Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Just Born

Why there's no rush to get rid of our baby belly


Made In Chelsea's Binky Felstead this week criticised singer Cheryl for wearing an ab-bearing top just months after having her first child. Kerry McKittrick talks to two NI mums about the pressure to get into shape post baby.

‘I’d love to wear my old clothes but I’m still wearing maternity outfits’

Baby joy: Rachael Kelly

Rachael Kelly (38) is a novelist.  She lives in Holywood with husband  Jesse Durkan and they are the proud parents of Rowan (12 weeks).  She says:

They keep moving the goal posts on us new mums. First they say you need to give yourself six weeks to allow your body to get back to normal after giving birth, then it might be eight.

Then, if you're breast-feeding your body will do one of two things; either consume your fat stores in order to have enough to feed the baby or cling to them.

And for those mums successfully breast-feeding for longer you'll supposedly start to lose weight around the three to six month mark. I think the advice is contradictory to make us feel better.

I don't know if it's because I'm an older mum but I still feel completely broken only a few months after giving birth.

My baby boy is just the most amazing little guy I have ever met.

He's funny and gorgeous and just the best human being. On the flip-side, though, being a mum is really hard work.

I've been around babies before as I have nieces and nephews so I did objectively know that it was going to be hard work, but I don't think anything can prepare you for just how utterly life turns upside down. I don't think you can appreciate how giving birth can change your body.

I had an emergency C-section after 30 hours of labour so it wasn't the most relaxing of birth experiences.

But the staff at the Ulster Hospital in Belfast were fantastic and I had a really positive experience having Rowan.

When it comes to Binky Felstead's comments on Cheryl regarding the latter showing off her post baby body, it's probably not as black and white as it may appear.

Generally I'm not a fan of mums bashing mums for the decisions they've made - each to their own.

There are lots of different factors that contribute to our bodies, before and after birth.

Genetics certainly count - also if you have help on hand and are able to prioritise getting your body back.

There's also whether or not you're breast feeding - I feed Rowan on average every hour to 90 minutes. Occasionally he goes down for a good long sleep during the day when I either catch up on sleep myself or do all of the things I haven't been able to do.

Baby joy: Rachael Kelly and son Rowan

If you have someone who can take the baby off your hands on a regular basis while you go to the gym, then great.

Most of us don't, we're sitting at home with husbands or partners who are at work for most of the week, staring at the piles of laundry and layers of dust, just trying not to drop the baby.

I've never had rippling abs. I was considerably less heavy this time last year as we were getting ready for our wedding.

I was cycling to and from work and going to the gym three or four times a week because I had the time and finances to do it.

But I stopped all of that when I got pregnant because I was scared it would hurt the baby. Maternity pay isn't very much either.

However, there is pressure on new mums to get our bodies back but I think it comes from us.

I look in the mirror now and think, that's not okay. But those feelings don't come from any media or celebrity images - that would not be the reason I would want to snap back into my pre-baby shape.

Also, you get a bit spoiled when you're pregnant because you put on weight and can wear your big, solid bump with pride.

My 38-year-old tummy isn't as elastic as it used to be, so instead of it snapping beautifully back into place I have this pocket of flab.

And, because I'm breastfeeding my body is trying to hang on to that.

But I've known women who have struggled to keep weight on while breast-feeding, I was hoping I would be one of those.

Because so much changes - your life and your body - so completely when a baby comes along, it would be great to have some way of getting in touch with what normal used to look like.

For me I would love to wear my old clothes - I still have to wear my maternity outfits."

'I yo-yoed between disgust and feeling good while getting in shape'

Aly Harte

Artist and fitness blogger Aly Harte (34), lives in Belfast with husband Michael and their three boys, Elijah (8), Tobias (6) and Abraham (16 months). She says: 

As a fitness and wellbeing blogger, body acceptance and working out is a really big part of who I am. Despite the seemingly endless stream of celebrity mums posing on Instagram bikini-ready just a few weeks or months after giving birth, I didn't feel pressure to ping back into shape after having my first two children. However, after my third baby, Abraham, I really wanted to get back to feeling myself again.

Unfortunately, I suffered from hyperemesis during my third pregnancy - just like the Duchess of Cambridge has with all of her pregnancies - and I spent quite a lot of time in hospital during the early stages. When it lifted after the 24th week, I was able to start exercising again, so I went swimming every day.

You certainly feel and look different after having a baby and, for me, the way I felt afterwards was a new experience after every one of my children. This was especially the case after Abraham was born because I had a split in my abs during labour. This meant that when I was training I had to be very careful not to tear the muscles any further. Despite that, I've probably had the best training post-partum because my body has been stronger because I had to make lifestyle changes after the first two children due to illness.

My body has never been back to normal five months after childbirth - with any of my children. But I work with a lot of women day in, day out and, while it's a cliched response, everyone is different. Your pre-pregnancy and post-pregnancy body is likely to be very different to everyone else.

We all need to accept that everyone looks different, has a different diet and works out at varying levels. We also need to factor in lifestyle, genetics and, importantly, how much you want to change your body.

Cheryl appears to be very motivated to have got back into shape a few months after having a baby, and was trim and fit prior to her pregnancy too. Binky is a slim girl too and they are both being constantly scrutinised in the Press.

Happy family: Aly Harte and husband Michael with Elijah, Tobias and Abraham

For me, having six-pack abs wasn't important at five months, but being able to run again was.

I've always been into fitness, having danced, played netball, ran and swam. However, four years ago, I suffered a bout of pneumonia that led in turn to the discovery that I have the same heart condition that my dad died of. That was a key moment for me and prompted me to seriously rethink my lifestyle. It's all about balance, though, because I love food and love wine and having a normal life. These days, my attitude is to enjoy the odd treat as well as having a balanced diet.

Some people might look at my lifestyle and think parts of it are selfish because I go to the gym every day. And while this decision might cost me money in childcare, I will balance it out by working different hours or later in the day.

Doing this means Michael and I are switching off at the end of the day, which is better long-term for family life.

Eight years ago, when I had Elijah, things were very different. Having my first baby was very difficult, but I was at a different stage in my career then. Abraham, meanwhile, was a long time coming. We all enjoy him, but he's had to fit in a bit more with his two older brothers.

I wrote a blog post about my post-baby body after he was born - complete with photos of how it changed as the weeks went on. I was yo-yoing between disgust that I let myself get that out of shape to feelings of empowerment at how fast I was getting back to fitness.

It was important for me to be as honest as I could about my body after having a baby, which had changed so that it could house a baby - just like every other woman's body has for centuries. Babies change you no matter who you are, so we all need to learn to accept our bodies and work with what we have."

Mums row: Binky Felstead with baby India

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