Celebrity mums might seem to be able to ‘ping’ back to their pre-baby shape five minutes after birth, but that’s not how things tend to go for most mothers in the real world.
Even the fittest among us may struggle to ditch the kilos that seem to cling on post-pregnancy, as Dubai-based health coach and former body building champion Rhian Adams found after having her first baby, Seren Grace, three years ago.
However, as a certified doula and pre and postnatal fitness trainer, UK expat Rhian knew that a healthy, rehabilitative approach to weight loss post pregnancy was the way to go, and that there is nothing to gain from getting too hung up on the number on the scale. “I gained a lot of weight during my pregnancy, but I don’t tend to track the number too closely,” says Rhian, who guesstimates she may have gained around 18kg. “That’s because I’ve learnt it doesn’t really tell me much; I could be the same weight two months' postpartum and 12 months' postpartum, but have a totally different body shape.”
Now a mother of two (Seren Grace, 3 years and Samson, 13 months), Rhian says she wants to maintain a “happy weight”: “My goal has been to feel good in my clothes postpartum. I don’t want to be as disciplined as I was before children, so I won’t be as lean, plus I am breastfeeding as long as possible, which means holding on to 2-3kg until I finish.”
Rhian shares her pregnancy weight gain and weight loss story with us, along with some practical tips for an easy at-home workout for new mums who are trying to reach a shape they feel happy with.
The shock and identity shift of first-time motherhood
“Before I become a mother, my entire life was dedicated to helping people get fit and keeping fit myself. But my priorities quickly changed after giving birth. Suddenly, nurturing my baby overshadowed anything else in my life.
“Even though I couldn't believe how saggy and big my tummy looked after childbirth, it didn't really bother me that much. Nothing else mattered as much as taking care of my daughter, and I know most new mothers will feel the same way at some stage.
“Yet sooner or later, and often by learning the hard way, many of us realize that we need to give more time and effort to care for ourselves. This isn’t a selfish thing; if we want to be a happy and healthy mum for our babies and a good partner to our spouse then we need to feel good in ourselves first. Although it is of course hard to find the time, the motivation or the energy to give ourselves the care that we need...”
Mum guilt and trying to find time for yourself
“I for one completely underestimated how much time is needed to dedicate to a newborn each day and how little opportunity there is to do what makes us feel good. For me this has always been working out, and the release of amazing, feel-good endorphins that comes along with that.
“After a while as a new mum I was getting really desperate to work-out consistently, but I was plagued with feelings of guilt that this would mean I was neglecting my beautiful baby girl. I couldn't bear the thought of leaving her to go and work out, and it really started to affect my happiness, confidence and mental health.
“But then I had a little mental revelation: I started incorporating Seren into my work-outs, using her weight as resistance to help me build up my strength. It worked so well that I ended up doing it regularly, up to three times a week, until she started crawling.
“I realised that there must be lots of new mothers out there who want to get fit, but who don't necessarily have the time or money to go to regular exercise classes outside of the home and away from their babies. This led me to devise a 12-week video Babyandme workout plan and online coaching for new mums, sharing exercises that can be done with your child in tow.”
Message to mums feeling down about their post-baby bodies
“To any new mums feeling bad about their post-baby body I would say: you are beautiful just as you are right now, and your body has just performed a miracle! You deserve to give yourself lots of love and admiration.
“My advice would be to ignore the message that the media gives boasting fast weight loss in new mums: these women are definitely in the minority and for most of us a slower journey of weight loss is more achievable and, in the long term, probably better for us.
“However, just as our bodies can miraculously change to accommodate a baby, they have the same ability to bounce back afterwards. Remember this during your moments of self-doubt and self-criticism: be patient and kind to yourself to let your body take time to adjust and return to normal.”
Incorporating baby into your workout
“Exercising with your baby is such a great way to start rehabilitating your body and bouncing back into shape. Baby gets stimulation and enjoyment, and you get to improve your fitness levels while also bonding with your little one. It’s also very progressive and you will get stronger as your baby gets heavier. And it's so much fun! You’ll probably find your baby giggles so much when you do squats and presses that it only makes you want to do more!
“After having Seren and recovering and regaining fitness and strength, I was really excited to go through it all again after having Samson. I embraced the bodily changes so much more during my second pregnancy and postpartum recovery, because I had full confidence in my body’s ability to regain strength, ability and muscle tone afterwards.”
When can you start exercising again after having a baby?
Before attempting any exercise after having a baby, you must ensure that you have completed a six-week post-birth check-up with your doctor and been given the ‘green light’ to work-out. Additionally, before working out alone at home after childbirth you should also get an expert - either a trained postnatal instructor or a physiotherapist - to check you for abdominal separation, or diastasis recti. Almost all women will have ab separation to some degree after giving birth, and it's important that your workouts encourage the abs to knit back together, rather than push them further apart - jumping into crunches and sit-ups straight away is a big no-no!
A women's health physiotherapist will also be able to check your pelvic floor and give you a good sense of how to rebuild your strength safely; if you notice any urinary incontinence or difficulty with urinary flow then this is a sign you should see a women's health physio. These conditions are not something you have to live with and can be fixed with the right rehabilitation.
How to create your own Babyandme Workout
Rhian gave birth to her second baby just before the pandemic hit in December 2019, and much of her postpartum recovery during 2020 was spent online via a series of social media live classes.
She is currently offering online personal training (see www.rhianadamsfitfotlife.co.uk) but you can also create your own workout to do at home with your little one using her guidance below…
"First off, here are the different baby-holding positions to use during your workout," says Rhian. "All three techniques keep your baby’s neck safe and supported. Changing between the holding positions and changing sides will prevent your arms from aching too much.
"The following workouts should be done while holding your baby safely in one of the three above positions. They are suitable for all abilities and involve basic exercises such as squats, bridges and planks, plus the added fun element of interacting with your baby at the same time! The below workouts assume some familiarity with these kinds of exercises in the past, but do get in toch if you aren't sure of exactly what each exercise means. Each session should take roughly 45-60 minutes."
Babyandme standing workout
Repeat each of the following exercises three times. Remember to listen to your body and reduce the exercise or rest more if you find yourself struggling.
Squats x 8 - Bend both legs together and then straighten again, holding your baby as a weight.
Standing Shoulder Press x 8 - Use your little one in place of a barbell, raising them to your chest, and then lifting them up into the air and back again.
Stationary Lunge x 6 each leg - Holding your baby as a weight, step one knee back and bend carefully down to the ground. Straighten up to stand on both feet, then repeat on the other side.
Chest Press and Kiss x 8 - Hold baby to your chest and then stretch your arms out. Bring baby back to your chest and give him or her a kiss!
Hip Hinging x 10 - Holding baby securely, lower him or her down gently while hinging from the hip. Straighten up again before repeating.
(For all of the above rest as long as needed, Repeat three times)
"Baby will be having fun and enjoying watching her role model and Mum live out an active and healthy life and if he/she isn’t already they will soon be planking alongside you, clapping as you count your repetitions and pushing down on you as you do your press-ups!" says Rhian. "The more you move the more fun they have!"
"Your body will quickly get fitter and stronger as a result of regular Babyandme workouts and feel a lot better in return. As your little ones get heavier it will certainly get tougher! I started lifting Seren when she was just 3kg, and progressed up to 11kg when she started crawling, meaning I progressively got stronger with every session."