Tips for minimising the damage
It was cruel of Sarah Jessica Parker to flash her taut and toned abs three months after the birth of her son. But also stupid, as we now know she is an alien. A lot of New Yorkers area, but they don't all step out twelve weeks after giving birth with a six-pack and stilettos. So absurd was her feat that Time magazine picked up on it, pointing out that she had confessed that her twelve week shrink was a standard “too high for most women”. Not too high for Catherine Zeta-Jones who dropped clost to thirty kilos in the same time to look good for her wedding to Micheal D. Zeta-Jones and Parker are the public front runners in a long line of celebrity moms who see to think that the physical changes of motherhood are aberrations that need to be erased in record time.
Elizabeth Hurley, after the birth of her son, made short work of showing the world that there is also sex after childbirth, a fact most women doubt. She was all over the mags looking lush and satisfied hanging off the arm of love meastro Arun Nayar. Are they for real?
The Chinese wrap four metres of cloth tightly around their torsos to bring down their stomachs, as do many African tribes. Binding the stomach is a common practice and many women swear it’s the only way to stave off the pouch, even ex-New Yorker Gwyneth Paltrow confessed to a new-age version of binding to help her stomach shrink back to its tiny self after Apple. It involves living in a pair of reinforced leggings, somewhat like cycling shorts, that squeeze all your bits in ultra-snug. They are hell getting into, but worth the sweat.
But helping your uterus to shrink through binding does not equal a return to flat. It takes far harder work than that. Think of it like this. You take a small balloon and blow it up into the size of a Pilates ball. Then you let the air out. Is it going to shrink?
Will it ever go back to its original snappy little size? Not unless you are prepared to work on that stomach like your life depends on it. Madonna did it at forty-two which means it’s physically possible. Now the rest of us just have to get our heads (if not our tummies) around that.
I still look pregnant
It is a surprise how slowly your tummy shrinks and at your six- week check-up, you look seven months pregnant. Worse, your stomach is no longer a hard ball; it’s a soft and squishy mass.
The reason is that it takes time for your body to recover completely from a long pregnancy and a delivery. With the start of labour your uterus will begin to shrink and by week six it should be sitting back in your pelvis. Over the same time your body will start to shed the water it was retaining in all its cells. This will also help your stomach shrink. But these facts don’t mean your stomach has gone down totally. You are going to have fat on your stomach, laid down for breastfeeding and that will take some time to work its way off and your abdominal muscles and skin are stretched beyond all imagination.
Will it ever look the same again?
More than just stretching, your skin has actually ruptured many of its elastic fibres during pregnancy, which means your abdominal walls remain soft and flabby after childbirth. Remember that skin is elastic and has a huge capacity to stretch and return to form. Again, your ability to get your stomach’s shape back is informed by both genetics and age.
You are looking at around nine months for your skin to shrink back. There are women who have flat stomachs weeks after delivery but they are incredibly rare. Many women report that even if the rest of their body gets back to shape, they still have a fatty pouch on their bellies for years.
Some women say the only part of their bodies that never quite went back to the pre-pregnancy state was their stomachs. Few people naturally have ironing-board stomachs in any case. Ask those girls at the gym with six-packs and they will tell you they do hundreds of sit-ups a day. Don’t think your stomach is magically going to shrink like you are a human elastic band. You are going to have to work on it. Exercise helps to speed recovery of abdominal walls. In fact it does more than that – it actually trains your stretched muscles to move back into shape. It’s no coincidence that every book tells you to get on the floor as soon as you can and start to gently work your abdominal muscles. You are not aiming for flat at this early stage, you are actually trying to short- en those very stretched muscles so they start to move back into place. If you have had a C-section that went through abdominal muscles, you need to check in with your obstetrician before you start any exercise, but otherwise you need to start seated squeezes and then work towards crunches posthaste.
Squeeze: Sit in a chair or comfortable position with your back ever so slightly rounded. Nothing will move except your abdominal muscles and anyone watching you will see no movement.
Contract your abdominal muscles in a slow squeeze. Pull the lower abs upwards and the upper abs towards your spine. Breathe out as you contract. Squeeze as tight as you can and towards your spine and hold for five seconds before releasing. Repeat ten times breathing out as you contract, in as you release. This controlled squeeze is incredibly effective in toning your abs even when you move on to floor exercises and more vigorous stomach crunches.
Crunch: This is a more conventional toning exercise. Get on the floor and bend your legs (you can elevate them on a bed or couch). Contract your abdominal muscles to support your lower back. With your muscles contracted, raise your head twenty to thirty centimetres off the ground and lower. Breathe in. Breathe out, contract and repeat. Start with sets of ten, working up to 100 to 200 crunches a day.
