Are you ashamed of your post-baby body?


Kim Kardashian hid out at her mom’s house until she had shed her baby weight and was ready to show off her post-baby body in a skimpy white bikini.

She joined a long list of celebs, including Reese Witherspoon, Uma Thurman and supermodels Heidi Klum and Gisele Bündchen, who all stayed behind closed doors until they could flaunt “perfect” postpartum bodies – sometimes only a few weeks after giving birth.

And who can blame them when other famous moms who’ve been brave enough to face the flashlights before shedding their baby weight have been nastily fat-shamed?

Remember all the vicious comments about Kate Middleton when she appeared in public sporting a postpartum tum a mere day after giving birth? “#KateMiddleTON” and “Why is Kate Middleton still fat? What’s left in there?” – were some of the nicer tweets. More recently, Veronica Mars star Kirsten Bell was fat-shamed after she appeared on the cover of a magazine 11 weeks after giving birth, while fellow actress Alyssa Milano became the butt of comedian Jay Mohr’s “joke” when he said she looked as if she’d had a baby and decided, “I don’t really give a s**t.”

Read: Kim Kardashian's rocking belly fashion

While they may not be hounded by unforgiving paparazzi zooming in on every curve, experts say South African women are being affected by Hollywood’s postnatal fat-shaming trend and are under growing pressure to get rid of their pregnancy weight in record time.

“Coupled with the mounting pressure women feel to look their best while pregnant, once the baby is born it seems as if the race is on to get back into pre-pregnancy jeans, to shed the weight that cushioned a life and to be beach ready – almost on discharge from hospital,” says Candice Garrun, a Johannesburg-based mental health therapist.

Dr Etti Barsky, a sports physician and a partner at Preggi Bellies South Africa, notes that there has always been some pressure on women to get their pre-pregnancy body back as quickly as possible. But the media celebrating stars who “emerge unscathed after pregnancy” has intensified this pressure, she says.

Unrealistic expectations

Dr Barsky warns that the media’s focus on the “hottest Hollywood post-baby bods” also creates unrealistic expectations for pregnant women and new moms. “It forms the impression that losing baby weight is such an easy thing to do and neglects to show the amount of time (and sweat) that they have dedicated to their physical appearance,” she says.

Candice points out that the public doesn’t see the behind-the-scenes teams of dieticians, personal chefs and trainers working round the clock to help celebs burn off the kilos.

“They also have an entourage of nannies and nurses who help with the care of the baby, which frees up time for celeb moms to focus on getting back into shape,” she says. Most new moms can count themselves lucky if they manage to take a shower and get dressed each day.

Read: Your post-birth body: what to expect

And as Chrisna Brand, a dietician from LEAP Moms and Kids who specialises in paediatric and maternal nutrition, reminds us: “Celebrities who appear to have a flat tummy straight after birth have most likely had a tummy tuck at the same time as their caesarean.”

Set realistic, healthy goals

Chrisna says that new moms should ignore Hollywood standards and be realistic about their weight loss goals, bearing in mind that ideal postpartum weight loss is 0.5 to 1kg a month – or 1 to 2kg a month in women who are obese.

“Within the first month after birth, most women lose around two-thirds of their pregnancy weight. The rest falls away over the following months,” she says, adding that it can take between six to nine months (and sometimes even longer), to lose all your baby weight.

Dr Barsky says women who attend Preggi Bellies take on average three to six months to shift the extra kilos, but she emphasises that every woman is different. “Some ladies look fantastic after just six weeks, others take a year.”

Chrisna stresses the importance of exercise in combination with a healthy diet. “In most cases you can start exercising after six weeks, but always make sure to get the go ahead from your doctor first. And remember that resumption of exercise should be gradual,” advises Chrisna.

Dr Barsky says a new mom’s first goal should be to “just get into the gym/studio, or put on your takkies and go outside”. Once you’re able to do this around three times a week, then you can start pushing the intensity and duration of your exercise.

Rebuilding pelvic floor strength is also key. “Try exercise with a programme or trainer who knows how to rehabilitate your pelvic floor, as this is linked to core strength and will help you get fitter and stronger,” suggests Dr Barsky.

Elizabeth Myburgh, a Centurion-based biokineticist, notes that preparation for healthy postnatal weight loss can and should start during pregnancy.

“Moms need to stay healthy and relatively fit during pregnancy in order to get back to pre-pregnancy weight and fitness after birth,” she says, adding that “it is always advisable to be at your ideal weight before you get pregnant”.

Danger of rapid weight loss

Elizabeth advocates healthy eating and gentle exercise to gradually lose pregnancy weight over at least six months. She warns that you may quickly regain those kilos if you shed them too hastily. “If you lose too fast you’re more likely losing muscle than fat, and you need muscle in order to burn fat,” she explains.

Dr Barsky cautions that you may not only regain the weight lost as a result of “fad dieting”, but that you could gain even more kilos. She lists “postnatal period complications, osteoporosis and exhaustion” as the more serious consequences of losing pregnancy weight too quickly.

Postpartum weight loss of more than 2kg a month can also affect your milk supply, warns Chrisna. “You need to have at least 7 000 kilojoules a day in order to keep your milk supply optimal. Maintaining a well balanced diet, similar to that of pregnancy, is important for breastfeeding moms.”

Also read: Your 10-minute DIY health check

You're a superhero

It’s not only your physical health that can suffer as a result of being overly fixated on getting rid of your post-partum belly, your mental health is also at risk, notes Candice.

“The reality is that the pressure is real, and for women who cannot lose the weight quickly or easily, it can be a great source of stress, shame and anxiety,” she says.

Candice explains that these negative feelings during a time that can be “a period of great joy but also one of great distress” can cause psychological trauma or compound baby blues and post-natal depression. “A mom of a newborn (or a mom with her second, third or fourth child), has enough going on in the first few weeks without the added pressure of losing weight,” she emphasises.

Chrisna agrees and says moms of newborns should focus on the joys of motherhood instead of obsessing over their weight.

“If you have a healthy diet and you are doing an adequate amount of exercise, and on top of all that you are breastfeeding, then the weight will shift in due time,” she assures.

Candice advises new moms not to focus on “feeling resentment or anger at a body that doesn’t want to shed its weight, or a body that is painted with stretch marks”.

“Remember ladies, you are a superhero,” she says. “You grew, nurtured and birthed a son or a daughter. Your body stretched, grew and performed phenomenally to create a baby. Don’t be ashamed to carry some of that for a while. Shout it from the rooftops – you are a superhero!”

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