My husband found me in our room bawling when he came home from work. “What happened? Is everyone ok?”
“The kids are fine,” I sobbed. “But I’m so ugly! I’m still in maternity clothes, my hair is falling out, and I feel sick and tired all the time. I don’t even look like myself anymore!”
Flashback to seven years ago. I had just given birth to my fifth (almost fifth and sixth) baby in 3 years. I had triplets and two singletons in three years. When I got pregnant with triplets, I was in really good physical shape, but that was a very high risk pregnancy, and I almost died from it.
I wasn’t allowed to carry a jug of milk, much less do Pilates 100s. Then I had 3 very premature infants to care for, then I was pregnant again, then I had four kids in cribs and diapers. Then I was pregnant AGAIN, and then I had five kids in cribs and diapers.
Since I always bounced back to my pre-pregnancy size and clothes, I didn’t feel like I could afford to make time for exercise or any special self-care between babies. Exercise felt like a vanity and a luxury, and I had so many babies that time was a very valuable commodity.
You don’t have to have 5 babies under three to feel this way. One baby can turn your world upside down. By the time number five came, I was a toothless tiger. I had gone through my third c-section, and I had no strength, no stamina, no life left in me. I felt like I was being drug through each day. I felt awful. I looked awful, and I was in need of a mommy makeover. These are pictures of the day I came home from the hospital.
First let me say, you don’t have to be a new mom, or a mom at all, to benefit from the suggestions in this post. All women go through times when we feel unattractive and want to improve our appearance, or just change some things. That said, let’s go.
As incredible as it is to have a baby, I think every woman would agree that we never feel less attractive than after the delivery. You’re not longer pregnant, you’re just squishy and big. You’re exhausted, sleep deprived and hurting. I know there are special unicorns out there who go home from the hospital in their pre-pregnancy jeans, but most of us mortals go home in our maternity clothes. And we continue to wear our maternity clothes for…a while.
Usually when people talk about a mommy makeover, they are talking surgical, but I needed something faster, less expensive, and less invasive. Plus, I knew there was still one more baby to come, so surgical options would be foolish until I was done having kids. I started Operation Mommy Makeover as soon as I got the six-week all-clear after my c-section. I went for some things that would give me an immediate boost, as well as tackled some long-term goals. For the most part you can’t make your body snap back right away. It takes time, effort, and time. And then it requires some time. That whole, “It took nine months to get this way, and it will take at least nine months to get back,” is usually true.
These celebrities on the cover of People magazine holding their newborns and wearing skinny jeans and a tight top? Well, they either a) made a deal with the devil b) were airbrushed c) are wearing two pairs of Spanx and 2 pairs of control top pantyhose d) are paying a personal trainer, a private chef, a nanny (or three), a stylist, an aesthetician, a maid, a laundry service, a personal assistant, a driver, and probably made a deal with the devil e) all of the above. Don’t compare yourself to them because it’s usually a lie.
Since I realized that options A-E weren’t happening at my house (ok, the Spanx and control-top hose were definitely happening after my c-section healed), that’s why I went for some things that I could see the results of right away, and it really helped give me the boost I needed to keep going. Here’s what I did:
I made an appointment to get my hair cut and colored. Hair appointments are magical. They make you feel pampered and like a new woman. I was in a growing out stage from a pixie (for the 80th time), so getting a shape-up cut to get rid of the Carol Brady mullet (partially visible in the photos above) was much needed. If money is tight, refresh your color at home and use the money for a salon hair cut, or if you don’t color-treat your hair, just go for the cut. It will immediately make you feel better. I would warn against doing anything super drastic while you are under the influence of postpartum hormones.
Phase two of the hair came after a bunch fell out 3 months later. That hadn’t happened with my first four babies, so I was STUNNED. I wrote this post about how to deal with thin(ning) hair.
I ordered a teeth bleaching kit and whitened my teeth for the first time. I used this one and loved it as much as the one I got from my dentist in later years. More, actually, because it was so fast. Making an immediate improvement in my smile really helped boost my sagging self esteem, and the instant effect was just what I needed.
It was mid-spring, which in Georgia means shorts weather, and I needed a faux glow to to make it look like I hadn’t been hibernating. As unhealthy as it is to tan, a “healthy glow” makes us look better because it disguises flaws. I started using Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizing Lotion in fair to medium. It’s regular body lotion that gradually adds a tan to your skin over the course of a week.
