Model Chrissy Teigen apparently has shocked some people by declaring that she feels sexier after having had her first baby.
“Of course you get, like, hips,” Teigen told Elle during a cover photoshoot for their January issue. “Finally, for the first time, I feel like I have a bit more of a womanly figure … I think you just feel really feminine.”
It’s hard to relate to these comments since Teigen came to fame, pre-baby, by appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated in some decidedly curvy poses. Also, later in the interview, she says something no average mom can relate to about dressing her post-baby figure: “Whatever my stylist Monica Rose puts me in, I order it in every color, in usually two different sizes because I fluctuate.”
It’s great to hear Teigen feels so good about her post-baby body, because many women get the message that their bodies will be fat and flabby after having a baby. That contributes into reluctance to have babies, period (which is a problem for them and society). I know, because a major concern when I was pregnant with my first baby was whether my body would ever look like something I could be happy with again. I knew it was vain, but I couldn’t help it.
Every inch that tummy went up would have to go down again, and how on earth was that going to happen? It was deeply frustrating. Like most ladies, I’ve never had a personal trainer or stylist, and I can’t buy clothes I like in every single color in two sizes. The good news, however, is that you don’t need these silly things to be happy with your post-baby body, and it doesn’t require that you accept frumpiness. You can be thin again after a baby without spending a lot of money or time.
I know because I do it. After each of my four babies I’ve found myself not fitting into my pre-baby pants, but needing smaller ones. I’ve gone from a size 6 to a size 4—and my stomach looks better post-baby, too, because while I just stayed skinny pre-babies now I actually work those muscles. Mine are all low-key strategies that do not require major schedule or lifestyle changes, which is the only way it’s possible to fit them into my crazy working mom life.
1. Have Babies In Your 20s
Millennials, you are so setting yourselves up for pain later by delaying the children you want. One’s twenties are the optimal physical time to have a baby. Your skin is at its bounciest, in and out. Your strength and sexual desire are at its peak. Your energy levels will never be higher. Your babies, pregnancy, and recovery are most likely to be healthiest during this decade. I credit lots of my miraculous baby bounceback to the simple accident of having had my four (so far) in my twenties. Set yourself up optimally for pregnancy if you can, and stop delaying adulthood. Read more here.
2. Oil Yourself Like Your Belly Depends On It
I am genetically prone to stretch marks, and was horrified while pregnant with my first baby after I googled “stretch marks” and saw the awful, awful dragon-claw-red scrapes some women have. But I’ve learned that image search was the equivalent of visiting WebMD to find out what’s wrong with you: You always learn you’re going to die. And that’s not the full or typical truth.
You cannot ensure you will not get any stretch marks. In fact, you’re probably going to get some. But you can fight them. The two main strategies are 1) gaining weight properly while pregnant and 2) oiling your body.
When I say oil, I mean oil. As soon as I learn I’m pregnant, I buy tubs of cocoa butter cream, which you can get just about anywhere, and lather my belly with it morning and night, and sometimes midday if I’m feeling under-oiled. There are lots of belly butters, so pick one that has the ingredients you like. I go for cocoa butter and vitamins A and E.
At night I rub on so much of this cream that I have designated one of my husband’s T-shirts to wear in bed while pregnant because it’s well-oiled from absorbing the excess for months. He laughs at me, but I don’t care. This is a war on ugliness.
I rub it in thoroughly, and not just on my belly. Other stretchmark-prone areas of pregnant ladies are hips, thighs, and breasts. Oil up these areas also after pregnancy, because you can get stretch marks from shrinking skin, too. Also, pro tip: Stretch marks will shrink and fade from red to silver, such that I can hardly see mine after pregnancy. I have to be looking for them and turn just the right way in sunlight, and they’re not optimally placed to be visible. There’s a good chance you can get lucky, too.
So, while I can’t promise you won’t get scraped by the dragon claws, I will promise you can fight them. Give your skin some elasticity, and it will thank and reward you.
3. Manage Your Pregnancy Weight
I am pro-snack. You need to gain weight when you’re pregnant, even if you’re chubby to start with. You will feel tired and grumpy if you don’t snack enough, and there ain’t no lady (or husband) who can stand that for nine months. I gain about 45 pounds with every pregnancy, which is well above the recommended 30-35 pounds weight gain for an average-sized mom. But neither I nor my midwives care because I start skinny, and it all comes off quickly. More about that later.
