That post-pregnancy pooch is a combination of fat (hey, a woman has got to gain some weight during pregnancy), excess skin, and stretched-out abdominal muscles, says ob-gyn Alyssa Dweck, M.D, co-author of V is for Vagina. In some cases, the rectus abdominis (a.k.a. six-pack) muscle can actually split down the middle, requiring surgical repair to fix. Yikes.
So sorry to break it to you, but unless you're a genetically anomaly, you shouldn't expect to for your midsection to spring back into shape right away, says Dweck. (And in fact, not all women can get their pre-pregnancy abs back at all post-baby). But whatever your genetics, what you eat and how you move can make a huge difference in minimizing (and hopefully ditching entirely) your post-baby pooch. Follow these tips from top trainers, nutritionists, and mommas who’ve been there.
“Learn to engage your transverse abdominis. Being able to engage your deep abdominal muscles helps you work towards a flat stomach. If you deeper muscles are weak, you will not be able to ‘lose the pooch.’ Some of my favorite moves to do this are the forearm plank, the double bent-knee or straight-leg lower, and the bird-dog.” —Jacquelyn Brennan, certified strength and conditioning specialist and cofounder of Mindfuel Wellness
“I think one of the most important things for me was not thinking of losing the baby weight as going on a diet. Having the diet mentality often leads to feelings of deprivation, which then can turn into making unhealthy food choices later on. Plus, most women should not go below 1,800 calories per day when breastfeeding. This can reduce your milk supply, and it can also signal your body that you aren't getting enough calories so it will hold onto everything you eat.” —Kendra Perkey, M.S., R.D., mother of an 18-month-old son
“Post-pregnancy, it’s important to work on the pelvic floor, so I like to encourage my post-partum athletes to work on holding a Kegel contraction as they’re doing other exercises like planks, bridges, or whatever. Kegels work your pubococcygeal muscle, which runs from the pubis in front of your pelvis to the coccyx in back. Toning that muscle is important, so as you are working your abs, you’re keeping their attachment point—your pubic bone—nice and stable. I find that performing Kegels during exercises like planks, lateral planks, and bridges are best to start with. Start by performing a Kegel contraction, and try to hold that as you move into the exercise. Try ‘re-setting’ the Kegel with each repetition. For example, if you’re doing reps of bridges, you’d Kegel, then bridge and hold the Kegel, then lower, then release the Kegel. That’s one rep.” —Janet Hamilton, certified strength and conditioning specialist and a clinical exercise physiologist with Running Strong
“Perform pelvic tilts, bridges, and planks in order to get your core muscles working again. But integrate them back into your fitness routine gradually. It’s important to remember that most of these muscles have been compromised for the duration of your pregnancy.” —Physical therapist Jaime Quinn, regional clinical director of Professional Physical Therapy in New York City and mother of a 15-month-old daughter
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“Exercises should focus on targeting the pelvic floor and transverse abdominis, bringing the belly toward the spine, and not pushing out as you do with endless crunches; stay away from these post-pregnancy. Try these two moves to start. First, lie on your back, place one hand on your belly and the other by your side. Take a deep breath in and fill the belly with air, then exhale and flatten the belly in toward the spine. Repeat five to 10 times. Now that you've found your transverse abdominis, try to keep this position, belly pulled in, with the knees bent and arms down by your sides. Slowly, keeping those inner ab muscles engaged and pelvis tilted just slightly, slowly lift one bent leg off of the floor, return it to the floor slowly, and then lift the other leg, slowly ‘marching’ the legs one at a time. Perform 10 on each leg for one set.” —Meka Gibson, certified strength and conditioning specialist and trainer at DavidBartonGym
“Drink eight glasses of water a day, and fill up on water-packed fruit. This will help prevent bloating and provide extra hydration, which is essential in keeping up milk supply. Of course, while I would never tell a woman to breastfeed just for the calorie benefits, nursing does expend about about 500 calories a day. While that's not targeting the midsection directly, it will help in overall weight loss—wherever that ended up.” —Nutritionist Alex Caspero, R.D., owner of Delicious Knowledge
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US.