The Princess. The bump. Your body. How long does it really take to recover after pregnancy and birth?

Pregnancy, Pilates, Epping, Essex, post birth recovery,  Fit School, Karen Laing, Ante Natal, Princess Kate, Princess Meghan, Royal Baby, Post birth recovery

****NOTE: Please note this article was written following the birth of Prince George in 2013. Since then there have been two more royal, ‘William and Kate’ babies, Charlotte and Louis. And more recently, Prince Harry and Princess Meghan’s baby boy. Congratulations! ****

THERE has been much furore surrounding Princess Kate and her post baby body since she emerged, glowing, from the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital last week. In fact perhaps more media attention has focused on Kate’s body than on beautiful baby Prince George.

So newsflash, the female body takes time to recover after 9 months of growing a person and squeezing it out of a very small hole, or even out of the sun roof. But just how long? Weeks, months or years?

The doctor can sign you off as soon as six weeks post birth when initial recovery has taken place but a study published last year by Salford University, suggested it could take up to a year for women to recover both physically and mentally. Some experts suggest this may even be two years, since it takes this long for your abdominal muscles to fully return to their pre-pregnancy state. And then there’s breastfeeding – pregnancy hormones remain in your system for up to four months after you stop nursing your child.

So here’s a little guidance on how long it really takes for beautiful female bodies to recover after birth:

Early days

In the early days after giving birth your body is in full recovery mode. You may have lost a lot of blood and fluids and you’ll definitely be short on sleep and energy. You’ll most likely be sore and swollen so now is the time to enjoy some confinement and TLC.

0-6 weeks

There’s a lot going on during the first six weeks of post natal recovery.

Whilst your uterus is contracting (cause of the painful, cramping sensations you’ll be getting) the rest of your internal organs, which got squidged out of the way during pregnancy are returning to their rightful place. Your pelvis will be recovering and returning to it’s pre-labour state and your urethra, vagina and anus, which again will have moved slightly during pregnancy will be returning to their original homes.

Any intense activity during this stage could hinder the healing process.

Walking and gentle stretching is fine but definitely nothing bouncy.

You’ll also be bleeding heavily and may also be anaemic, so plenty of iron-rich foods and dark green vegetable to aid iron absorption are critical during this time.

You’ll be quite inflamed and possibly held together by stitches for a few weeks. You’ll need to keep them as clean as possible with salt baths and lavender or calendula compresses and drink plenty of fluids for breast milk and to flush out any nasties and minimize your risk of infection.

There’s a fairly new product on the market called Spritz for Bits which also comes recommended by midwives for ‘down there’ care.

Some women get haemorrhoids, mastitis, back ache or other complications and all women will suffer with some degree of sleep deprivation so rest, recuperation and realism are the order of the day for the early weeks.

Resist the temptation to think you need to race back to some sort of normality during this period. These early days won’t last forever. There’s time enough for getting stuff done when you’ve recovered and baby has got a little more used to the world.Up to 4 months post breastfeeding

Your pregnancy hormones, most noticeably relaxin stay in your body until up to four months after you finish breast feeding. This means any associated symptoms, such as reduced stability in your pelvis and joints also linger for this amount of time. So high impact activities are best enjoyed with caution until you feel ready to go – experts disagree on this point but you know your body best and if you are at all at risk of or unsure of your pelvic floor stability, focus on this side of your training through Pilates or resistance training before you hit the tennis court.

A specialist post natal Pilates, yoga or fitness class is best at this stage of the post birth period. That’s for everyone. Not just newcomers to exercise. If you’re looking for inspiration on how to adapt your training, check out our guide to post natal exercise swaps.

You may also find that the extra ‘insurance’ fat that your body gained in the early days of pregnancy also sticks around until baby is weaned, this is because your clever body is still holding on fat stores vital for hormone and milk production. Fat is not just stubborn lumpy stuff with no purpose, it’s an organ in its own right, storing and generating hormones and of course energy.

Up to a year post birth

The University of Salford study, conducted by Dr Julie Wray, interviewed women during their first year post birth and concluded that women need a year to recover both physically and emotionally after child-birth.

Her study found that women felt unsupported by medical services and very much left to get on with it.

This is where social networks made through local health clinics or organisations such as the NCT offering Bumps and Babies groups can be a vital part of the healing process. If you’re local to Epping Forest, Epping Forest Baby also offers monthly mums and baby mingles over coffee and regular local events to keep you in the loop and help you to meet other families in the same boat.

Relationships, personal self-worth, finances and health are all put through the mill in the first 12 months. It takes time to re-find your feet with a new member of your family.

Up to two years post birth

When you are pregnant, your growing baby forces your abdominal wall to stretch. The body responds by creating new muscle cells, or sarcomeres, literally lengthening your abdominals. According to health practitioner Paul Chek (author of How to Eat, Move and be Healthy) it can take up to two years for your abdominals to fully recover.

Three big factors that can prevent this recovery, causing an abdominal distention are:

  • Having two babies within two years (or falling pregnant within two years of the last pregnancy);
  • Gaining a large amount of weight during pregnancy; or
  • C-section (C-sections can cause internal scarring or adhesions which can add to abdominal distention).

Two years and beyond

Complications such as diastasis recti (split in the abdominal wall), adhesions, post stitches pain or pelvic floor dysfunction (such as prolapse) can cause problems well beyond two years. For any worries from the naval to the vagina, do visit a Women’s Health Physiotherapist for a more detailed, personal discussion. They are there to help.

So mummies, let’s lay off the ‘lose weight now,’ or, ‘get fit quick’ resolutions. You’ll know when you’re ready to get in shape or just get more energy, your local gym’s marketing team don’t.

This post isn’t intended to be a license to eat cake and ice cream forever, that won’t do much for your body either but do wear your physical changes like a badge of honour.

Enjoy the early years with your baby and be like the clever tortoise, not the media hungry hare.

Karen Laing is a pre and post natal exercise specialist and journalist.

Karen teaches Pilates (including pregnancy specific classes) in Epping, Essex and London and writes about fitness, women’s health and wellbeing.

Karen co-directs Fit School with her husband Chris. They run fitness classes, Pilates, run club and anti-ageing classes in Epping and Essex.

Karen is a founder member of Epping Forest Baby.

Related articles by Fit School:

Diastasis Recti or abdominal separation. Can we fix it?

7 exercise swaps for new mums

The New Mummy Diet

How soon can I start running again after having a baby?

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  1. What a great article. It deserves to be published in every national newspaper! So interesting to read the science behind what happens to our bodies and a great tool for keeping our expectations realistic. I’ll be sharing this far and wide!!

    • Thank you. Our bodies are pretty amazing and the whole journey of pregnancy, miraculous. So I feel it’s important to focus on our health and wellbeing rather than constantly feeling pressured to ‘want to be thin again’. All in good time!

  2. I agree with fitbumpsandbabies, sharing this ! I teach Pre/postnatal Pilates (amongst other classes) my new moms will love this thank you

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