How can I lose post-baby belly fat/this stubborn pooch?

If there were one repeat question I receive often, it would be some variation on “How can I get a flat stomach?”

And the majority of these complaints/queries come from women who blame pregnancy and childbearing for their midsections. So for all the moms and moms-to-be out there, this post is for you! (If your belly frustrations aren’t from pregnancy, and for the fellas reading, that post is coming later.) ;)

Truthfully, the main reason I’ve never addressed this topic is because there is frustratingly little one can do to target body fat on a specific site of the body. You know we can’t spot reduce, right?  But it’s not just a fat-loss issue. In addition to fat, the post-baby belly pooch is caused by changes in muscle tone and shape, connective tissue, and skin laxity. With a multifactorial cause, there must be something one can do to improve the area, if not return it to Victoria’s-Secret-model tautness.

I don’t have any kids of my own. So to learn more about this question, I scoured the scientific literature, read a ton of popular internet content, and talked with many mothers and moms-to-be about their feelings on their post-baby belly. While a fair percentage of women felt there was “nothing to do but get a tummy tuck”, or “you never lose it, so get comfortable with it”, I learned a lot of tips which certainly can’t hurt to try.

Personally, I admit that having a flat stomach is important to me, and my self-confidence regarding my appearance. I’d never accept that there was nothing I could do about it — so my take is, if it won’t hurt, why not try? I recommend a four-part attack on the post-pregnancy pooch: to take your best shot at all the contributing factors.

Skin

A lot of the moms I asked said they used creams or oils on their belly skin during and after pregnancy to help moisturize and condition the skin, reduce stretch marks, and keep the skin elastic (to hopefully aid its return to non-pregnant tummy shape.) I consulted a skincare expert at a large cosmetic company on this topic, to see if it’s actually helpful. Her expert advice:

Use a good skin cream to keep your belly skin in a well-hydrated, healthy state.  Hydration is a huge factor for skin health.  You’d be surprised the simple visual effects you can get just by using a quality hydrating cream, which is any cream that effectively reduces water loss w/out clogging pores or giving you other ill effects.  You don’t need to spend $150 on an antiaging cream, but you’re also not going to get as good of results from a $5 bottle. Retinol or retinyl palmitate may be used in cosmetics, but they are not nearly as effective as retinoic acid (which is only available by prescription).  Retinoic acid has measureable wrinkle reducing and firming effects…however it’s mostly used for the face.

Other women I spoke to said they used cocoa butter. No one really could say whether it helped or not (and you’d have to have multiple pregnancies and try it both ways to know, wouldn’t you?) But it certainly can’t hurt, and as one woman pointed out “Having my husband rub lotion on my belly was very sweet bonding for all three of us.” Whether is helps with skin appearance or not, using moisturizer is a good idea to decrease the itchiness commonly reported late in pregnancy, when stretched skin is very susceptible to dryness.

Connective tissue

Hormonal changes during pregnancy cause increased laxity in connective and muscle tissue. After all, there’s a lot of stretching that needs to go on, and increased laxity in pelvic joints and ligaments help with delivery. You can’t do too much other than let your body’s hormones do what they will during and after pregnancy. But following delivery, levels will return to normal, and so will your connective tissue.

Belly binding is a popular trend in other cultures that is becoming popular in the U.S. Essentially, the idea is that wearing a supportive garment (something like a girdle) for a month or more after delivery helps reshape the abdomen. There are a million anecdotes from the companies selling these thingees that women “got back in their pre-pregnancy jeans in 2 weeks!” but actual research on these is nowhere to be found. However, I haven’t found any reports of them being risky in any way, so the biggest risk you run is wasted money and discomfort. I say: Can’t hurt, might help, I’d try it.

Muscle

All the moisturizer and belly binding in the world won’t help as much as some hard work to rebuild strength in your core. Firming up muscles can do a lot, not only for the appearance of your tummy, but to lessen back pain, improve your posture, and decrease skin sagging. Not to mention a strong core helps in all sorts of everyday ways like carrying groceries and toddlers. Some of the best activities for improving core strength include pilates and using several different exercises to work all the muscles in the core, not just the rectus abdominis (6 pack muscle).  Make sure to get clearance from you doctor for when it’s okay to exercise, but as soon as you get the green light, get moving!

This site has a list of well-described exercises to target the transverse abdominals.

This site will help you figure out if you’ve experienced diastasis recti, which is a separation of the abdominal muscles that can occur during pregnancy. Don’t panic if you think you have. Most cases can be fixed with corrective exercises and avoiding regular crunches, which can actually worsen the separation.

