Why do some women still look pregnant long after their baby’s been born?

Emilia Rossi and her daughter Olympia
Emilia Rossi and her daughter Olympia Photo: Supplied

Emilia Rossi gave birth to her second child only eight months ago and has been trying to get her body back into shape ever since.

The marketing strategist and blogger from Melbourne has tried everything, but still she thinks she looks pregnant.

"I gave birth to my second baby and can't for the life of me shake the weight off," said the mum to Olympia, eight months, and Hercule, two years.

"I still look six months pregnant despite giving birth to her eight months ago. It's super frustrating and embarrassing.

"At six weeks, I tried personal training and even Jenny Craig but just couldn't stick to it."

"It definitely plays on my mental health as it's the first and last thing I think about each and every day on top of everything else that is going on in the world."

She said it could be a combination of factors such as age, anxiety and emotional eating.

"I believe my body may have recovered better if I had kids earlier," she said. "I also didn't give myself that much time in-between to recover."

"My physio and doctor said it takes 12-18 months for the body to fully recover."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Almost there!!! 🤱🤱🤱

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Emilia wasn't sure if she also had the common condition diastasis recti which can leave women looking pregnant long after childbirth but thinks there's other factors at play.

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"I feel my mental state with my second also played a big part," she said.

"The anxiety and minor post-natal mixed with COVID completely took over my mindset. It left me feeling tired all the time, which in turn was hard to feel motivated and disciplined to do exercise on a regular basis.

"Despite these challenges, I've managed to exercise from six weeks after giving birth to my second and have tried (and still trying) to get back to a more balanced diet."

Associate Professor in Health and Physical Education at Victoria University and part of the Body Confident Mums Research Project Dr Zali Yager said there was a lot of pressure on new mums and many strived to lose weight post-birth.

"A year after birth, women experience both personal and societal expectations to 'get your pre-baby body back', particularly around the time of returning to work," Dr Yager said.

"This is extremely difficult to achieve, and the cycle of dieting and weight gain with ever-increasing dissatisfaction is related to depression."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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"Participants in our qualitative research indicate that they feel like they are failing at parenting and life if they do not look like they 'have it all together' by bouncing back to their pre-pregnancy weight and shape."

And for women also experiencing diastasis recti it can be even harder.

"Diastasis recti has the potential to exacerbate concerns about changes to weight and shape during the postpartum period, because there is so little that women can do about the changes to their stomach," she said.

"Non-surgical interventions can be time consuming and costly and need to be done consistently."

Mater Private Hospital maternity physiotherapist Eva Mak said a woman's body goes through a lot of changes during pregnancy.

"The rate at which a woman's tummy decreases in size after birth depends on a variety of factors," Ms Mak said.

"Genetics plays a part, as does diet, whether they can incorporate some physical activity into their busy lives, and whether or not they choose to or are able to breastfeed."

And for some women their stomach muscles stretch and separate during pregnancy and never fully come back together.

"When the abdominal walls separate, soft tissue and muscle from behind the abdominal wall can push through the gap, creating a bulge," she said.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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"This abdominal separation, or diastasis recti as it known in medical terms, is normal and often heals on its own, however for some mums, the gap is significant and needs help being repaired."

On average, 50 per cent of women experience diastasis recti, and studies have shown that 33 per cent of women will have an increased distance between the muscles by their second trimester.

"It is usually most noticeable right after delivery, with symptoms including lower back pain, abdominal weakness when the abdominal muscles are strained or contracted, poor posture, pelvic pain, constipation and/or bloating," she said.

"Diastasis recti is more common in women who are over 35, deliver a high birth weight baby, or have a multiple pregnancy.

"Research has also shown that the occurrence and size of diastasis recti is also greater in pregnant women who do not exercise."

There are a number of treatment options including wearing a postpartum abdominal binder or corset in the first few weeks after birth to assist in bringing the separated abdominal muscles together, physiotherapy, targeted exercises that help to close the gap between the abdominal muscles and surgery.