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postpartum health

  • Why the French Look so Fit so soon after Pregnancy

    Now we have new evidence not only why French Women don’t get fat but why they bounce back so quickly after having a baby compared to most of us in the United States and other countries.

    In most countries, the US included, women are often sent home ASAP after the baby, sometimes as soon as the next day following delivery. Once at  home women are left to fend for themselves for both caring for their baby, breastfeeding their newborn and recovering from birth both physically and mentally.

    In France, however, women see their gynecologist within the first month of birth for a full checkup and discussion session. They then routinely get twelve half hour sessions with a specialist in postnatal physiotherapy to rehabilitate their pelvic floor and abdominal muscles. This specialist also checks the abdominal muscles for any damage or separation caused during pregnancy and French postpartum women are then given exercises to tone them up.

    Many of us develop “mommy tummy” following delivery that oftentimes never fully goes away. This is the horizontal roll of fat along your stomach that hangs down in two sections if you bend over. The technical name for this is abdominal diastasis and it is often an indication that the abdominal muscles have not fully closed back together again after childbirth. This separation is caused during pregnancy when the front abdominal muscle that wraps around the baby starts to pull apart. In France this abdominal area is checked before women even leave the hospital and they are then given a set of exercises to heal the damage. In most places in the US, women are overlooked in this department and sent home fully oblivious to any damage caused to their abdominal muscles and pelvic floor during pregnancy nor are they given any instructions on what to do about it.

    Oftentimes women unknowingly exercise these stomach muscles too vigorously too soon after birth, like doing sit-ups or running (particularly if they used to be super fit before they were pregnant and are eager to resume their fitness routines), which further contributes to increased separation and damage of this muscle. In France women are shown how to strengthen their pelvic-floor muscles to close the gap and then introduced to more advanced abdominal exercises.

    Knowing this, it is a good idea to ask your doctor to check your abdominal muscles before leaving the hospital to determine if you have any separation and, if so, to understand the degree of it. It is common to have more of a problem if you have had more than one baby or if you had a big baby.

    If you do have a gap ask your doctor to prescribe for you some basic stretching exercises to help to begin closing this gap. Ask your doctor to show you how to feel the gap when you lie on your back so you can also monitor the progress at home.

    Even if we don’t live in France we can at least reap some of these postnatal benefits by educating ourselves on what they are doing so well. We can also speak up to our doctors for the same rehabilitation advice so we can be healthy and happy postpartum and lose the "mommy tummy" for good!

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