Because it’s so gradual, the risk of streaks, dark spots and missed patches is much reduced. It’s one of those 2-in-1 products. I moisturize daily anyway, so why not add a healthy glow to it? Also, it doesn’t stink, which is a huge plus. All tanning products have/had a weird smell to them, and this one doesn’t. It doesn’t take any extra time out of my day because it’s replacing something I always do anyway, which is moisturize.
Unless I’m going to be wearing a swimsuit soon, I just do the parts of my body that are visible when I’m wearing my normal clothes. I love this stuff, and I use it every day or every other day during the warm months. There is also a face version, because let’s face it, we don’t want to look like old tires from tanning our faces, do we? You get the full impact after about a week, so that is also pretty immediate satisfaction.
Wearing maternity clothes when you aren’t pregnant is soul-crushing, and yet, we don’t want to spend money on clothes that fit a body we don’t want to keep. I bought 3 bottoms and five tops to get me through. I think I went to TJ Maxx and spent less than $100, but it meant that I didn’t have to wear maternity clothes anymore.
Even if you go to the local thrift store and spend $30 on a mini wardrobe, it will help. You’re not looking for clothes that will last through the years, just through this season. Make sure that all of your tops and bottoms coordinate, so you have 15 total outfits. The easiest way to do that is stick with neutrals on bottom.
If your tummy is still swollen, look for empire waist tops to deemphasize your middle. Resist the temptation to buy shapeless, baggy things. It won’t hide you, it will make you look bigger. Getting out of maternity clothes made me feel so much better. It didn’t change my body, but it still helped. It’s a mind game, and it works.
This is where the long game came in to play: getting back in shape. I was so weak and so out of shape, that my abdomen had supported none of the weight of my pregnant belly. At 7 months pregnant, if I engaged my core, my belly came up 4 inches, and in 5 inches. The weight of that pregnancy was hanging on my lower back, and I was in a lot of pain for most of that pregnancy.
As soon as I got the 6-week post c-section approval from my doctor, I started the 30-Day Shred by Jillian Michaels. It’s 27 minutes long, including warm up and cool down, and there are 3 levels that get progressively harder. You do each level for 10 days and then move on. The first week or so was a KILLER. I mean, I was so weak and out of shape that 30 seconds of jumping jacks was pure torture, and I would force myself through them…and then stop until I could breathe again. After about the first week, I started feeling a lot better and would get that awesome exercise high, and I loved that! It was hard to do, but I felt amazing when I was done.
I did it every morning Monday-Friday and took the weekends off. That’s what works for me. I made my protein drink the night before and had it in an insulated thermos up in my bathroom, had my workout clothes ready to go, and my DVD set up with the weights in place. I did the work out in our bedroom before the baby woke up for the first feeding. That’s right, I did the workout BEFORE breastfeeding the baby (in two sports bras), and that made those jumping jacks extra horrible.
I was determined to get fit, and I did! I did the workout two complete cycles before my goal date. We had a beach trip three months after the baby was born, and I felt pretty darn great in my swimsuit. I wasn’t going to win any contests, but I certainly didn’t look like I’d just had my fifth baby in 3 years. After the third full cycle I was looking really good. I had defined muscles in my arms, legs, and abs.
I haven’t been able to do this workout for a few years because of my adrenal fatigue. It sends me into a crash within the first ten minutes, but I wish I could go back to it!
The workout I used as my mommy makeover after baby number six is especially recommended for postpartum recovery. It’s called MuTu System, and it’s specifically designed to treat diastasis recti, which is a separation of the abdominal muscles, and a problem I developed before I got pregnant with number six (by incorrectly performing exercises because I was exercising when I was sick).
It also strengthens your pelvic floor (no more wetting yourself when you sneeze), your entire core, your legs, everything, because they all work together. It focuses on loving, respecting, strengthening, reconnecting with, and healing your body, instead of punishing it.
Mutu System is a 12-week program with a series of workouts. It uses a variety of inexpensive equipment including a small ball, stretchy bands, Swiss ball, instead of the half moon roller I use my hand weights (which are also needed). I also skip the yoga mat, even though I have two.
I love that it gradually ramps up with the different workouts, so you aren’t left wondering if a trip to the emergency room is in order. I also love that it is digital. You get instant access, and you can download it to your computer, phone or tablet. Some of the exercises feel pointless. Why am I doing this? It doesn’t BURN!