What you do not want to do if you can help it, however, is gain (or lose) a lot of that weight fast. Now, I know all about morning sickness and binges and cravings. But sometimes even a pregnant lady has to say no to herself. Try to make it the norm that you have a snack once or twice a day, and a good-quality protein-based snack. You can get lists of ideas for these all over the Internet. You want protein because it helps build babies rather than flab you up, and makes you feel full on fewer calories.
Now, look: I know all about eating ice cream or cake for breakfast, or snacking all day long because otherwise you’ll puke. Sometimes that happens. But most of the time, it doesn’t. And if you gain good weight more steadily, you will reduce the likelihood sudden weight gains give you stretch marks. The weight will also be more nourishing for you and your baby during and after pregnancy (nursing), and you will feel better. A good body during and after pregnancy is largely a choice, and you make that choice every time you have a boiled egg instead of three cookies.
4. Nurse Those Babies
My number-one recommendation for getting your body back post-pregnancy is to nurse your babies as long as you can. I say “as long as you can” not to suggest you need to do it until your kid is five years old, but because most ladies stop nursing a lot earlier than they wanted to and is optimal for their babies. Optimally, according to pediatricians’ and federal guidelines, babies will be exclusively breastfed until six months old, and still nursing at least some until a year old. But most babies aren’t.
That’s because it takes a while to figure nursing out, and most women don’t have help. Also, our society pushes women back into work fast postpartum, and it’s a giant pain in the ass to pump (ask me how I know).
Nursing your baby is a skill just like riding a bike or baking bread. It takes practice and determination, and you will be far more successful if you have someone show you how repeatedly. Most hospitals offer nursing mommy groups and consultations with a lactation consultant for free, even if you didn’t birth your baby there. You can also always look up a local midwife or doula and they will be more than happy to either help you themselves or refer you to a good lactation consultant. Look up your local La Leche League chapter, too.
Now, ladies, the struggle is real. I have a condition that makes nursing excruciating for at least the first two weeks with each baby. And my tinies nurse at least every hour. I’m not telling this to scare you, but to let you know I’m not some little lady in a white lab coat who has never experienced nursing woes superciliously judging all ya’ll. It’s also to convey that nursing is worth this excruciating pain for me. It has big benefits for mom and baby, including that it helps take off post-baby weight like magic.
Some ladies will say that’s not the case, and point to their post-baby chub as proof. That brings me to my next point.
5. Cut the Calories After Baby Is Born
Babies are amazing calorie-sucking machines, but they will not vacuum off your baby weight if you are working against them by continuing to eat like you’re pregnant. Again, you don’t want to drop weight postpartum quickly, but you do want to see a steady decline. I’m usually to my pre-baby weight by six months postpartum, but most medical recommendations say to look for that around one year post-baby.
I continue to snack because nursing makes a woman feel as hungry as a linebacker, but I also start to limit my snacks about six weeks after baby is born. I’m allowed to have one a day. I can have it whenever I want, but only one, unless I’m desperate (say, I have a work deadline and can’t think because I’m so hungry). Yes, I do get hungry and hangry. Nothing worth having comes without tradeoffs. I use other management techniques besides eating.
Some friends have told me they just can’t get skinny after baby. Then I watch them eat like a linebacker and think to myself, “Well, no wonder.” There is a lot of shame and self-deception involved in weight loss, but the simple truth for most people is that either you need to ingest fewer calories or expend more in order to lose weight. You can do whatever combination of intake reduction or outtake increase you like, but that’s what needs to happen. Anyone saying anything else, including you, is lying. You don’t have a medical condition. You’re eating and sitting too much.
There are ways to trick yourself into changing your pregnancy snack habits to post-pregnancy snack habits. Your stomach (the organ) expands to accommodate the volume of food it’s used to consuming, and you need to shrink it back up by eating less, which is going to feel unpleasant for a while. No pain, no gain.
Try drinking tea instead of munching. It gives your hands something to do. Snack on baby carrots, which are hard to consume in great quantities. Or go on a sugar fast—refuse to eat sugary snacks or hidden sugar snacks like Yoplait yogurt.
