Fitness and nutrition experts explain how mums - and not just new ones - can get their body and mind back in shape through restorative exercises, good nutrition and motivational techniques which will help combat the rigours of childbirth, motherhood and the excesses of Christmas.
By Lisa Salmon.
If you're a new mum, you're often so busy that your body isn't a priority.
But whether it's weeks, months or years after having a baby, most mums eventually feel that they need to address the physical effects of childbirth and motherhood.
That may be by trying to lose weight, improving fitness, firming up, or all three.
Mums can, of course, address the physical changes motherhood brings simply through counting calories and embarking on an exercise regimes.
But as childbirth puts strains on specific areas of the body, there are many tailored ways to help mums get back into shape, such as keep-fit classes with buggies, or mums and tums classes.
To address physical, motivational and nutritional issues all together, there are programmes such as the MuTu System.
This offers a 12-week online course of restorative exercises, workouts, yoga and motivational techniques aimed at mothers who want to rediscover their waistline and body confidence, however long since they had children.
The programme features five elements - MuTu Core to find your waist and flatten your tummy, MuTu Breathe to tone the pelvic floor and help mums chill out, MuTu New Mum/MuTu Intensive workouts, MuTu Posture, and MuTu Food to help mums eat properly.
The system has been created by personal trainer and mother-of-two Wendy Powell, who says: "There's a huge amount of advice out there for new mums, but the physical effects of pregnancy, childbirth and mothering - weak pelvic floor, saggy tummy, weak core muscles, backache - can go on for years, and this is what I tackle - the practicalities, hormones, emotions and pressures mums face."
Powell says she wants to help mums get both their body and mind back in good shape by encouraging them to take responsibility for their bodies again.
She stresses: "The holistic approach is about working out, eating well and increasing self-esteem so you feel sexy, capable, strong and healthy in a world full of quick fixes and unrealistic expectations that just don't work."
Dr Amelia Lake, a dietitian and public health lecturer at Durham University, says the main problem for mums of babies and young children is time management and trying to look after themselves as well as the kids.
"You're more interested in providing food for your children than looking after yourself," she says.
"Some people describe having children as the worst thing that ever happened to their health and wellbeing, but others say their diets change for the better after having kids."
She says mums should use the change in their lifestyle to make other changes such as increasing their fruit and vegetable intake, cutting down on fizzy drinks, etc.
"That's hopefully something mums were doing during their pregnancy," she says, "and it's just carrying those good habits through so they'll be healthier, and a good role model for their child."
Lake says that while there is an increased energy requirement, particularly for new mothers, they should just listen to their body rather than automatically eating more. She stresses that small, healthy changes to the diet are what make a difference.
"Food is a great way of making yourself feel better when you've had no sleep, so at home try to make sure you've got healthy food readily available, rather than reaching for biscuits, crisps and so on.
"Preparation and planning is key."
Research by the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF) has found that more than 80% of women do too little physical activity to benefit their health, and 81% of women with dependent children say that being able to exercise with their children would encourage them to exercise more.
In addition, 77% of working mothers would like to fit exercise in with more flexible hours at work.
The charity recommends that mums get back into shape by working more physical activity into their lives, and suggests checking whether local leisure centres/community centres run exercise classes along with a creche.
The charity also suggests that mothers ask other mums at nursery or school if there are any exercise groups they attend and perhaps go with them, and points out that many gyms have special rates for off-peak visits.
Sue Tibballs, WSFF chief executive, says lack of knowledge about how to get involved in physical activity can be a huge barrier for mums, as can confidence issues. She suggests exercising with other mums is one way to help overcome such barriers.
"There's a huge amount of emphasis placed on healthy eating, particularly for new mums, and less emphasis on physical activity - yet it's equally important," she says.
"There isn't enough guidance around about physical activity for new mums and mums of any age children. There's a gap in encouragement for them - it's a huge issue."
She acknowledges that time is also a huge barrier, but stresses that if exercise becomes a priority, mums can find the time to at least get the recommended amount of physical activity, which is 30 minutes three times a week.
This could simply be walking briskly with a buggy.
"The benefits are enormous - more confidence, more energy, feeling better about yourself," stresses Tibballs.
"We recognise that many mums want to get active to lose weight, but as you get more active, it becomes much less about appearance and much more about feeling better."
:: For more information about the MuTu System, which costs £57 for the online training programme, visit www.mutusystem.com Ask the expert Q: "I'm pregnant and we're skint. What's the best way to keep costs to a minimum?"
A: Katy Rowley, co-founder of the parents' money-saving website www.savvymummys.co.uk, says: "Discovering you're expecting is an exciting time, but as you start to think about all the expense to come, it's only natural to feel stressed and overwhelmed.
"Firstly, save money by buying products that have been previously owned and taken good care of by other mummies.
There are some great deals to be had if you're willing to buy used goods that are in almost-new condition.
However, it's important to remember that car seats and cot mattresses should always be bought from new for health and safety reasons.
"Don't overstock. It's easy to get carried away on maternity wear and baby items, but remember you're only pregnant for nine months and your baby will grow very quickly, so stick to the basics.
"Think about what you need and what you want - they're two very different things. Decide on the essentials and save the little treats for when you have a bit of extra cash.
"Look out for sales, discounts and special offers and utilise the specialist websites. Many companies now have mother-and-baby clubs and if you join, they'll send you money-off vouchers for essential baby products.
"Keep your eyes peeled for coupons - the value might be low, but you'll notice the difference.
"Why pay for the latest pregnancy and baby books when you can find them free in your local library? There's also a wealth of free information online.
"Of course, you'll inevitably have to spend on certain items, but being pregnant doesn't necessarily mean your bank balance has to take a battering."
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