We have been trained to believe that all exercise has to hurt to be effective, but with Mutu, it’ doesn’t have to make you want to cry to get you back in shape. Not to say it’s all easy, because those squats are no joke, but it’s not the bootcamp-type workout that many of us expect these days.
I did MuTu and got great results, specifically with my diastasis, my core and my bum. I haven’t been able to do it for a while because I really messed up my knee last year, and squats make it swell up like a hot air balloon, but I read this article, and was able to do it this morning with no problems by making some modifications.
I’m excited to be able to do it again, not only because it’s an effective workout, but also because it doesn’t cause my adrenals to crash, and for me that is top priority. Crashed adrenals = not functioning in life.
One huge and immediate improvement I got from MuTu (which is pronounced moo-too and stands for Mummy Tummy) is fixing my alignment. Even when I was very thin and in great shape, I’d notice in pictures I looked like I had a belly. Why? Because I have an extremely short torso (only one inch between my ribs and hip bones), and that makes me naturally sway-backed to try to make room for my organs.
Arching my back and locking my knees pushes my belly forward and my bum backward. The opposite is when women tuck their pelvis under and create a pooch. That typically comes from a long torso. I couldn’t tuck that way if I tried. Training myself to keep my pelvis in alignment made a big difference in how my belly and bum looked. Huge difference.
In the pictures below you can see the difference. Pictures one and three I let my hips go back the way they want to, and it pushes my belly and bum out. In pictures two and four, all I did was unlock my knees and bring my pelvis into a neutral position. Look what it did for my shape! Instant improvement.
Another workout I’ve really enjoyed and got great results from is Physique57. It’s a barre method workout that is low impact, uses small movements, and it is a killer. It gets results, though. I personally enjoy the 30-minute workouts the most. I just won’t do a workout longer than that. That much of a time commitment sounds overwhelming, and I talk myself out of it more often than not.
There are 30-minute full-body workouts (here and here) as well as target-area specific workouts (arms and abs here, thigh and seat here, and a new one here). I have both the first and second complete sets. If I were purchasing again, I’d get this set of all four 30-minute workouts. I just don’t do longer ones.
You can attend live classes if you live in New Your City, or you can use the DVDs. I attended a live class with Tanya Becker (the founder), and it was awesome. She’s teeny, like 5’2″, which really surprised me. She looks taller on the videos. Since those videos were filmed she has given birth to twins, and when I talked to her that day, I could tell she had a new level of understanding of how hard it can be to bounce back. Physique57 has a fantastic prenatal workout that I did while I was pregnant with number six, and I loved it. It was fantastic for flexibility.
T-Tapp is a great workout if you have joint or back issues, helps with hormones and blood sugar, and it cured my morning sickness to the point that I thought I was going to miscarry again. It’s a very unique workout that helps pump your lymph and uses your muscles in different ways. It’s a very different workout than anything you’ve ever tried, and the science is fascinating. It’s also a very efficient workout. I mean, I have six kids ages four to ten to take care of, so 15 minutes is right up my alley. Although, let’s be honest. A 15-minute workout is always up my alley.
I will never be that “One-hour workouts are fun!” girl. This workout is efficient and effective. Even better, it’s multifunctional. T-Tapp helped so much with my back when I was pregnant, which gets more painful as the pregnancy goes on, whether you have a bad back or not.
It also helps negate some of the impact of the dozen Oreos you ate last night. SOME. Not all. Not that I’ve ever done that. T-Tapp makes you feel good when you are done. T-Tapp even has some workouts for those with more candles on the cake, more health concerns, more trouble zones, and a version of it can be done sitting down. It’s called T-Tapp More. I also like the Healthy Hormones series because it helps balance hormones and it doesn’t trigger adrenal fatigue as long as I skip the Hoe Downs.
just do it
Honestly, any workout will help you get back in shape. It’s more a matter of finding one that you enjoy (or don’t hate), that you will actually do, and that meets your physical needs. When I had a diastasis, Mutu was the only right workout, because all the others would only make it worse.
With my current knee and adrenal issues, I need something easy on my knees and adrenals. If money is an issue, start going on 30-minute walks with your baby (and other kids) in tow. I’ve done that many times. Walking is free, and it gets you outside in the sun and gives you a mood boost. Don’t forget the immortal words of Elle Woods, “Exercise creates endorphins. Endorphins make you happy! Happy people just don’t kill their husbands.” There is a lot of wisdom in that.