If you really want to get your weight off, you can. But it’s not going to be easy. That’s true whether you’re post-baby or just getting old. If you have pooch, the reality is that you keep choosing to have it every time you eat more food and move less than you should. So either do something about it or accept that you’ve decided lowering your weight isn’t worth the effort.
6. Get a Postpartum Belly Belt
Now, nothing is going to help your pudgy body if you are not reducing your eating and increasing your activity. But to repair your belly shape, this is magical.
I have two postpartum belly belts: the Abdomend, which I got before belly bands became a thing and more options showed up, and the Belly Bandit. They’re pricy, and I’m cheap, but these are worth it. They shrink your belly skin and help move your muscles back in place. I wear them almost 24/7 for the first six weeks postpartum, sometimes with a tank underneath protecting the band from all the oil on my belly. I will also wear a nursing tank to cover the band so baby isn’t pressed hard against the stiff thing when we nurse.
The effects are nothing short of miraculous, so no wonder ladies have been doing this for centuries. My only complaint is that they shrink my belly so fast that I have to stop using the Belly Bandit, which is not as adjustable as the Abdomend, within about two weeks of giving birth because it’s become too big. The solution would be to get a smaller one also, but as I said, I’m cheap. I just switch to the Abdomend. I just like that the Belly Bandit covers more space vertically, because I saw a noticeable difference between the narrower band of skin the Abdomend covers and the skin it did not just above and below.
7. Do Not Have a C-Section If You Can Help It
I’m going to be gentle here, because some women just need to have a C-section, and we all agree it’s far preferable to get that baby out than to let mommy or baby suffer the consequences. Mommy is doing all she can during birth and she’s relying on her birth attendants to help her make these decisions while she and her body are focused on baby. It’s not mom’s fault if her birth attendants push her into an unnecessary C-section, or if her baby needs one. Then it’s heroic for mom to sacrifice this way to protect her child, and the resulting scars are battle scars to wear with pride.
But there is good evidence that the United States has a far too high C-section rate, and that this is bad for mom and baby health. It is also very common for people in all kinds of conditions to be pushed into medical interventions they wouldn’t have chosen had they been given the option or more time to think it through or plan for alternatives.
If you had to get a C-section, no decent person will criticize that. But you can do some things to reduce your likelihood of having to or being pushed into getting one, and this makes postpartum recovery much, much better. For one, choose your hospital well. Some hospitals rush the C-sections more than others do, despite no difference to mom and baby outcomes.
Get a doula or another experienced person such as a midwife who can be your birth advocate and coach while you focus on baby during birth. They can coach you through what your body is doing to relieve your worries so your birth doesn’t have to escalate towards a C-section. They are well, well worth the money to have a birth-altering peace of mind during this crucial time in you and your baby’s life.
Communicate your wishes to all health providers to only have a C-section if necessary to protect mom or baby from imminent danger. If you only have your husband there for you in a hospital birth, tell him to ward off overeager doctors and nurses and pin them down about whether they’re suggesting this strictly to protect mommy and child or so the doctor can make his tee time (which actually happened to a friend of mine). Take a serious birth class or get a doula. They will help you learn noninvasive ways to manage the bullet train that birth can be so you aren’t panicked into making a medical decision under pressure that you will regret.
Under no circumstances should you follow the horrifically stupid advice I received from one older mother during my first pregnancy: “Just schedule the birth as a C-section and then you’ll know when it is and get it over with, snip snap!” Not if you want your body back, anyway. C-sections require serious, painful recovery, and are to be avoided if possible for a host of reasons.
Even if you end up with a C-section, the next tip can help you recover optimally.
8. Do the Right Core Exercises
While the belly band drastically reduced my tummy size after my first baby, I was still not entirely pleased with how things looked a few months out. Even though I’d lost the weight, my belly was still too poochy for this perfectionist. I didn’t have a lot of time to brood about it, though, because six months postpartum I was pregnant again and the belly was headed back out.
After baby two, however, I was determined to have not just a slimmer but a fitter waistline. That’s when I found out about diastasis recti. This is a common tummy muscle condition for postpartum women, and basically means a separation between the muscles that wrap around from your back and are supposed to meet right under your belly button. A diastasis recti means pregnancy pulled these muscles apart to create a gap that can give you a flabby belly look even though your overall weight is good. Some ladies have gaps there so wide they can fit their whole hand in between the two muscle ridges.
