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The family way
7:00am Saturday 8th September 2012 in NewsXtra
A new survey shows most women think pictures of celebrity yummy mummies are putting pressure on new mums to get their figures back within weeks of giving birth. Experts explain why new mums should be more realistic about their post-pregnancy body, and how they should look after it.
By Lisa Salmon
While celebrity mums who get their slender figures back within months of giving birth must feel rather pleased with themselves, their svelte example holds no weight with the experts.
Research shows that 40% of midwives think the celebrity yummy mummy culture is having the biggest negative influence on a woman's post-birth body, and both obstetricians and fitness experts say rapid weight loss after having a baby is absolutely not the way to go.
But it's hard for new mums to avoid media images of stars such as Beyonce. The singer, who gave birth to her daughter Blue Ivy in January, says she lost 60lbs in less than five months by "eating lettuce" and running three or four times a week.
And then there's The Saturdays star Una Healy, who was back in her skinny jeans just two months after giving birth to her daughter Aoife Belle in March, having lost two stone.
However, while a recent survey by skin treatment expert Bio-Oil revealed that 42% of women feel less body confident after having a baby, and one in six feel pressure to get their bodies back into pre-pregnancy shape, it also found that 88% of women believe pictures of slim and glamorous celebrities put pressure on women to look perfect.
The survey of 177 midwives found that more than a third (37%) of them believed women have low body confidence because they're unprepared for the body changes that occur during and after pregnancy.
Midwife Hannah Challen says: "Women need to be kinder to their bodies after birth, and be realistic about giving themselves time to recover.
"Exercise and a balanced diet will help post-pregnant bodies get back into shape, but try to give yourself a realistic time frame to do this in."
Of course, it's easier to lose weight after having a baby if you weren't overweight when you got pregnant. After all, being a normal weight makes it easier to get pregnant, and reduces the risk of complications during pregnancy, points out consultant obstetrician Patrick O'Brien.
He stresses that women who are overweight when pregnant shouldn't try to lose weight at that time, but should focus on eating healthily, getting regular exercise and keeping weight under control without calorie-restricting.
"After the birth there's huge pressure on women to lose the weight quickly and be like Posh Spice and back to normal within six weeks," he says.
"But that's crazy. It's almost impossible for any normal person to do that.
"You gain the weight over time when you're pregnant, so be prepared to lose it gradually over six months or so after you've had the baby, and do it in a healthy way."
O'Brien says that while breastfeeding does use a lot of calories, the possibility that it helps new mothers lose weight may be a myth, as breastfeeding mothers' appetite is stimulated and they eat more as a result.
The best way to tackle baby weight is the run-of-the-mill approach, he says.
"Eat healthily and take regular exercise and it will gradually come off. Don't try to lose it instantly."
However, while new mums might manage to eat healthily, they may balk at the thought of regular exercise, as lack of sleep and the rigours of looking after a new baby can make finding the time and enthusiasm for exercise tough.
But Marie Behenna, an expert in both post- and ante-natal fitness and creator of the FitMama Method for mothers-to-be, explains that new mums don't need to get on the treadmill and do strenuous workouts.
She says a good 20 minutes of brisk walking most days, plus pelvic floor exercises, is what women should aim for after a pregnancy.
"Take your baby in a buggy, go up a steep hill and work hard with your heart. Women don't need to put themselves under pressure to go to the gym for an hour and a half every day."
A pilates class or a post-natal specific exercise class is a useful addition, she says, although many women will struggle to fit classes in.
She suggests getting together with a few other mums to go for brisk walks with buggies, and points out that the endorphins produced by exercise will help issues such as post-natal depression.
Any post-natal exercises need to help repair the pelvic floor and the body core, she says, and high-impact exercises aren't appropriate post-natally.
It can take at least two years for women to get back to normality if they're not exercising, she says, and stresses: "Women should be making sure they're fixed from the inside out, so focus on pelvic floors, nutrition, tidying up the muscles, and doing exercises that are safe and effective."
She says good nutrition is vital, but people get the wrong idea.
"They think it means starving yourself and squeezing yourself back into skinny jeans.
"But it's about getting the right balance of nutrition to enable you to deal with the disastrous sensations that motherhood throws at you."
She says three healthy, balanced meals a day with plenty of fruit and vegetables, and healthy snacks in between, will help keep energy levels up.
"The first six weeks of motherhood is like a train smash, and women's bodies are going to need so much support from food to help cope with lack of sleep, and constant feeding demands."
Behenna stresses that lack of sleep and stress can lead to women putting weight on. Good hydration is also vital, she says, even when women aren't breastfeeding.
She warns that there are no long-term benefits of being too thin, as it puts strain on organs and is dangerous.
"We have this distorted view that women should be extremely slim to be attractive, and it's just not true.
"You can see the pull of wanting to be really slim after having a baby, but a post-natal woman who's curvaceous - not overweight, but looking healthy - is a far more appealing picture than a post-natal woman who's really struggling to cope because she's starved herself."
:: The FitMama Method by Marie Behenna is published by Souvenir Press, priced £15. Available now.
Ask the expert
Q: "I've been trying to get pregnant for more than a year and not had any luck. Before we try IVF, what measures should we take to ensure we've got the best chance of conceiving?"
A: Dermot O'Connor, author of The Fertility Code (published by Y Books, priced £12.99), says: "The approach you should consider to give yourself the best chance of conceiving would aim to optimise you and your partner's health in order to enhance fertility.
"If in the future you do opt for IVF, this would also be an excellent preparation for treatment and should increase your chances of success.
"Make sure you're timing intercourse to coincide with your six-day fertile window - the most stress-free way to do this is by using ovulation kits.
"Find an effective way to manage stress, and adopt an optimum nutrition plan for fertility, including lots of fruit and vegetables. Restrict saturated fats, eliminate trans-fats and include essential fats, particularly omega-3s found in oily fish.
"Avoid refined carbohydrates found in sugar, white bread and pasta, and drink two litres of water every day. Aim to use a healthy nutrition plan to achieve your normal range on the body mass index (BMI).
"Detoxify by avoiding tobacco and limiting your intake of coffee and alcohol. Also avoid additives, preservatives and artificial sweeteners and flavours.
"Get your exercise balance right: more exercise if you need to lose weight, and very little exercise if you're at optimum or below ideal weight. Preferred exercise for women aiming to conceive should be gentle and low-impact.
"Consult your doctor to determine if there are any medical impediments to conceiving naturally. Many of these can be successfully addressed prior to any decision to opt for IVF treatment."
Pampering products for new mums
Mama Naked Calming Bath Foam
Making time for yourself is essential for new mums, even if it's just 20 minutes, which is the ideal amount of time to indulge in a relaxing bubble bath. All Mama Naked products are made with natural ingredients, and the Calming Bath Foam is designed to ease tired muscles and minds. Brimming with aloe vera and soothing camomile, it smells divine too. £4 for 300ml, available from Boots nationwide.
MamaBabyBliss Bliss Stick Uplifting Oil
If only you could buy relaxation in a bottle... Now you can, sort of. This MamaBabyBliss tube contains a mixture of lime, geranium and bergamot oil, which you dab onto your wrists for an instant pick-me-up. Designed with tired mums in mind, it's just the right size for popping into handbags, too. £6.50 from www.mamababybliss.com
Blossom Mother And Child Blossom Candle
This 100% organic candle looks and smells gorgeous. On top of that, it's designed to have holistic powers, bringing a sense of calm while also rejuvenating stressed mums. A great accompaniment to a soothing bath or unwinding with a hot drink when you get the chance. £27 from www.blossommotherandchild.com