One last note. Everyone’s body is different. I know some women who absolutely can. not. shed baby weight until they are done nursing. It just won’t happen no matter what they try. Impossible. If this is the case for you, don’t give up. Even if the weight isn’t coming off, working out is making you stronger, and the tighter your muscles get, the smaller you will get, even if you don’t lose a pound. You could lose 1-2 sizes just from tightening up the muscles. I’ve done that before. Tight muscles act like a girdle and suck everything in.
Don’t focus on the scale, focus on measurements, and even more than that, focus on how your clothes fit. Scales lie, jeans don’t. If you know the baby weight is there to stay until the nursing is over, buy a few more pieces for your temporary wardrobe, and keep at it until you are done nursing, and you should see a faster recovery since you will be in such good shape.
Please check with your doctor to get the all clear before you start working out and to make sure you know what exercise is ok for you. Since I had c-sections, I waited until my OB told me I was cleared for exercise at my 6-week check up.
If you want to clean up your diet on your own, cut out the junk that is so easy to justify when you are pregnant. I guess you could call it clean eating. I stuck to mostly meats, veggies, salads, etc., but always making sure I got enough calories and water to keep my milk supply up. I have always felt better when I keep my carbs lower and my blood sugar stable, so I stayed away from any white flour products and packaged foods in general. Again, talk with your doctor about your dietary needs first.
Avoid anything extreme, and don’t sacrifice your health or the health of your baby over a few pounds. Not every diet is right for every body. Some people really do well on low carb/paleo, others do best on low fat, and some people can do anything and lose weight. My DNA test and my doctor have both told me recently that I need a low fat diet because of my liver, and that was a total shock to me.
I also discovered Stronger U, which provides personalized nutrition advice. You can read more about my journey here.
Pictures one and two are right before I started working out at 6 weeks post partum. I still looked four or five months pregnant. Picture 3 is about 6 weeks into my workout/eating program. My body was trimmer, I had yet another haircut, and my teeth were whiter.
Pictures four, five and six are at the beach when my baby was 3.5 months old, and I’d been working out for 8 weeks. I had finished two cycles of the 30-Day Shred. I wasn’t going to win any bikini contests, but I felt good in my swimsuits, and that was the point.
Pictures seven and eight are 4 months and another Shred cycle in, and I had even more definition in my legs and arms, and my waist was pretty tight at this point. I wish I had better pictures for you, but I’ve always disliked having my picture taken. When I started out, I was dying using the 3-pound weights, and by the end I was using 8-pound weights. I was so proud.
what i would add today
If you are ready to find your style and build a starter wardrobe, you can take my style quiz at the bottom of this post. That will help you understand what to look for in the clothes you are buying. Dressing to suit your true style will give you so much confidence!
If you want even more help than that, the Stunning Style Wardrobe Guides will do all the work for you. 30+ curated pieces, 100 outfits, all the shopping links according to Twist, and if you don’t even want to pick your outfit, a calendar telling you which one to wear everyday. You can learn more about that here.
This didn’t even exist seven years ago, but if I were going through this right now, I’d start using Rodan + Fields Lashboost. I know I’m talking about it a lot, but I’m so, so happy with how my lashes look, and how it makes my eyes stand out now. It makes me look younger, too. I would actually start this one while pregnant so those gorgeous lashes are ready to go after your baby arrives, and you are already feeling prettier.
After you have a baby, you lose that pregnancy glow and take on the look of a zombie. New moms are so very tired, especially if this isn’t their first child. Our hormones change, we aren’t sleeping, we may or may not be eating (our feelings), and our skin starts to suffer.
A great skin regimen will do wonders to make you look more alert and awake, more refreshed, and less tired than you actually are. I’ve been using this one and love it. It’s the best one I’ve ever used, hands down. If you contact me I can get you 10% off and free shipping off the Lashboost and the skin care products.
I would also do the things listed in my recent post about how to be a natural beauty, and many of them are things that can even be done while pregnant, so you are ready to go after baby arrives. I have always gotten up and gotten dressed first thing in the morning, even when I had infant triplets, and I’ve perfected my system so I can get ready in less than 20 minutes, but there are things on that list that make it even easier to do, and make my I-woke-up-this-way face much more presentable.
By incorporating both some short-term and long-term efforts, I felt so much better about myself very quickly. Seeing improvement from the fast-acting options gave me the immediate gratification I was looking for, and they motivated me to keep going with the long-term aspects, like the eating and exercising. You can do this!
Have you ever done a non-surgical mommy makeover? What did you do to look and feel better postpartum (even if it was a few years postpartum)?
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