Whether you gave birth weeks, months or years ago, you might harbor a little insecurity about your "mommy tummy." As your belly swells through pregnancy, the muscles of the abdominal wall and the skin on top are stretched to accommodate your growing child. When you give birth, the muscles and skin are left slack and loose. Although most women stay a little soft around the middle after having children, you can improve your core tone with regular exercise. Incorporate abdominal exercises into a total-body fitness plan and eat a nutritious diet.
Ask you doctor to check you for diastasis recti. If you carried large or have been through multiple pregnancies, the left and right side of your rectus abdominis muscle may be separated. Although diastasis recti typically heals on its own, your doctor may recommend specific exercises to expedite the process.
Breathe deeply. Breathing exercises are an excellent way to tone your abdominal muscles immediately after giving birth and in the months to come. Sit or lie down and put one hand on your belly. Breathe in through your nose and allow your abdomen to expand. Exhale through your mouth and contract your abdominal muscles to force air out. Aim for 10 minutes of focused breathing each day.
Get moving. Aerobic exercise is an important part of overall fitness and will help you recover abdominal tone. You can start walking within a few days of delivery and resume more strenuous exercise such as jogging, cycling or using the elliptical once your doctor gives you clearance. Swimming is another excellent option as it works the whole body and won't put excessive stress on your joints. Consider signing up for an aerobics class such as dance or Zumba at a local gym. A little break from baby will be good for your physical and mental health. Aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise each week.
Hit the mat. All of the traditional abdominal exercises including planks, stability ball crunches, crunches, sit-ups, side planks and curl-ups will help you tighten your stomach muscles after having children. Start with three to five repetitions of each exercise and do two to three sets. Gradually increase your repetitions and add in other exercises such as reverse crunches or oblique crunches. Make sure you are following proper form to avoid injury. For instance, when you do a crunch, look at the ceiling and don't strain your neck. Slowly curl your vertebrae up until your shoulders come off the floor, then lower yourself back down.
Try something new. If sit-ups bore you, you might want to sign up for yoga or Pilates. Both forms of exercise rely heavily on core strength and tone. You can do yoga and Pilates at home with your baby and involve older children too. Do a total body strength training workout at home. Include dumbbell exercises such as squats paired with bicep curls and static lunges with triceps kickbacks.
According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, your body retains many of the characteristics of pregnancy for four to six weeks postpartum. While you can resume exercise within days after an uncomplicated vaginal delivery, you should do so gradually.
Keep in mind that your stomach will only appear toned after you lose the baby weight. It's not wise for breastfeeding mothers to diet, but do your best to eat nutritiously. Once your little one weans or when your physician gives you the go ahead, cut your calorie intake by 500 calories a day to shed a pound per week.