Want to fall in love with your mummy tummy? Read this.

It’s a human phenomenon many women would rather didn’t exist.

The mummy tummy.

That jiggly little (or large) bit of fat or loose skin that clings around the middle regardless of well intentioned efforts to shift it.

Fitness trainers love it: ‘Join me and lose your mummy tummy.’

And last week poor Zara Phillips was publically compared to the genetically blessed (if you think slim is a blessing) Princess Kate for her pronounced post baby mum tum whilst having fun at Ascot.

Speculation as to why she might look this way when other royals don’t has followed. Could she have abdominal separation? Could she just be carrying extra baby weight?

Stop. Stop. Stop.

I’m speaking out in defence of the mum tum.

Before giving birth to Isaac (now 4) I was anxious about my post pregnancy tummy. Would I ever get my smooth tummy back with a neat tummy button?

Isaac came, grew and was squeezed out – nearly nine pounds of him in my 5’ 3” frame. Miraculously I only got stretch marks in the last month of my pregnancy but my mum tum was born. A little bit of loose tummy skin and fat that had a mind of its own when I moved anywhere quickly. 

Then came Naomi (now 16 months). By this time I was considered an ‘older’ mum. Pregnant at 36 and delivering at 37. My skin was older and therefore less elastic. My bump grew quickly, the stretch marks stretched some more and got stretch mark friends. The resulting mum tum was more loose skin that now resembled the more mature cast of Benidorm whenever I leant forwards.

But what of it? Why should I be ashamed of it? Admittedly I’m not overweight but I’m certainly not lean. My mum tum is a separate entitity with a life and a mind of it’s own. But I’m quite proud of it.

Why?

It’s my badge of honour.

Every roll, wrinkle, wiggle and jiggle is proof that I grew my beautiful babies. Proof that I was stretched just beyond my skin’s limit to grow two human beings. Proof that my soulmate (aka husband) and I were blessed beyond human understanding to conceive and have responsibility for two beautiful human beings on this earth. 

My kids have learned that blowing raspberries on mummy’s tummy makes a much fruitier noise than blowing raspberries on daddy’s firm tummy.

It doesn’t stop me from doing anything. Yes I had a small abdominal separation but that’s almost fixed now and yes I carry more fat than is healthy for me around my middle since I eat more sugar than is good for me and struggle with anxiety over my kids and my work. But it’s me and it’s real and I don’t ask for your opinion on it.

Neither, I’m sure, does Zara Phillips.

Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist, writer and speaker. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at http://www.alittlefitter.com.

Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex. TWITTER: @fitschoolessex FACEBOOK: ccfitschool WEBSITE: www.fit-school.co.uk

Sit ups … the fastest way to a flat tummy after having a baby (I lied)

I’m starting with a little rant. Sit ups, crunches and ab curls, call them what you will, are possibly the worst exercise choice you could make after having a baby. Unfortunately, large organisations like Bounty are still recommending sit ups as a tried and tested way of getting a flat and toned tummy.  This is not only incorrect but (in my opinion) shows a failure to care for the needs of a new mum. Show me the folk that this has been tested on and I might change my mind but until then, let me share with you some information based on fact and science which I hope will empower you to make an informed choice about your tummy muscles.

No amount of sit ups will give you a flat tummy. It is scientifically impossible. Your post baby tummy is not flat for the following reasons:

  1. It has spent the last nine months learning how to stretch (muscles have long memories). Your six pack actually grows extra cells, causing the muscles to lengthen in order to accommodate your baby bump. According to scientists this takes two years to return to it’s pre-pregnancy state.
  2. It takes time for your uterus to shrink back to its regular size and go back to it’s pre-pregnancy place.
  3. The most common reason for a fat tummy is FAT – and the only places you’ll lose fat are in the kitchen (nutrition is 80% of fat loss) and in the gym/park/church hall, wherever you choose to workout.

The humble sit up is literally a contraction of your rectus abdominus or six-pack muscles. If these are distended (as they commonly are post baby), performing sit ups could make the distention worse. If there’s fat on these muscles then all a sit up does is squidge the fat into big rolls and makes you feel rubbish about yourself.

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Sit ups could make common post natal conditions like diastasis recti or pelvic floor dysfunction worse.

Pelvic floor dysfunction is the broad term used for any pelvic floor issues, ranging from accidental pees when you sneeze (stress incontinence) to pelvic organ prolapse. These issues are most common in post natal women and post menopausal women. When you perform a sit up, you increase the pressure inside your torso (you are literally squeezing it). Any weakness in the pelvic floor area could be worsened by repeated pressure on the area. There are worse things you can do for a weakened pelvic floor (running, jumping or high impact exercise being the top three) but ask any Pilates teacher which exercise is most likely to produce accidental farts from participants, and generally it involves loaded forward bending, like a crunch or roll-up.

Diastasis recti is the term used when the sheath that connects both sides of the six pack (which commonly stretches during pregnancy) does not return back to its pre-pregnancy state after birth. This means some women are left with a gap between the left and right sides of the six-pack. It won’t kill you but it is really important to focus on the deeper abdominal muscles, like the transversus abdominis (the big corset like muscles) and the pelvic floor before considering any loaded forward flexion or sit ups. Both my experience and the experience of the physiotherapists I work with has shown that focusing on the pelvic floor can really help ‘flatten’ any abdominal doming caused my diastasis recti.

But my doctor said …

I fully respect medical doctors but they are doctors of medicine and illness. There is a reason doctors refer their patients out to exercise specialists – because a doctor or GP is not an exercise specialist. I am! I would never prescribe you with drugs I know only through personal experience or try to diagnose your illness based on a few symptoms but I can explain a great deal about the post natal body and the associated exercise implications, which is why I work with, and educate medical professionals in my field of expertise.

What’s the difference between Pilates and sit ups?

Pilates is a whole body form of exercise. If you come away thinking, ‘ooh what a great ab workout’ you’ve possibly missed the point. It’s so much more than that. Too much for one rather longer than usual post about flat tummies (for more information check this post out: https://alittlefitter.com/2012/08/30/pilates-whats-all-the-fuss-about-why-bother/). In my post natal classes we start slowly, focusing acutely on the deep abdominal muscles and pelvic floor, really making sure that they are working effectively before sending you out to ‘melt fat’ (love that term – means nothing but wanted to get it into a post one day). No you won’t feel ‘the burn’ like you might in a gym abs blast class but you will be taking care of your still very delicate and very wonderful body.

For more information on nutrition for flat tummies check my post: 10 ways to lose fat and get more energy.

And for more about post natal recover check out this popular post: https://alittlefitter.com/2013/08/02/the-princess-the-bump-your-body-how-long-does-it-really-take-to-recover-after-pregnancy-and-birth/

Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist and journalist. Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and blogs about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing at http://www.alittlefitter.com.
Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, ladies only training camps and Pilates classes in Epping and Essex.
TWITTER: @fitschoolessex
FACEBOOK: ccfitschool