Fat

Okay, this is one we don’t want to think about – but some of the leftover belly squish is likely to be stored fat.  Reducing your body’s fat stores comes down to healthy eating, creating a calorie deficit, and exercise. Breastfeeding is also great to help you expend some calories (and stimulate hormones which help return your uterus to its normal size.) Don’t go on a crash diet, but think about the less-nutritious foods you eat and try to consume fewer of them. It’s a great time to start practicing setting an example for your new family member by eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, and less chips, soda and candy. Don’t put a harsh expectation on yourself to drop weight like a Hollywood actress, just aim to lose weight gradually and healthfully until you are close to your non-pregnant weight.  If it’s been years since you delivered and you still have some belly fat to lose, it’s never to late to try eating better!

One safe and effective strategy is to try and cut 250 calories a day from food, and expend 250 calories more in physical activity. This net deficit of 500 calories a day is enough to shed one pound of fat a week. If you choose high volume, filling foods (think air-popped popcorn, broth-based soups, raw veggies and fresh fruit) you may not even notice that you’re eating less calories.  You can use this handy calculator to find out how much exercise you need to do to burn 250 calories. Consider consulting a Registered Dietitian if you’d like help determining how to best meet your nutritional needs with a personalized diet.

So there you have it. In summary, pregnant women can take several steps which may help (and can’t hurt) such moisturizing and belly binding after delivery to help prevent postbaby pooch. All women (moms or not) can help firm their midsections through strengthening exercises and shedding excess fat with smart diet modifications.

Real Women Chime In

“I did a variety of things. First of all I was probably a little obessive about weight gain and only put on 30lbs. I worked out 6/7days a week and worked until I delivered. My workouts included cardio, strength training, and core work. I did Kiegels at every traffic light every time I was driving. I felt great after I delivered and was ready to go home the next morning. After delivery: I did use a belly binder, I think that it helps because you definitely have abdominal latency after delivery. I also nursed which helpes the uterus contract down and decrease the amount of bleeding you have. Right after I delivered, in the hospital bed I started Keigels, pelvic tilts, and gentle bridges. Abdominal and perineum muscles are like any other, atrophy sets in fast!!!! Again I felt really good so when he was two weeks old I started walked 2-3 miles a day and gentle swiss ball exercises. At 4 weeks theraband and bike. At my postpardum check up (6weeks) the doctor cleared my and I started running. I got back to my prepreg weight in less than 6 months. HOwever… things are definitley relocated. The belly has no stretch marks, but not the same tonal appearance. I am not sure if that makes sense.”

“I had Christopher when I was 20 and snapped back pretty quickly with minimal stretch marks and such. Dylan came along when I was 24 and I gained over 60 lbs with him as I was in Alaska and I honeslty believe the cold weather and the water retention had something to do with it. Also the lack of fresh veggies and fruits that were available to me at that time. After Dylan was born (9 lbs 23 oz) ouch… My stomach looked like a deflated balloon. It took me months to get it back into shape. I used Vit E oil which worked great for lightening of the scarring. I still have scars 20 years later but I dont really worry about them much. My boys call them their personal tattos they gave me and I have no plan to ever have them removed. The one thing that I have a problem with is that I had my appendix taken out when I was in 8th grade back with they made a horizontal incision. That scar never recovered from my baby making days. It holds some fat and skin around it from the babies. Again, I dont stress over it.”

“Great topic! Yes my stomach looked different after having kids and it still does. No amount of sit-ups or other core exercises have given me 6-pack abs.”

“In my prenatal yoga class last night we did exercises to work on the transverse ab muscles to prevent diastasis or the spreading of the stomach muscles.  I’ll let you know in a few months if these exercises paid off…I must say, we also do tons of pelvic floor exercises so that we get back in shape quicker, too.  I know that Brook Burke (the model/spokeswoman) designed a belly band to help with this too.  Apparently in other cultures, they tie the stomach in or wrap it in cloth post partum, and in America we’re just now catching on….”

“I found that after my first child, my stomach returned to its previous flat status very quickly – 2 -3 months. After my next three deliveries, my stomach returned to its flat status within 4-5 months. I have always been physically active and blessed with a flat stomach. However when menopause arrived and I had a hysterectomy at age 55, I developed a pouch. At 61, I still have very strong stomach muscles, but my skin has become less elastic and there is a bit of excess adipose tissue. I am still very active and at my ideal weight, but the small pouch is there.”

“I definitely worry about what my stomach and what my body will look like after having a baby… I feel like I have worked hard over the years and was getting to a place where I was comfortable with how I look and it can be stressful at times thinking about how much the muscles and tissues will be stretched over the next few months and the thought, will my stomach ever look the same definitely is a concern!! We see all these celebrities who have six pack abs 6 weeks after delivery and I wonder if that is truly possible?!”

