Women's Health

What you need to know about caring for your postpartum belly

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Bringing new life into the world is an incredible milestone. To make it happen, your body has had to stretch and make room to support your baby's growth.

It's no wonder your body might look and feel very different to your pre-pregnancy shape after you give birth.

And one of the places you might notice the biggest changes is your post-baby belly.

From sagging skin to stretch marks and even abdominal separation, your postpartum body might take a while to feel familiar again.

But embracing your postpartum stomach and learning how to give some extra TLC to your postpartum tummy is key to a healthy recovery.

So, let's run you through how to care for your stomach muscles and body in your postpartum period and what tools you can use to help your belly fully recover from pregnancy and birth.

What happens to your postpartum belly after birth?

During pregnancy, your body (and tummy) has been working overtime to support new life.

To make room as your baby grows, the two abdominal muscles that run along the centre of your stomach have needed to stretch and expand.

It's very common for your stomach muscles to separate during pregnancy (a condition known as diastasis recti abdominis or divarication).

In fact, 60 per cent of pregnant women experience this muscle separation six weeks postpartum.

Why does this happen? Well, as your womb grows, these muscles are pushed apart and become longer and weaker over time.

Plus, your body is experiencing hormonal changes at the same time (usually in the second half of your pregnancy) that causes your connective tissues to become more flexible and elastic.

Typically, stomach muscle separation is most common for women with more than one child, mums who are pregnant with twins or triplets and if you're carrying a larger-than-average baby.

After birth, you may notice your belly is softer than usual, your belly button might be pushed out or your abdominal muscles may be weaker than pre-pregnancy.

How long does it take for your abdominal muscles to go back to normal post-pregnancy?

The good news is that after you give birth, your body begins to repair, recover and return to its pre-pregnancy state.

If your rectus abdominis muscle has experienced separation during pregnancy, this should begin to heal and improve in the first eight weeks after giving birth.

Immediately after birth, your uterus will begin to shrink (however this process can take up to six weeks to return to its pre-pregnancy size).

In the first few weeks post-delivery, you'll also notice your body will be flushing out excess amniotic fluid and you may notice some weight loss.

It's important to remember that your body and belly can take months to fully recover (especially if you've had a C-section delivery).

So, don't put too much pressure on yourself to 'bounce back' or rapidly lose any pregnancy weight.

Is it normal to have loose skin on your stomach after giving birth?

In short, absolutely.

As we mentioned, your stomach and belly stretch and expand during pregnancy to support your baby's growth.

So, it's only expected that your skin will also expand as you progress through pregnancy.

After birth, your uterus rapidly contracts while your skin can take weeks or even months to tighten and firm up.

Plus, your skin may have lost some of its elasticity during pregnancy, which can mean you won't fully return to your pre-pregnancy size.

With so many changes going on, things like stretch marks are super common (experienced by roughly eight in 10 pregnant women).

That's because your skin has been rapidly stretched, causing the middle layer of your skin (the dermis) to experience breakage and damage.

To help support your core recovery after having a baby, using tools such as a belly wrap or binder can encourage your belly to flatten and regain strength after birth.

Kin's Belly Band helps to support loose tummy muscles while you regain strength in your core.

What to remember about returning to your pre-pregnancy shape

You don't have to look far to find plenty of resources telling you how to lose weight after birth. But it's important to remind ourselves that pregnancy weight gain is totally normal and so essential to the healthy growth and development of your baby.

Here's what we know: Most women will gain anywhere from 10 to 12.5 kg during pregnancy, although this figure can change depending on a range of factors.

The time it takes for people to return to their pre-pregnancy weight (if they ever return to their weight at all) will be different for everyone.

There's no set rule-book to follow and your postpartum weight loss will vary depending on our pregnancy journey, birth and any other experiences your body might be navigating.

Our advice? Focus on your body's recovery and rebuilding stability and core strength (rather than the number on the scale). Over time, your body will find a healthy weight that feels right for you.

Tips to strengthen your abdomen after pregnancy

Ready to rebuild strength and support your core's recovery? Here are a bunch of practical steps you can take to repair your postpartum stomach muscles.

Use a supportive belly band

After you've given birth, your abdomen may be navigating muscle separation as well as discomfort or pain.

That's where a tool known as a belly band can give you that extra helping hand during your postpartum journey.

Here at Kin, we designed our Belly Band to help close your separated muscles and help you feel stronger, sooner.

Plus, if you've had a C-section, our Belly Band can give you the support you need to lower post-surgery pain and support incision healing.

The Belly Band's two-layer design uses elastic velcro bands that offer supportive compression across your lower abdomen and back.

No matter what your day throws at your, the Kin Belly Band will give you the confidence and support to tackle it all.

Try deep stomach core exercises

Another helpful way to rebuild your core strength is to add gentle tummy-toning exercises into your postpartum exercise routine.

Remember to speak with your doctor to get the all-clear before trying any of these moves.

  • Pelvic tilts with ab contractions: Start laying on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat. Press your lower back into the ground and pull your belly button to your spine. Then, slowly tighten your abs and gently lift your pelvis an inch before releasing back down (keeping your pelvic floor engaged).
  • Modified crunches: In the same bent-knee position on the floor, exhale and slowly extend one leg parallel to the floor. Return the leg and swap sides.

What to expect of your postpartum belly

One-week postpartum

In the first few days after birth, you may notice an initial drop in weight (usually up to five kilograms). Most of this will be a loss of amniotic fluid and the placenta.

It's totally normal to still feel like your belly is large and swollen as it can take a number of weeks for your uterus to contract. In fact, if you still feel like you look six months pregnant, that's completely normal.

If you've delivered by a C-section, you'll notice movement will be difficult and your incision will feel painful.

Three weeks postpartum

By this point in your postpartum recovery, you'll start to notice your belly reducing in size as your body flushes out the remaining excess fluid.

You'll start to notice your stomach muscles firming up and may even start to notice some loose skin as your uterus contracts.

If you've delivered by C-section, your scar should be close to healed (but it may take up to six weeks or more to fully recover from your surgery).

Eight weeks postpartum

By the eight-week mark, your uterus should have returned to its pre-pregnancy size and moved back into its normal position in your pelvis.

At six weeks postpartum you will have had your check-up with your doctor to clear you for things like exercise and sex (but don't worry if you don't feel ready for this just yet, it can take months for your libido to return after birth).

Plus, your separated stomach muscles should be nearly fully recovered by this point (thanks to a combination of using a belly band and gentle core-strengthening exercises).

Eight months postpartum

By this point in your postpartum journey, you might have noticed a change in your weight or an increase in your belly's strength and stability.

While you'll likely still be navigating sagging skin and stretch marks, you may notice your stomach muscles are stronger and your belly is starting to look closer to your pre-baby shape.

At this point, you'll be able to find a postpartum exercise routine that feels manageable and right for your body.

That could be postpartum Pilates, yoga, or simply getting outside for a walk with bub.

Again, don't feel the pressure to focus on how flat your belly is or how much weight you might have lost. The key is to focus on your health, wellbeing and energy levels and give your body all the support it needs to recover fully.

References

https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/50/17/1092

https://www.pregnancybirthbaby.org.au/abdominal-separation

https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/related-conditions/common-symptoms/stretch-marks/

https://www.allinahealth.org/health-conditions-and-treatments/health-library/patient-education/beginnings/your-recovery-at-home/your-changing-body

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28241386/