Unless you are prepared to work long and hard at rebuilding your abdominal muscles, you will not get rid of your pouch. Don’t forget, they have been stretched further than your partner’s patience for at least five months, and they are going to need serious work to rebuild.
What a boob
Breasts are made to make milk. There are lots of lovely diversions along the way, but their basic biology is powerful and inescapable. They do it efficiently, spontaneously and under a remote guidance system that seems to be out of control most of the time. But it does not mean that breastfeeding is a natural occupation. It’s a topic almost as divisive and fraught with emotion as the Middle East. It requires supreme focus, commitment and an extraordinary amount of time. It robs you of your freedom, it can delay your weight loss and it can be emotionally and physically draining. There are some joys no mother will escape: waking up in a bed awash with breast milk, leaking through a breast pad, the grate of a tooth across your nipple, tender breasts, lumps and frustrating hours on an expressing machine that could have been loaned from your local dairy. These machines need to suck your nipple right in so it’s around the length of a cow’s teat before they can get an ounce. It can be dehumanising, incredibly hilarious and excruciatingly embarassing.
On a psychological level, breastfeeding can bring on levels of extreme anxiety and inadequacy – particularly if things go wrong, which they frequently do with mastitis, inverted or cracked nipples, lumps and infections. But nursing is also glorious, poignant and unbearably beautiful. It is all of these things and the sheer commitment of nursing a baby, for however long you choose, is a task that will give you all the rewards it deserves.
Breasts are the physical metaphor for giving and receiving. In ancient times, they were worshipped and immortalised in art and song. Everything about them symbolised nature’s abundance and nurturing qualities, for both babe and man. When you start breastfeeding, your breasts become part of this legacy. You may find that you miss your man-magnets when they become baby canteens, but you need to face up to the fact that your relation- ship with your breasts has changed.
At some point in my life, I thought I wanted to be Dolly Parton. I would sit enraptured in front of the telly as she swung from the heavens singing “I’d Like To Teach the World to Sing”. It was in the days before computer graphics, so they either let loose a swarm of butterflies and bluebirds or Dolly was a whiz with hand puppets. Sure I was twelve, but Dolly was the perfect woman for me. I had my turn to be Dolly for a day. I went from a solid B cup to an EE overnight. Everyone agreed that my breasts were truly spectacular, but it only lasted a miserly week before they started a slow but steady deflation that ended about eight months later, when I realised my breasts were there no more. Gone. And in their place remained the skin but not the glorious soft fat. In sharp contrast to the rest of my body, I had skinny boobs. Skinny and sad.
All women will have smaller breasts after pregnancy. Those who choose not to breastfeed are not saving themselves this. It is during your pregnancy that your breast tissue changes and swells. Its deflation, whether your baby’s lips touch your nipple or not, will leave the cells less plump and your breasts appearing less full.
TIP : Expressing is not a spectator sport and is best kept behind locked doors if you want to retain an iota of dignity and feminine mystique.
The average bust line is 91.2 cm. The most-purchased bra size is 34B. The proportions of women’s cup sizes breaks down to the following:
A – fifteen per cent
B – forty-four per cent
C – twenty-eight per cent
D – ten per cent
The remaining three per cent are AA, AAA, DD and beyond.
Plump ‘em up
Firm up: Nothing you apply to your skin can affect either your breast shape or size. Regular moisture and good care, just like with your face, can slow down the process of aging and retain elasticity, the loss of which is a key factor in droop.
Exercise : Because your breasts are made up mostly of fatty tissue and contain no muscle, exercise alone will not change their size or shape directly. However, by working the largest muscle in the chest, the pectoralis major that runs behind your breast, you can help support the breasts and hold them up higher.
Fake it : There are lots of products out there to pad your bra, without having to use your hockey socks. Water-filled bras, silicone pads you slip into your bra, gel bras or toupee tape, all work to bolster your breasts. They are not that easy to source. Some good lingerie stores will stock silicone or water filled bras or will order them for you. Your national retailer or lingerie store may have a large range of specialist lingerie.
Buy right: A good push-up bra can add at least a cup size and is worth every cent.
· There is no better investment than a good bra.
· Do not be tempted to go bra-less while nursing. The added weight of your breasts will put additional strain on your skin.
· Keep your skin well hydrated with moisturises, to prevent stretchmarks.
· Hydrate from within by drinking lots of water.