Here’s how to diagnose yourself for this common, painless condition. The weird thing is that if you do what ladies like me would in this difficulty—start in on yoga and Pilates—it will make things worse. You need to heal the underlying muscles before you get back to your usual crunches and other major core exercises. “Lose Your Mummy Tummy” explains all this, and that’s where I started.
Once I had worked through that program I was doing about 10 minutes of these exercises before bed as my only “workout,” plus some throughout the day such as while sitting at my desk or driving, just out of habit. Once I get bored with all the exercises and can do them all well without much burn or effort, I start looking up new ones on YouTube.
Even if you don’t have this condition, I suggest doing these simple core exercises. For me they also largely eliminated my back pain during the last four months of subsequent pregnancies. A stronger core improves more than the look of your belly. It also alleviates back pain and posture issues. I start them in after giving birth as soon as I can stand it, which is about two weeks postpartum. They’re very gentle.
For other, more energetic exercises, try giving it a rest until at least six weeks out, possibly something like two to three months. Baby is going to be nursing all the time, and even if you’re antsy your body needs to recuperate. Ease into your new life, and don’t expect much. These tummy exercises are a good start because they’re low-commitment but can be something useful for when you get tired of laying around nursing but shouldn’t be up and at ’em yet.
I recommend moms wait until six weeks out, then again at three months and six months, to re-evaluate how things are going post-baby, in all respects. In my experience these are major milestones where you can look back and see how far you’ve come, so fast. As a mom friend told me: “moms like me, who were super active pre-baby, need to be reminded to CHILLLLL. And enjoy their baby. And not push too hard, too soon. The pre-baby body may or may not happen. Your long-term physical, mental, and emotional health matter more.”
9. Fit Sneaky Workouts Into Your Life
I hate working out. I like to do physical activities, like swimming, cycling, and running. But I hate repetitious exercises. They are so boring. At this my husband points out that I’ll swim laps for a half hour, and isn’t that repetitious? But maybe it’s just that I grew up on swim team.
On top of the persnickety, I have very little time to work out. I work full-time and have four little kids we don’t put in childcare. My husband and I are starting a nonprofit. I hardly have time to sleep and eat, let alone work out.
So I fit small workouts into my daily routine this way: When I fold laundry, I do squats and lunges. When I sit at my desk and type, I do belly exercises. At an earlier job, I sat, wiggled, and bounced on an exercise ball while typing away. I’ll run up and down the stairs five times randomly during the day to get my heart rate up. My kids think it’s a brilliant game. A new thing I’m trying to put into our family routine is a simple walk around a few blocks in the morning after breakfast. In the summer, I spend time with my oldest son by biking to and around a local park and back.
A mom friend of mine swaps morning workouts with her husband. On three mornings a week, he watches the kids while she goes to the gym. On three other mornings, she does the same for him.
In other words, be creative. If I can do it, so can you.
10. Don’t Forget the Sex
After a baby arrives, your marriage needs to adjust. Unlike Teigen, many women feel the opposite of sexy post-baby. Even six weeks postpartum, when OB-GYNS clear most women for sex again, our bodies are going in and out, milk leaks from us, baby is on us all hours of the day and night, the place the baby came out is sore and healing, our hormones are going wack, and so forth. It’s not really a sexy time. But it can be.
The thing that makes me feel sexiest is having sex, and I’ll wager I’m not the only one. But the presence of a new baby requires you to get creative in other ways than fitting in workouts.
One of our babies woke almost immediately for his first three to four months of life if he was not touching mommy while sleeping. Yes, super annoying. We tried a few things, and it worked out. This also inspired my husband to sleep train that stinky baby himself, so double bonus for me.
Some of my friends schedule sex—it is literally on their Google calendars. More power to them. Do what you gotta do, but you gotta do it, because not having sex is not an option if you want a good marriage.
Since I feel so gross and tapped out after babies arrive I have to remind myself that if I just play along for a little while when my husband comes calling, I’ll be in the mood pretty soon, even if I don’t believe so initially. Try it and see if that works for you (some must-read tips here from Leslie). Perhaps the nicest thing about this aspect of postpartum life has been learning that my husband loves me no matter how gross and exhausted I feel, and that makes me love him even more. Give your husband the chance to make you feel this way. I bet he’ll be happy to.