How the baby changes your body and what to do about it
For starters, we should mention that we do not believe that a woman should aim to “get her body back” after pregnancy. In fact, we do not think anyone loses their body with pregnancy in the first place. Your body is still your body, and it has proven that it’s capable of bringing an amazing little human into this world -- we think that deserves praise already. However, some of us may be used to and fond of having things work or look a certain way, and if that describes you, we can’t blame you for that either. For those of you who want to return to their pre-pregnancy bodies, here is a list of things that will likely change postpartum and some suggestions of how to get them back into pre-pregnancy state.
1. Wider hips. During pregnancy and labor your pelvic joints loosen up to allow the baby to enter the world. This loosening is caused by a hormone called “relaxin.” This hormone also effects all of your other joints but none as dramatically as the pelvis. As the result, you may see that, even after accounting for some pregnancy weight gain, your hip bones are wider than they used to be.
If that bothers you, you have about 8 weeks after delivery to take action. Hip binders can be used to help reposition your newly wider-set hip bones. There are multiple hip binders on the market, all using the same principle of wrapping tightly around your pelvic bones in order to cause them to shift closer together. Of course, the first 8 weeks are a very busy time for a new mom, but the timing is important as the trick is to wear the binder while your ligaments are still pliable from the relaxin that’s left from the pregnancy.
2. Diastasis recti. This is probably the most talked about postpartum body change, and the most worrisome one for many women since it affects so much more than your looks. The term diastasis recti refers to the separation of your rectus abdominal muscles (two large parallel bands of muscles) in the middle of your abdomen. While it’s absolutely normal and expected to have some degree of separation after pregnancy, many women experience that the gap lasts long into their post-pregnancy life. This gap causes the appearance of a bulge or a bit of a belly in the middle of the abdomen and can make you look pregnant. Moreover, diastasis can also contribute to pelvic floor dysfunction worsening urinary incontinence for some women.
There are multiple exercises that you can do to help close the gap between the muscles, and there is no way to cover them all in this post. However, besides special ab exercises, your everyday posture has a tremendous effect on abdominal muscle engagement. It is also important to mention, that abdominal binders and compression undergarments are not a good long term solution for diastasis. While those items will make you look slim during wear, prolonged use may lead to decreased engagement and deconditioning of your core muscles, potentially, worsening your diastasis. These binders and compression undergarments also increase intraabdominal pressure, creating additional strain to the pelvic floor muscles. We would recommend you only wear abdominal binders for a short period of time, or if recommended by your healthcare provider.
3. Wider ribcage and waistline. Again, with the help of relaxin hormone and to accommodate your growing belly, your ribs may flare a little to the sides, increasing your under bust and waist measurements even after accounting for pregnancy weight gain. The key to closing the ribs is learning proper posture and engaging your transverse abdominal muscle. This may be difficult to do initially, as you do not realize how much pregnancy and carrying a newborn change your posture. Try to look at yourself in the mirror from the side and you will most likely notice that your ribcage is not positioned atop your pelvis, but is swayed back instead. This is how your body accommodated the growing belly and shift in the center of gravity. Post-pregnancy is the time to align your ribcage atop the pelvis and try to keep it there. Continue to focus on your posture and pursue some core strengthening exercises to maintain the alignment. This should help reduce your waistline, get your ribs into a better position, and may have the added benefit of relieving some lower-back pressure you may be feeling.
4. Pelvic floor dysfunction. While it’s common to talk about weakening and stretching of the pelvic floor muscles during labor, the term “dysfunction” describes the problem much better. Certainly most of your muscles will be stretched out after giving birth, however, some may actually become overly tense due to trauma or as they compensate for weakness in other muscles. Doing Kegels can certainly help get the stretched muscles toned up, however, try to be sure that excess tension is not an issue for you before you work on toning. An easy way to know? See how sexual intercourse goes: any pain may be indicative of excess tension, and should be addressed prior to starting Kegels.
5. Thinning hair. Every mom will tell you that some hair loss after giving birth is normal, but it does not make looking at your hairbrush any easier. Unfortunately, there aren’t many things you can do besides patiently waiting for your hair to start growing back the way it used to. In the meantime, make sure you get a good haircut that takes the lack of volume into account, and use a shampoo and conditioner combo that does’t weigh down your hair. It is also important to continue your multivitamin to make sure you hair has everything it needs to grow back once it’s ready.
6. Dry skin. Similar to hair loss, skin dryness after giving birth is mostly caused by hormonal changes in your body. That said, waiting it out is a perfectly viable strategy to fixing this problem. While you wait, make sure to use a good moisturizer and a mild pH -balanced cleanser, drink plenty of water (make sure to account for all the fluid loss with breastfeeding), and use a humidifier if you live in a dry climate or are using indoor heating.