By Jill Farr
If there is one thing most women who have been pregnant can be relied on to want--aside from 8 consecutive hours of sleep if the pregnancy was recent--is to know how quickly they can get rid of their “Baby Belly”.
According to Samantha Montpetit-Huynh, CPTN-PT, PFS, NWS, RAB, a Pre & Postnatal Exercise Specialist, the answer to that is...never. (I’m including all those credential letters so that you will fully understand just how much of an expert she is.)
“Once you’ve had a baby,” Samantha says, “You’re always “postpartum”.
“There’s this pressure to “get our bodies back” and I have to tell women all the time, “You’re not getting your body “back”, because it’s different now.”
Samantha is one of three women--all moms, all experts in the Pre/Post Natal Fitness and Physiotherapy industries--who co-founded Bellies Inc, a company dedicated to helping women prepare for childbirth, and recover and restore their bodies afterwards.
The company’s emphasis on exercises to prepare for the work of labor and recover the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles afterward is coupled with a desire to remove the idea that pregnancy and childbirth is some small blip on your body’s radar, instead of a life event worthy of a great deal of respect.
That’s a tall order, given the amount of pressure women feel to bounce back after pregnancy and childbirth. And it’s a task that seems at odds with the rest of the exercise world messages aimed at women. Samantha and her partners know this, and they’re not shy about stating their mission.
“We’re trying to disrupt the fitness industry,” Samantha says.
There’s a vicious circle in place, however, that’s both fed by and taken from the images of other women looking better than we did at (insert number of months) postpartum, and it’s a comparison game that has only increased with the advent of social media.
“I was working with this woman who is an Instagram Influencer--tens of thousands of followers,” Samantha says, “And I had to say, outright, “You’re only two weeks postpartum...you’re supposed to still look pregnant”.”
Samantha’s reality check to the Insta-idol was also coupled with an exhortation to use her power for good, and try and stop at least a little of the madness. “I told her, ‘You are in a great position to stop some of this...these women hang on your every word.’”
While the recovery aspect of Bellies Inc certainly has an aesthetic benefit--repairing diasatis recti can have a slimming effect on the post-baby pooch--the true goal is to rehabilitate muscles to prevent injury, and also to help foster not just an acceptance of the “Baby Belly”...but an appreciation.
“You have to honor your body ...what it’s done,” Samantha says. “What it’s accomplished.”
High-visibility women who flaunt flattened abs 10 minutes after giving birth and post videos of their back-in-gear workouts before the baby even loses its cord aren’t the only people Samantha believes should be taken to task for fueling wrong approaches to restoring the postpartum body.
“Doctors are telling women that at 6 weeks postpartum you can go back to doing anything,” Samantha says. “That’s crazy. It took almost a year to grow this pregnancy...the effect on your body isn’t going to be healed in a matter of weeks.”
Samantha believes that postpartum guidance is improving in the United States and Canada, but also thinks it has a long way to go.
“I think it’s pretty bad,” Samantha says, of doctors’ advice for postpartum women. “It’s getting incrementally better, because of the rising interaction with physiotherapists, but you’ll still have physicians that shrug off the suggestion of finding a physiotherapist, when I believe it’s a staple. Everyone who’s had a baby needs to see a physiotherapist, if possible.”
Bellies Inc advocates an approach that incorporates physiotherapy and restorative exercises (as well as their innovative band) to mitigate the effects of childbearing and childbirth before a mom starts an intense regimen that may increase the muscle separation that often occurs as a result. Your core, as we all know now, is your basis for almost everything you do, fitness-wise. Getting it healed so that you can strengthen it again--and enjoy a long, hopefully injury-free fitness life after you’re fully recovered--is what Bellies Inc is all about. It’s a more conservative approach than has been traditionally touted, but Samantha and company believe less is more when you’re fresh out of the childbirth gate, and chomping at the bit to get back in the game.
That can be a hard pill for a gung-ho fitness buff to swallow. Samantha has experienced what it’s like to break the news to an exercise junkie that it may not be the best thing for your body to jump full force back into your pre-baby routine.
“A runner we were helping asked me how soon she could start running again,” Samantha says. “When I told her, ‘In about 9 months’, she looked at me like she was going to cry. I told her, “You can ignore me and do it anyway...but at some point, if you start having trouble, you’ll have to stop and address it. Why not do it first?””
(“It” being a course of action to re-strengthen muscles before additional stress is put on them.)
It’s not easy to qualify how many later injuries are the result of jumping back into certain types of exercise too quickly after childbirth, but if they’re core related, Samantha’s point is that proper rehabilitation in the beginning is the surest way to move forward securely.
Bellies Inc was born (no pun intended) out of a connection between moms who were searching for their own answers, and finally decided to share their knowledge with the postpartum world at large.
“I had my first child and noticed a separation,” Samantha says. “I couldn’t get a lot of guidance and started doing my own research and then I began blogging about the subject.”
She and two other women started cross referencing information, eventually met for coffee, and decided to go into business together.
“At first it was just going to be a band, a product,” Samantha says, “But then we realized that we needed to offer exercises, too, to strengthen, and not just support temporarily.”
Building a business that helps women repair their muscles postpartum is a noble endeavor.
But the mission to encourage women to celebrate what their bodies have done when they bring a life into the world, and not just look at their midsections with critical eyes...that’s an almost valiant undertaking, when you consider the pressure that women put on themselves, at any time in life, but most especially after they’ve done something that literally perpetuates the human race...and feel ashamed of how they look, afterwards.
“We always feel as if we have to prove how strong we are,” Samantha says, “That we can do what men can do--and sometimes even do it better--but a woman racing to get back to trying to do that when she’s postpartum forgets...you just gave birth to a baby.”
“No man on the planet can do that.”