Post-natal care: Why have I still got a Mummy Tummy, and what causes it?

36 weeks pregnant large bump

My journey:

It has been 5 years since I gave birth the wonderful Teddie. Other than the usual droopy bits, crinkled skin, lumps, bumps and distinct shedding of facial collagen, my biggest personal physical battle has been with the dreaded ‘Mummy Tummy’.

Having always been into health and fitness, both before, during and after pregnancy I found it really difficult to understand why that at nearly 2 years after I had given birth (in 2013), that I still had a really prominent pooch/mummy tummy. It felt and looked like I was still about 4 months pregnant. I had trained for, and run a marathon in the time since her birth (2011) as well as doing all of the regular exercises and gym routines to tone up and loose weight, as prescribed by a ‘postnatal fitness specialist’ at my local gym.

Having put on over 4 stone on during pregnancy, having had a caesarean (c-section), being a mum in my mid 30’s, and having an underactive Thyroid, I was under no illusion that it would be easy. The general weight did fall off slowly however, on all areas that is except for my tummy. This began to affect my confidence, especially as having to live with a mini version of ‘The Rock’ (who only has to sneeze in order to pop a new muscle). I also didn’t fancy having to spend beach holidays for the remainder of my 30’s and 40’s in highly structured floral one–piece swimsuits.

So, I began to look a little deeper into the causes of a mummy tummy (beyond pregnancy),   and here is what I found out…

Firstly, the Mummy Tummy is not something that you have to accept as a by-product of the wonderful gift of motherhood. As mums we are encouraged to count our blessings, accept our battle wounds graciously and live life after baby embracing our new physiological changes, regardless of how they make us feel. Whilst we do have to accept certain natural phenomenon such as a widening of the hips, and stretch marks etc. there are also some that we don’t, or rather some that we can prevent or improve with the right advice, and right course of action.

Secondly, there are many factors that are affecting us they we may not be aware of, or able to control.

Here is a list of some of the more common factors that effect our post baby weight, particularly around the tummy area:

1. Lack of sleep/ Sleep deprivation:

It is proven that people who are sleep deprived are driven to consume more food, and higher fat foods than when we are well rested. A study by Kings College (2016) discovered that when tired, people on average consume an extra 385 Kcal per day, with higher fat content and lower protein content consumed. This is down to a hormone called Ghrelin. This is the hormone that tells us to eat. The more sleep deprived you are, the more Grehlin you have. The second hormone affected is Leptin. This is the hormone that tells you that you are full. When you are sleep deprived you have less Leptin. So as any parent will tell you, of course they are sleep deprived which has its impact not only on your physical state but also your mental state, increasing the risks of depression also, and the likely hood of eating foods that do not help reduce the tummy area.

2. Hormonal Imbalance:

After giving birth our bodies expel the placenta which has been producing the hormone progesterone which is know for it’s mood elevating effects. Often our bodies are sensitive to this loss of progesterone and increasing levels of Estrogen. The Estrogen dominance can effect other hormone functions such as the Thyroid and cause adrenal fatigue, leading to such side effects as hair loss, dry skin, fatigue, depression and anxiety, to menstrual problems such as heavy periods, and water retention, all having a huge effect on our physical state.

3. Relaxin

This is the hormone that helps to relax the ligaments and joints particularly in the hips, pelvis and lumbar spine area, enabling our bodies to be able to carry our babies and ultimately give birth. This hormone can take up to 5 months to leave the body after having a baby, meaning that our joints, muscles and ligaments are all much loser than they would naturally be, and don’t provide the same support that we would ordinarily have, particularly around the pelvic area.

4. Diet – Caffeine and Carbohydrates

Lack of sleep, low energy levels and a natural switch survival mode mean that many new parents often rely on a diet of caffeine and carbohydrates, just to make it through the day. Keeping baby and siblings alive, fed and well becomes top priority and your own nutrition naturally takes a back seat. Caffeine, particularly mixed with sleep deprivation can actually cause weight gain or at least make it very difficult to lose weight. This is because caffeine (and lack of sleep) can have a direct impact on your stress levels and blood sugar balance, increasing the levels of the hormone Cortisol in your body, which in turn affects weight or ability to loose weight. Cortisol is the hormone released in response to stress, and low blood sugar. It functions to increase blood sugar, and increase your sugar cravings.
Refined carbohydrates also raise blood sugar. Your body then produces extra insulin to bring your blood sugar down. Insulin is a fat storage hormone. With more insulin circulating in your bloodstream, your body converts the carbohydrates to fat, storing them on all of those dreaded areas: your bum, thighs, hips and mummy tummy.

5. General Exercise

As with nutrition, exercise is often last on the list of priorities, particularly in the first 3 months of becoming a new parent. Simply getting showered and dressed can feel like a major physical achievement, so it is understandable that a new parent may not be getting as much exercise as they need to burn the calories they consume, and also help to work off the extra fat stored through pregnancy. It is well advised to not start to exercise for at least 6 weeks after a normal birth and minimum 3 months for a C-section. This is due to the healing time that the body needs before it can start to deal with physical demands of exercise. It also gives time for the body to loose some weight naturally, making exercise (when it comes to it) more comfortable.

6. The importance right kind of exercise 

When you are ready to exercise, it is so important to understand what the right kind of exercises are for your body. The wrong kind can really damage the recovery of a woman’s body post-natally, where as the right kind can really promote healing and rehabilitation, particularly around the tummy/ lower abdomen. I like many women in a desperate attempt to shed by pre-baby weight, jumped straight back into my pre-pregnancy exercise programme tackling a level of physical exercise that was completely wrong for my body at that time. I ended up causing damage to my body that has since left me with a prominent tummy that would be difficult to heal/restore completely without turning to major cosmetic surgery. This leads to the next point:

The final, lesser known but very common cause of the mummy tummy for many women (including me):

7. DIASTASIS RECTI (aka Diastasis Split/ Abdominal Split/ Abdominal Separation)

‘Diastasis’ means separation and ‘recti’ refers to the front abdominal muscles called the rectus abdominus (shortened to recti), so quite literally a separation of the front abdominal muscles. Most women will suffer from a diastasis both during and after pregnancy as a result of stretching of the uterus to make room for the baby.  For some this will heal and the connective tissue that holds the two lateral muscles,  left and right of the tummy button will reconnect,  holding everything back together, supporting the tummy and keeping the organs that sit behind it in place. For some however, these muscles do not reconnect, or the connective tissue has been so over stretched that it cannot hold any more so the two muscles stay apart creating a gap that creates the bulge, pooch, or mummy tummy.

To find out more about this condition please see my related article: What is Diastasis Recti?

I am passionate about this topic, and would love to hear about any of your personal experiences, or if you have any tips or info relating to this I would love to hear from you also.

Did you find this article helpful? Do you think that a friend or family member might be interested in this or enjoy? If so please don’t forget to share.

Thank you for taking the time to read,

Love, KOKOKALM xx

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