong core) works your whole body and a full workout can be completed in 30 minutes (if you are an advanced student.)
Babies also love doing Pilates with their moms. Just get a little creative and put her on your tummy during the Hundred or lean over her while performing planks and pushups.
Pilates is not a magic pill though. It won’t help you lose weight (but it will shed inches off your waist and hips) so you need to add cardio to your workouts. But it’s really easy to do because walking and running with a stroller are the most effective and affordable ways to do that.
3. Concentrate on your workout
Concentration is one of the 6 essential principles of Pilates. When you intentionally shift your focus to working with full commitment you maximize the value of each exercise performed. I found this principle helpful in more than one way.
By concentrating on Pilates moves I was able to clear my mind and get the oh-so-needed energy to keep going on just a few hours of sleep every night.
Concentration during a Pilates session is like moving meditation that lets you clear your mind of dirty diapers, endless errands and countless laundry cycles.
4. Control your body, control your emotions
Emotional eating is probably the biggest reason why women have trouble getting their pregnancy weight off. Lack of sleep and mommy stress topped with some baby screams or toddler tantrums make you crave easy and familiar comfort foods. You just want to feel calm and peaceful for a couple of minutes and a bowl of ice-cream seems like a perfect retreat for your body and your mind.
Pilates workout is really nothing special if you don’t put control and precision into each and every move. Learning to control every part of your body is the real genius of the Pilates Method. When you gain control of your body you also find a way to control your emotions. It’s a wonderful chain reaction that makes you peaceful and strong.
A new study conducted at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine, in Boston, also proves that mind-body practices (like Pilates) help people lose weight and keep it off by improving their eating behavior, quality of life and self-esteem.
5. Maximize the minimal amount of time that you have
Moms are tight on time that is why they often put off any type of exercise.
I wish I had several full hours a week for my workouts but realistically I know that 30 minutes a day split into 5-10 minutes intervals is the best I can do. With Pilates, even little exercise breaks like that are enough to get amazing results.
Recent studies show that small exercise bouts are as effective at improving health markers and chiseling that perfect body as long-duration workouts. People are also more likely to maintain their active lifestyle if they engage into short bursts of moderate to intense activities daily rather than exercise only 2-3 times a week.
Another small study conducted in Brazil showed that the centering technique (yes, another core Pilates principle which means that you activate the abdominal muscles, multifidus and pelvic-floor muscles during every move) makes every exercise more effective (even if the exercise is working the muscles distant from the abdominal wall.)
This explains why Pilates devotees can get great results by performing very few reps of each exercise.
Pilates is all about creating the perfect alignment in your body. Everybody can benefit from a little adjustment in this department, especially mothers. Pregnancy, breastfeeding, carrying and snuggling with the baby take a toll on a woman’s body.
Focus on alignment doesn’t only correct the oh-so-common rolled forward shoulders, tucked under hiney and the round back, it relieves stubborn neck and back pain that many mothers suffer from.
7. Create your flow
In order to stay on track with my workout I created a short Pilates flow that I could do in around 10 minutes. All of the moves in this flow target the entire body and focus on balancing out the effects of pregnancy and caring for a child on a mother’s body.
- Kneeling Plank lets a mother connect to her deep abdominal muscles that were stretched out during pregnancy. It is a great beginner move after a C-section or if you are trying to rehabilitate after Diastasis Recti.
- Front support (Plank) is the most effective exercise in regaining flat tummy. It works the entire body and is easy to do when you have just 1 minute or less. To make things more interesting, add leg lifts or Pilates push-ups. If you feel strong enough, add Side Support with preparation for the Star.
- Swimming is a must-do exercise as it strengthens back extensors. I like to modify this move and reach the arms back to pump them up and down (similar to the arm movement in the Hundred) while the legs are still “swimming.” Doing so helps you bring down your already-tight shoulders and open up the chest.
- Double Leg Kicks also strengthens the back, gently stretches the hip flexors and, most importantly, opens up the chest.
- Have a little break in a Rest Position (Child’s Pose.) Focus on your breath. Inhale and try to fill the deepest pockets of your lungs with air. Exhale and let all the air gently flow out of your lungs taking any built-up stress and anxiety with it.
- Shoulder Bridge helps strengthen the back of your legs while taking the pressure of your lower back. Add marching, single leg lifts or perform a Single Leg Bridge as an advanced modification.
- Hip Circles make you activate deep core muscles, strengthen primary hip flexors (that are really weak in most people) and bring your attention to a perfect upper body alignment. It is an advanced movement that requires the ultimate control of your body. Keep your lower back in neutral position (don’t sink towards the floor and don’t round), keep your chest open and your shoulders down. You can start doing Hip circles on your elbows with your knees bent.
- Back Support will help you stretch the Hip Flexors that have just been working, open up your chest (again) and use your back and abdominal muscles to support your body. Use rolled-up wash cloths under your wrists if you feel discomfort in that area (very common during and after the pregnancy) or go down on your elbows. Add leg lifts to take it to the next level.
- Relax. Lie Down, stretch your legs out, open up your arms in a T-shape, breathe deeply focusing on sending the breath into the bottom back pockets of your lungs (right under your bra line.) Exhale and feel your neck and shoulders relax as your chest falls down towards your spine. It’s the most needed exercise of the workout for any mother.
Sometimes women say that it is easy to say “Love your body,” if one already has a perfect body. Only you can define what “perfect” means to you but I dare you to look at yourself in the mirror with warmth, kindness and pride. I guarantee that you will see a perfect woman there.
Love, Peace, Pilates.