Surveys show that nine out of every 10 new mothers are unhappy with their bodies. But physiotherapist and fitness instructor Colette O'Flynn – herself a mother of two – has some uplifting news for mums and mums-to-be…
The Body After Birth Survey 2005, in Mother & Baby magazine, had some interesting statistics about new mums in Britain and Ireland. A shocking 97% of mums admit to being "unhappy" with their body after having a baby. Eight out of 10 are "shocked by the changes in their body" after pregnancy, and 85% fear their beach body has "gone forever".
The women surveyed were particularly critical of celebrities such as Victoria Beckham, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kerry McFadden and Davina McCall, who've all been pictured looking sensational just weeks after having babies. 93% of mothers say celebrities losing weight so drastically after giving birth "puts immense and unwelcome pressure on ordinary mums".
Most frightening, however, is that a QUARTER of mums think they will "definitely" have plastic surgery "either now or in the future". A further 25% say they will "consider it". Their top three choices of cosmetic operation would be liposuction (cost approx €4,500), tummy tuck (€6,500), or breast enhancement (€6,700).
It's vital, then, that women know that surgery is not the only way to a better body. Much easier, more enjoyable, and much less expensive is pilates, an exercise programme which can help you, not only as a new mum – but right through your pregnancy.
It's true that starting a new exercise program is never easy. And when you're exercising for two, finding a fitness routine that is both safe and fun can feel like just too much trouble. In fact, when you're pregnant, you may not feel like exercising at all, especially during the first trimester when you may be uncomfortable, sick and tired.
But with the proper instruction, and – most importantly - a go-ahead from your doctor, pilates can be a safe and invigorating choice for pregnant women and new mums. Pilates builds muscular endurance (you'll need lots of that to deliver your baby!), flexibility and good balance, something you'll need as pregnancy progresses. Gentle pilates exercises and breathing techniques not only provide oxygen and nutrients to unborn children but can contribute to a smoother pregnancy and birth. And the controlled moves give you the time you need to adjust your posture and support yourself.
But don't just take my word for it. Liz Hurley, a first-time mum at 37, stunned everyone when she poured herself into a skin-tight leotard for a saucy photoshoot just 10 weeks after giving birth to son Damian. She attributes her dramatic turnaround to "a low-fat, high-protein diet combined with pilates".
During pregnancy, women undergo a lot of physical, hormonal and emotional changes. Your exercise needs change with every passing month. And your exercise programme must adapt to these changes. So, let's look, in detail, at how pilates can take you through the nine months – and beyond…
The sooner you start pilates, the better. It takes time for your body to learn the correct movements. By strengthening your deep abdominals, you'll be preparing your body to carry the extra weight of a baby, and preventing problems in later pregnancy.
Pilates strengthens the most important muscles you'll use during pregnancy and labour - your abdominals, pelvic muscles and back. Pilates focuses on the core muscles, particularly the transversus abdominis, the muscle you use to push out the baby.
Pilates also works your pelvic floor muscles – very important for your sex life, and vital to prevent incontinence at later stages of pregnancy.
Please take advice from your doctor, before starting any exercise programme. If you're new to pilates, experts recommend you wait 13-16 weeks into your pregnancy before starting the exercises.
Remember, too, that rest is very important in the first trimester. Even if you're a pilates veteran, you may have to limit your exercise sessions to afternoons or evenings – if you suffer from morning sickness. Beware, too, that at times you may feel dizzy, clumsy or unbalanced. Please stop the exercises if you feel ill or uncomfortable in any way.
Now is the time to work on your posture, to strengthen your back muscles, as it will become more difficult for you to lie on your tummy as you get bigger. Once it becomes uncomfortable to lie on your tummy, leave those exercises until after the birth.
At all stages, take care not to work too hard, become too hot or lose your balance.
By now, you're beginning to show. However, you will usually be feeling better, as the tiredness and nausea ease.
In the last two trimesters, lying on your back for extended periods is not recommended. Lying on your back can cut off the oxygen supply to the baby. You should seek out a pilates class specifically designed for pregnant women. If you lie on your back, you will need to change position every three (3) minutes, or have your back supported by a special wedge.
Because of your growing bump, it will be difficult to "pull in your belly button" – the classic command in pilates. So you should think, instead, of "raising the bump". As your breasts get bigger, you will need to work on your mid-back muscles, to prevent you from becoming round-shouldered. You will also need the support of a good bra.
One issue you should be aware of - separation of the abs (diastasis) can occur by the end of the second trimester. This is a particular problem for women with poor muscle tone. Because of this, it is safest at this stage for everyone to avoid exercises that involve the basic curl-up.
Due to hormonal changes, your joints are now less stable, and it is best to avoid overstretching the hamstrings and groin muscles.
Also avoid any exercise that involves lifting the pelvis high off the floor.
Anyone with any doubts whatsoever should contact their doctor prior to starting any exercise programme.