Improving Your Body Image After Pregnancy

health and fitness

Have you recently given birth? Do you find that your body is just not the same as it used to be? Perhaps you’ve tried a number of different methods to lose weight and tone up but, frustratingly, you are still not where you want to be. If that’s how you feel, take heart – there is a lot that can be done to improve your body image after pregnancy and with the right approach and dedication you’ll be able to achieve your goals.

Firstly what are some of the more common body image goals women have after pregnancy? Generally at the top of the list would be the following:

  • Losing excess weight
  • Toning up in general and particularly achieving flatter abs
  • Improving your posture
  • Resolving incontinence

So what can you do to reach your goals sooner? Let’s face it, we’re all tempted to get a “quick fix” in order to fit into our favourite jeans and pencil skirt faster. However, in order to reach your ideal weight sooner it will take much more than trying the next fad diet or sporadically engaging in exercise. The real key is to use a systematic approach, to be consistent and to remain motivated.

At Health Point Physiotherapy we have designed our unique health program for Expectant and New Mothers which helps women successfully resolve the issues mentioned above and maintain the results. The recipe is very simple:

  • Healthy diet and correct sleep pattern
  • Exercise: Clinical Pilates and cardiovascular exercise
  • Sun exposure
  • Women’s health physiotherapy (if incontinence is one of your problems)

Let’s discuss these one by one.

Healthy diet

1. Eating 2-3 servings of raw fruit and 5 servings of raw vegetables daily.

It’s extremely important to eat fruit and vegies raw as they lose their nutrients in the cooking process, plus we usually add cooking oils/sauces which does not help with weight loss and maintaining health.

2. Drinking 1.5-2L of water daily.

First of all water helps with detox. Secondly it’s often easy to disguise thirst as hunger, and then eating something when what your body really needs is water.

3. Eating higher calorie foods for breakfast or lunch and keeping dinner very light. Also trying not to eat after 6pm.

By having heavier foods earlier on in the day your body will have more time to burn the calories as opposed to eating late.

4. Eat good fibre and healthy fats.

If you are a lover of carbs and find it hard to go without them you can still have bread, pasta and rice occasionally, just make sure that it’s not the refined white flour. Healthier options include yeast free breads, such sourdough, spelt or brown pasta and brown rice.As mentioned above, however, make sure that you are eating these foods earlier on in the day.

You also need to include the good fats in your diet, as they help us lose weight. Some foods that contain good fats are avocados, nuts and olive oil.

Adequate sleep amount and pattern

Research has shown that there is a direct link between sleep and weight. The simple truth is that when we don’t get an adequate amount of sleep we are more likely to gain weight. So try to aim for 7-9 hours of sleep. This will help you to remain motivated and on track to reaching your goals. Avoid watching action movies, listening to loud music, using caffeinated drinks and vigorous exercise before going to bed. Try to relax and keep your bedroom temperature between 18-22°C.

Clinical Pilates and cardiovascular exercise

While eating healthy is of paramount importance in reaching your weight goal, it’s also essential that you exercise. Make sure that you speak to your doctor or physiotherapist prior to commencing exercise for the first time after pregnancy. As a general rule women can return to exercise after six weeks following a normal birth and after three months following a Caessarian, however make sure you get clearance first. In order to attain your ideal weight sooner you must include both cardiovascular exercise and weights in your workout routine. We recommend Clinical Pilates as part of our Expectant and New Mothers health program.Clinical Pilates, in combination with a healthy diet and cardiovascular exercise, will help you lose weight, tone up, achieve flat abs and beautiful posture, resulting in a huge improvement to your body shape. Cardiovascular exercise can include power walking, jogging, cycling, swimming and others – just make sure that it’s something that increases your heart rate and that it’s an activity you enjoy.

The reason we strongly recommend Clinical Pilates over normal Pilates is that unlike regular Pilates, which is run by Pilates instructors, Clinical Pilates classes are conducted by experienced physiotherapists. At Health Point Physiotherapy the first step is always our thorough full body assessment. This allows us to identify your areas of strength and weakness, diagnose the cause of your aches and pains and thus develop a unique program tailored specifically to your needs. The first session also involves the routine use of Real Time Ultrasound which allows you to see how your core muscles work, making sure that you are activating them correctly.

Clinical Pilates will help you achieve the following:

  • Strong core muscles which help to treat/prevent back, neck and joint pain and allow you to exercise safely and effectively
  • Flat abs
  • Generally improved muscle tone and strength
  • Improved overall body shape
  • Good posture
  • Stronger pelvic floor muscles which will help to manage/prevent incontinence

Sun exposure

True or false: Sun avoidance and regular application of sunscreen are necessary for good health.

While this is a common statement that many believe to be true it needs additional clarification. It's definitely true that excessive sun exposure is risky and should be avoided. However, sunbathing safely will help you look healthier and better as well as aid in the biosynthesis of vitamin D. Modern research has shown that vitamin D is necessary for prevention of osteoporosis, diabetes and many other diseases.

So how do you sunbath appropriately to get the best results while avoiding overexposure? The answer will depend on your skin type, work and leisure activities, health, and other conditions.

Here are some general guidelines though which will help:

  • sunbathing for up to 15 minutes per day, away from the water, up to 11am and after 4pm is generally safe
  • make sure you spend roughly the same time sunbathing on your back and on your stomach
  • slowly build up your sunbathing time up to approximately 30 minutes in total

These are general recommendations only. As stated earlier the answer depends on your skin type, health and other factors. Discuss this further with your doctor or physiotherapist.

Women’s health physiotherapy for incontinence

Incontinence is a common concern that women face during pregnancy and after giving birth. It can interfere with so many aspects of our lives, including social activities, intimate interactions with your partner and your ability to exercise. After all how do you get motivated to exercise when you are scared of having an accident? Be reassured though that with the right treatment incontinence can be successfully managed and often completely resolved.

The first step is to find a qualified women’s health physiotherapist. At Health Point Physiotherapy we start by conducting a detailed pelvic floor assessment based on which we identify the cause of the incontinence. It’s very important to consider other contributing factors, such as what you are eating and drinking.

The next step is to use Real Time Ultrasound to assess the strength and control of your core and pelvic floor muscles. By seeing how your muscles work on the screen you can be confident that you are engaging them correctly. The physiotherapist will then provide you with a home exercise program which will be progressed each session until your pelvic floor muscles will switch on automatically whenever you cough, sneeze, laugh, exercise or lift something up.

So as you can see resolving your body image concerns and achieving your desired body shape after giving birth is not impossible. Like we said at the start all it takes is motivation, perseverance and the right guidance.

If you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact our team at Health Point Physiotherapy.