Please contribute your thoughts by leaving a comment.

 

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{ 18 comments… add one }

  • Joanne September 29, 2011, 9:20 am

    Hi everyone, nice to read that I am not the only one with belly issues. LOL I have had 2 children (love of my lives) The first one by way of c-section was 10 pounds 6 ounces, the second one by way of c-section (again) was 8 pounds 9 ounces (2 weeks early)…my belly is a mess. The skin on my belly is streched, has lots of strech marks and has been cut into twice. (sniff, sniff lol) I would love to have some work done on my belly becasue I hate it and I want everyone to stop asking if I am pregnant…..I work out 3 times a week (pilates is my favorite) and see very minimal change (in my belly) I am fit all over except for this belly. Does any one else have this issue.

  • Diane October 20, 2011, 9:26 am

    I teach bellydance and do pilates and still have some belly pooch 6 months later. I am just finding out more about this belly banding. Is it too late for me to try it? Anyone out there try it late like me and see any results? I’m about 10lbs or so from my pre-pregnancy weight which is pretty good, but I have yet to try on any of my jeans for I’m afraid of muffin top. I have yet to get to a gym yet which is next for me. If the belly banding thing can be done this far along can anyone recommend one and one that’s not too expensive. Thanks.

  • Alisha November 17, 2011, 11:43 am

    About three years ago, I had a major abdominal surgery. I wore a belly wrap, and my stomach got very small and flat. All I did was wear that wrap, walk and run. I had my son a year ago, and after I had him, I did the same thing. In the hospital I was wearing the wrap, and I exercised by walking…I lost my belly in 2 months. I am pregnant with my second, and plan on using the wrap after I give birth. So far it has worked for me, and suggest that you try it. It can’t hurt.

  • dija January 24, 2012, 4:25 am

    how possible is it to use a belly wrap after c-section?

  • admin January 25, 2012, 4:57 pm

    Dija – I would ask your doctor for their recommendation on that one. :)

  • Katie April 10, 2012, 9:42 pm

    I had my baby almost 6 weeks ago. I was so worried about a flabby stomach and stretch marks after having her I ate so well during pregnancy and only gained 27 lbs. however, I was all belly and now have a ton of loose skin and stretch marks… I used cocoa butter and Vaseline… Clearly it didn’t work! I am only 24 and can no longer wear a bikini and want more babies so a tummy tuck is not in the cards just yet. I have been using vitamin e oil it has definitely lightened up the stretch marks but I still have a bunched up flab of extra skin. I was back in my pre pregnancy jeans after just 5 days and back down to my pre pregnancy weight 2 days after birth!!!!my daughter only weighed 7 lbs 10 oz, nothing crazy. Now i am trying to get rid of the extra skin I have seems if nothing is working :(

  • Rena Graham May 29, 2012, 12:06 am

    One solution that many mothers count on to get rid of the baby fat more efficiently is actually breastfeeding your baby. Scientific studies released in the Journal of American Dietician Association reveals those ladies who breastfeed burn over 600 calories every day. This is equal to 2 hours of cardio workouts. It was also discovered that it substantially lessens hip circumference even only at one month postpartum.

  • Cyn June 4, 2012, 3:17 pm

    I had 2 kids via c-section. Both times, I was given a binding at the hospital the day after the surgery. Not only did it help with bringing my tummy back to it’s pre-baby state (less than a month with both), but it helps SOOO much with the pain & discomfort of the surgery. The bonding helped keep everything tight and in place. Whenever i would take it off, i was in a lot of discomfort and my organs felt loose, if that makes sense. I felt this for about 2-3 weeks after i delivered. I wear the band for 6 weeks because although the outward appearance looks good, I can’t see what’s going on internally. By the way: I didn’t breast feed with either baby, so really believe the band works very well.
    I’d wear it 24/7 minus shower time and an hour after the shower to allow the c-section cut to air dry. I recently started cold air blower dryer to dry my cut area, so I wear the band ALL the time for 6 weeks. Also, I llive several miles from the Mexican border & it is a custom with Mexican women to use binding, which is maybe why the hospital provides the wrap.

  • Chelsea June 26, 2012, 4:33 pm

    The info above has helped my learn a direction to take. I had my first baby two years ago and lost alot of weight. But and year later I got knocked up again. But this time, about three months in i lost the baby. Even in three months i gained alot back. I have had alot of trouble getting rid of “the tire” as I call it. What is this belly band that everyone talks about?

