How do you tone a mum tum?
One of the most common post-natal questions I get as a trainer is how do you get rid of the tummy post baby?
I want to share you with you, based on my own experiences, what I did post birth to flatten and tone my tummy area.
I have had 2 children in my mid-to late thirties and in between those 2 children competed in bodybuilding (that's me below) and one of my strengths was that I always built a very toned or visible 6 pack abdominal area.
Now you might not be aiming for a six pack, but the same techniques I’m going to share with you will work post birth if you just want to flatten and tone that tummy.
How your tummy area changes when you have a baby
When you are pregnant a couple of things happen.
Without getting too technical, the first thing that happens is that as your baby grows your abdominal muscles separate down the middle and move apart.
The second thing is that you gain some body fat.
Both of these are normal.
What happens afterwards?
I remember having my first baby (and I think a lot of new mum’s experience this), and looking down at my tummy in the mirror and being surprised that I still looked pregnant and was still in maternity clothes for a few weeks afterwards!
As you can see from the photos of my tummy below you can change that area with nutrition and some exercise post baby.
But remember, it takes 9 months to grow a baby and your body constantly changes during that time to allow that to happen.
So, you should give your body a similar amount of time post birth for your body to recover and change back.
After you’ve had your baby I believe you should:
- Give your body time to heal and for those abdominal muscles to slowly come back together and the gap down the middle to close. Your physio can assess your abdominal gap and also advise you when that gap is closed or close to closing.
The WORST thing you can post birth when your abdominal muscles are not healed is ab crunches of any kind. That could result in permanently stretched and slack abdominal muscles that never come back together.
- You might need to lose some body fat that is covering the ab area. We all have a 4 or 6 pack (it’s true), but most of us have a lot of body fat covering those abdominal muscles, so they aren’t visible. Doing a lot of abdominal work to ‘tone’ the area is not the answer. Rather losing the body fat that is covering the abdominal muscles will make the area look more toned and losing body fat is mainly achieved with diet/nutrition.
Be aware that in some cases diet and exercise may not help.
If you have gained a lot of body fat during pregnancy, if you had a big baby or multiples for example then you may have developed a lot of stretched skin or what is known as an ‘overhang’.
In cases like this if even if you do lose the excess body fat post birth and you strengthen your abs with exercise, that may not reduce the excess, loose wrinkly skin. In cases like this surgery may be the only option to remove the excess skin, a tummy tuck type procedure.
My 12 to 18-month flat tummy regime
This is what I did on both occasions after having a baby to flatten and tone my ab area, and this worked for both my natural and C-section birth.
1. Get walking
Within about 7 days after my natural birth and a bit longer for c-section (cleared by my doctor) I was out every single day walking my baby in the pram. No excuses about being tired or lacking motivation. I had rain protectors for the pram, the right clothing for me and it was nonnegotiable.
I found walking to be the perfect low impact exercise method to start to rebuild my fitness levels (I did not exercise during my pregnancies as I was very ill the entire time).
Daily walking also meant I got outside in the fresh air and sunshine and it energized me and made me feel less tired. I felt so good afterwards. If you tend to feel a bit flat after having a baby exercise can also help boost your mood and if done outside boost your vitamin D levels.
Daily walking was also great for my babies, they got some mental stimulation, fresh air and natural light on them and they got to experience the big wide world.
I built up my walking time starting with about 15 to 20 minutes and working up to 60 minutes over a few months of brisk walking. I lived in quite a hilly area at the time, so I pushed my pram up the hills and really worked hard on my cardio fitness.
(39 weeks pregnant - I always gained about 20 plus kg and ate terribly and didn't exercise when pregnant - versus 2 years of hard work post birth to get back on stage)
2. I nailed my nutrition
During both my pregnancies I had a terrible diet.
I was ill throughout both pregnancies and ate mainly processed foods and junk (if it was healthy, I couldn’t keep it down).
It was so bad that in both my pregnancies I gave myself gestational diabetes. My body simply wasn’t used to unhealthy foods full of sugar and bad fats.
However, as soon as I was home from the hospital and my hormones started to settle and the food cravings and aversions disappeared as a result, I made sure I followed a very clean diet full of wholefoods including lean proteins, fruit, vegetables, wholegrain carbs and healthy fats.
The aim of a healthy diet was not only fat loss (I had 15kg to 20kg to lose), but to give my body the nutrients it needed to properly heal and repair. As well, if you’re breastfeeding, a healthy diet can help with the supply and quality of your breast milk.
I knew that if I continued to eat rubbish post birth, I would never get my body back into shape, time would tick on and it would all get too hard, I felt like I had a limited window to change my body back.
As much as I was tired, craved carbs and really couldn’t be bothered cooking (the first 6 weeks I always found very challenging post birth), I made the effort with my nutrition and exercise and it made a huge difference to my recovery and how I started to look and feel.
The results came fast with my daily walking and good nutrition and usually within 3 months I had lost most of the excess pregnancy weight.
3. I did NO abdominal exercise for 12 months post birth
Yep, you read that right, not one single crunch or any ab work – JUST walking.
You see I was worried about over-stretching my abs or causing damage to them that would leave them permanently slack and floppy.
I also knew that it had taken my body 9 months to change to grow my baby, so I wanted to give it at least 9 months post birth to change back.
For me, the first 12 months post birth was not the time for any crazy cardio, lifting heavy weights or pushing my body hard. I didn’t want to damage my pelvic floor muscles or my abs.
So, I left those abs alone for 12 months to fully heal, recover and close back together.
4. From 12 months post birth I started weights and training
Twelve months of clean eating and walking can get you back into shape quite well I found.
Because I was consistent with my nutrition and daily walking, I managed to lose those 15 to 20kg I gained during my pregnancies in the first few months.
But what I found at month 12 post birth was that I needed to ‘tone’ areas up and that required me to build some muscle (which wasn’t going to happen with just walking).
So, I started to include a few gym sessions a week on a split program as well as working my abs.
5. My first ab work was Pilates based
But even being back in the gym I STILL did not go back to crunches straight away.
I started first with some Pilates core work to strengthen my deep core muscles.
It was only after a few weeks of this that I started doing some crunches (which work the top ‘6 pack’ muscles).
So, the process for me took about 12 to 18 months with gentle steps (literally) along the way when it came to exercise. Oh, and always, always following a healthy nutrition plan in conjunction with the exercise (you can’t out train a bad diet).
So, to summarise how I fixed my mum tum and went onto built visible abs after babies:
- Nutrition – I followed a balance nutrition program that helped my body heal after having my babies (nutrient dense wholefoods) and that helped me reduce the excess fluid and then reduce the excess the body fat.
- I walked daily with bub in the pram at least 5 times a week for the first 12 months (rain or shine, hot or cold) to rebuild fitness levels and get the body moving. Walking was a safe and low impact option for me and combined with good nutrition I lost the excess pregnancy body fat within the first 3 months post birth. Note my nutrition was quite strict, but I did not ‘diet’ or cut calories.
- I only started back in the gym doing weights 12 months post birth to tone up and prepare for stage. I started with Pilates exercises to strengthen my deep core for a few weeks before progressing to any crunches.
- I had my abs and pelvic floor assessed by a physio – and was guided by them as to what I could do exercise wise.
Remember ever pregnancy and birth is different. This is what I did based on what worked for me.
Slow and steady wins the race and yes most mums can get a flat tummy again if you put in the work with your exercise and nutrition.
Share this post with a new mum to remind her that it takes time to get back in shape and to be gentle and take it easy initially.