When its been just a few weeks since you had a baby and someone asks when you are due, it is a little irritating but pretty easy to shrug off, smile and simply explain that you've just recently given birth.
But there's nothing more discouraging than being 2 years postpartum and 20 pounds down on your weight loss journey, filled with pride and confidence in how far you've come and then being asked how far along you are.
Even years after my daughter was born, while eating healthier and working out all the time, I still had a problem with my lower belly pooching out to the point that people saw my fit arms and otherwise lean figure and assumed that my jutting lower belly meant I was pregnant and felt that it was okay to ask "when are you due?" Talk about derailing my body confidence with four simple words.
The truth is, for many moms, our lower bellies continue to be a trouble spot after having babies. And they tend to get worse in subsequent pregnancies, especially those that are close together, with larger babies, pregnancies of multiples, or when a lot of weight is gained in the prenatal period.
There are many factors that affect the appearance of your lower abdomen after having a baby. Here are 3 of the main culprits contributing to a "mommy pooch" and what you can do to help reduce it.
1. Excess belly fat that you gained during (or after) your pregnancy that you haven't lost yet.
For many of us, this is a big one. One of the downsides to pregnancy is that you are expected to gain between 25-35 pounds while growing your babe. While around 20 pounds of this gain are made up by the baby, extra fluids, and larger breasts (bonus!) most women still have at least 10 pounds of fat storage at the end of their pregnancies, and that's if you only gained the recommended 30-35 lbs.
In order to shed these leftover fat stores you have to pay attention to what and more importantly, how much you are eating and create a deficit between what you take in and what you burn. If you are exclusively breastfeeding after giving birth, you will use much of this stored fat for the production of breast milk (however, while you continue to breastfeed, your body will likely cling to some of these fat stores when you embark on a weight loss mission.)
If you consume more calories than you need beyond what you use for your daily energy needs and milk production, you will inevitably gain more fat. Also, it is not possible to "spot reduce" when talking about fat loss, so the only way to lose the belly fat is to lose the fat all over. So the only way to address the excess belly fat is to make sure you are eating no more than your body needs and that you are creating a deficit for slow sustainable fat loss through diet and exercise.
2. Diastasis Recti, which is a separation of the connective tissue between the two parallel sides of your rectus abdominus, or "six-pack" muscles.
Almost all women will have some separation following pregnancy, but the degree of separation varies widely as well does the extent of the depth and weakness of the connective tissue. If you have less than a 3-finger wide gap, the linea alba (connective tissue that runs vertically down the center of your abs) is still somewhat taut and your core is functioning optimally, than your DR will likely close on its own provided it has the ample time and rest to heal, and you don't do anything to make it worse.
However, if you suffer from a DR that is wider than 3 inches or the connective tissue is very weak and there is a very deep gap present, then you should speak to your ObGyn and perhaps get referred to a physical therapist or physiotherapist for specialized treatment.
If you notice that while performing exercises that create intra-abdominal pressure - planks, crunches, situps, jumping, running, burpees, (pretty much any intense activity) - that your abdomen is bulging outwards, this indicates that something isn't functioning correctly and you may have a diastasis that requires attention. Have your doctor check for the existence of a gap and depending on the severity, discontinuing your current exercise regimen and instead focusing on Core Stabilization exercises may be helpful.
3. Weak inner core including the Transverse Abdominus (TA or TvA) and pelvic floor muscles.
During pregnancy your Transverse Abdominus and Pelvic floor worked together as a sort of "sling" holding your growing baby and as a result had to stretch, stretch, stretch in order to accommodate that growth and are left weak as a result. In addition to having our inner core muscles being pulled to their max, many woman suffer additional trauma to these muscles during labor and delivery.
The result - an inner core that is unable to do its job of "holding us in" correctly and a lax and pooching belly. In these instances we may need to retrain basic core functionality as well as reconditioning these deep core muscles to regain a fully functioning core prior to strengthening.
But the good news is with time and a little effort most of these factors can be addressed and remedied. Though your belly may never look exactly the same again, it is possible to recondition our bodies, restore our deep inner core strength, and lose the excess fat so we can finally be rid of the dreaded "mommy pooch" and sport flat (or flatter) abs once more. For help getting started rebuilding your core from the inside out, nutrition tips, and for motivation to finally make the changes you have been wanting, join our M.E. Fit Moms Community on Facebook.