  • Penny O'Brien September 17, 2012, 11:18 am

    I loved your article. I too have the baby bellybaby belly and its slowly going away through diet and exercise.
    I especially love the info re the connective tissue.

  • Mary Batson October 15, 2012, 2:43 pm

    I too have 2 kids whom I love dearly!! I noticed that sit ups and all don’t get rid of what I want it to get rid of. I have the pooch that when I eat and get full I look like I am about 9 months pregnant! I have tried all kinds of exercise and it seems that none of it really works. Does any one recommend something that I can try?

  • Helene Byrne, BeFit-Mom October 19, 2012, 1:32 pm

    To repair diastasis recti after pregnancy, you need to start by building a lot of strength back into your deepest abdominal muscle, your Transverse Abdominis, or TvA. When contracted, the TvA compresses the abdomen. The TvA does not move bone. Then after this muscle has regained adequate strength, you need to do specialized postnatal rehab exercises that train the muscle to function properly as a stabilizer.
    If your mid line is very wide, more than 3 finger-widths, you can also add manual splinting of your mid line with your hands to assist your TvA.
    In the mean time, do not perform ANY abdominal exercises that lift/flex the upper body off the floor or against the force of gravity, as these moves will make the condition worse. No crunches, oblique pulses, roll-ups, roll-downs, most Pilates mat work, and yoga moves like “boat pose.”
    All women with diastasis should use the “log roll” technique when rising from the floor, or getting out of bed to protect their mid lines.
    Learn more at:
    http://befitmom.com/abdominal_separation.html

  • Nola Gibbons January 8, 2013, 12:22 pm

    6 months later and I have lost 6 dress sizes, have 3 more to loose which will take me back to my pre pregnancy size. Breastfeeding along with 30 minutes exercise 3 to 4 days helped.

  • Julia February 23, 2013, 8:30 pm

    I’m 22 years old and have two kids. First was born 3 years ago via c-section, second one was a vaginal birth. After the second one was born, I had to loose 45 pounds.
    Eating healthy + exersicing 5 to 6 times a week+ breastfeeding helped me to loose the first 16 pounds in just two months! Now I stardes my third months of exercise and I’m planning to loose another 20 pounds in the next two to three months. Wish me luck!

  • pet March 27, 2013, 3:05 am

    its six months now and my tummy is just not making me comfortable when i dress up there is just few inches left ineed to look nice

  • Melissa May 8, 2013, 2:31 am

    I had my firstborn 11 months ago. I eat mostly vegetables, protein and fruit, and was consistent with exercise, vitamins, etc. In addition, I’ve gone through medical school and have a doctorate in physical therapy, so I have some training in the body and its workings.
    I am 5’5″ and have hovered around 115lb for the last 15 years. I gained 30 lbs with my pregnancy, with a very healthy diet, not prone to overeating or snacking. My baby was 2 weeks late, 10 lbs, and was delivered by emergency cesarean. I breastfed, and everyone told me the weight would magically drop off. Plus, I’ve never had to work incredibly hard to stay thin. I run 2-3 times a week normally, and have a physically demanding job.

    I didn’t work immediately after baby. I worked out 1 hr (sometimes up to two hours), 5 days a week, in addition to breastfeeding a huge, hungry baby. I also wore a compression belly band given me at the hospital. With all of my effort, I was surprised when at two months, I would still wake up with my belly laying next to me, like a puppy. To sum up: I increased the intensity, cut out about 250 calories/day and lost 1 lb/month. It was so slow and depressing to me. But by about 8 months I was back in my jeans. It’s now month 11 post delivery and I can easily fit into my jeans, but I still have a tiny bit extra that was not there pre-baby, even though I am at my prepregnancy weight and fitness. My last straw is to cut out my glass of wine at night for a while to see if the belly will completely flatten.

  • Harriet W. Tabron August 23, 2013, 12:16 pm

    When losing weight it’s useful to mark what you’ve accomplished in a planner or a daybook. By writing out the specific exercises you’ve completed such as exercises to tone stomach, or the distance that you’ve run, you can gauge how much you are increasing your exercise routine and endurance. Doing this can also be motivational if you’re an individual who loses their gumption easily.

  • Charity September 17, 2013, 8:17 am

    I have 2 sons, 20 months apart. After my first baby my body went back to normal pretty quickly. I”ve always been very active and eat healthy. With my second son I couldn’t work out as often since I suffered from very bad back pain. It has been almost 11 months and I still can’t get rid of my post pregnancy belly. I have tried several very strict diets and I will loose weight from everywhere but my belly. I am now at a point where I believe this might be a hereditary type of thing since both my mother and sister carry fat in the same area and they can’t loose it either no matter how small they get. I’m considering liposuction.

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