Baby Family Motherhood Photography Pip Pregnancy

The Fourth Trimester: the reality of a Mummy tummy


I’d like to think of myself as not being a particularly vain person.  I don’t think I’m terribly obsessed with my image and my overall look, which is probably born out by the number of times I’ve turned up to nursery recently with at least one hastily mopped up damp patch about my person and that my hair styling choices have been red hair bobble or orange hair bobble.  I didn’t think I was generally susceptible to peer pressure either, to the constant barrage of images and messages that make up our everyday lives, some helpful, others not so much.

And yet. And yet it turns out it might all be a giant fib, a little light illusion to make me feel good about myself, after all who really admits that they are a slave to the media’s “do this! do that!”

Five and a bit weeks ago I gave birth to a very gorgeous, very long, very snuggly little 9lb 9oz son.    And although the birth plan went a little bit out of the window (that’s why I don’t write them anymore), it was a great birth experience.  My recovery on the other hand was tougher than I expected.

For the first 24 hours or so after he was born I could only really stand upright comfortably and walk if I was holding my tummy in with a spare hand.  I don’t know whether this is what was happening or not but the only way I can describe it is that it felt like Pip and everything that surrounded him stretched out my tummy further than it’s been stretched before and that once he was delivered all of my internal organs decided to go and hang out in this nice newly vacated space.

I’d try to engage my core muscles to put everything back where it should be and they just weren’t there.  And that bit at least I know is true; my abdominal muscles have been stretched and pushed and tested over the last nine months to the point that I’ve been told in no uncertain terms that I am not to do any kind of ab exercises until after my 6 week check up, and then ease into things nice and gently.

It’s a consequence of being me, carrying the way I carry my children (netball up the jumper style), and having two large babies within 20 months of each other.  And it’s a consequence that I’m more than happy to take for the very great privilege of being Kitty, Elma and Pip’s Mummy.

And as and when it’s sensible and safe for me to do so I’ll start adding in a little exercise to my daily routine and slowly but surely I hope that I’ll be able to rebuild my core strength, work through the weight that I put on during this pregnancy, and reacquaint myself with some non-maternity clothes. It’s going to be hard work, but it’s going to be doable.

So far so good.

And yet.

I know that women don’t generally just ping back into shape one month postpartum, particularly in subsequent pregnancies. I’ve had three children for goodness sake and with the exception of a colleague who was back in her jeans in less than 2 weeks (incidentally having delivered a much smaller baby and being an all over more miniature person than me) and probably the girl in the bay opposite me on the postnatal ward who practically had a flat tummy again as she toddled out of hospital with her 6lb something teeny tiny baby daughter in a very shiny brand new car seat, it’s taken the rest of us several months at least before ordinary clothes became an appealing prospect.

So why do I feel so self conscious about my little Father Christmas style jelly belly?  Why do I feel like when I leave the house I want a giant neon sign to flash above my head “I am not fat, I just had a baby!”? (incidentally H’s answer to that one was “you do – it’s the baby!”)

Could it be vanity; wanting to be that magical and largely mythical sort of supermum that makes Mary Poppins look mediocre, cooks every meal from scratch, more to the point has children who eat everything she makes from scratch, is always attentive to her husband, immaculately dressed and shod, and claims that she just bounced back into shape with a little light breastfeeding?

Or is it that I’m not as immune as I thought I was and that an over-exposure to Grazia magazine courtesy of the doctor’s waiting room has got my subconscious convinced that the right way to do this, the way that makes me a success at the final stage of pregnancy and birth, is to look like I never did it in the first place?

Whatever the cause I don’t like the answer.  I don’t want to feel embarrassed or want to hide the shape I am.  My body just did something amazing, and is continuing to do something amazing, and if it needs to let everything all hang out for a little while longer that should be OK.

I was always taught that if you didn’t like something you need to work to change it.  I can’t do anything to change my shape just yet (well I could probably reduce the hobnob intake, but I already switched from chocolate to plain and when you’re nursing two children that’s quite enough self sacrifice), all I can do is change how I feel about it.

So as a first step I took a picture.  A bump picture from the fourth trimester. A picture to say this, this is the reality, this is what your tummy actually looks like a month after delivery when you’re 34 years old, a little on the plumper side to start with, and you carry a 9lb 9oz baby to 41 weeks.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

And this, silly subconscious, is why you shouldn’t care.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Because all the funny sideways glances, real or imaginary, or the acquaintance who comments in delight that you’ve got another baby on the way while the baby you’ve just had snoozes next to you in the pram mean absolutely nothing to this little boy; and to this little boy I am the world.

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  • sally 01/10/2014 at 7:28 am

    Definitely focus on those last few thoughts! And also, for what it’s worth, you could focus on the fact that you may, very understandably, have a bit of a post baby belly, but all the rest of you – legs, arms, bum etc! – are all looking very trim and fit. And that’s really not surprising, given the way you were climbing hills just before giving birth. So you could most definitely not think of yourself as plump or anything else along those lines.

    • Carie 01/10/2014 at 1:07 pm

      Aww thank you, you’re very kind 🙂 it’s a sort of head vs heart conundrum isn’t it – I just need to get the heart to listen to the head!

  • Caroline (Becoming a SAHM) 01/10/2014 at 8:56 am

    What a beutiful and honest post Carie. It is so hard to push those negative thoughts away. We are bombarded with images of perfection everywhere and its not just about how we look but how we should be the ‘perfect’ mother and it just isn’t attainable. I hate all the stories about celebs ‘bouncing back’ into shape after pregnancy as it’s so shallow! But I have to admit I react and I know I will feel the same as you when baby is born and I have a mummy tummy. Having said that, when I read a recent story about a celeb who was back to a size 8 a few weeks after birth, but was yet to name her baby, it made it quite clear to me where her priorities lay. Much better to try and put aside thoughts of your appearance, and concentrate on your baby I think! You’ll get back to yourself when the time is right but your body needs to heal first. Anyway you look gorgeous as ever xx #sharewithme

    • Carie 01/10/2014 at 1:09 pm

      It is annoying isn’t it – mostly because I don’t want to react like that to myself, I don’t think it’s particularly healthy and it’s certainly not what I want to model to my girls, and a little bit because I thought I was a bit more immune to that celeb culture than I apparently am!

  • Mel 01/10/2014 at 9:51 am

    A lovely post, really honest. People don’t tell you about this… when I had my first little one, I had packed ‘regular’ jeans. By that, I mean jeans that were a bit baggy pre-pregnancy. I just thought I would fit in them after giving birth. Ha ha ha, I had no idea! Came home in PJs. #SharewithMe

  • lucy 01/10/2014 at 10:03 am

    What a brave, honest and lovely post Carie. I was a lucky ping-back mummy the first time around, but it was just that… luck. And it didn’t strike me twice. Second time I didn’t ping back, and I had to work at it, but I took my merry time and she was nearly a year old before I returned to proper exercise. I know I’ve heard on more than one occasion that it takes the body at least two years to recover from pregnancy, so baring in mind you weren’t over Elma’s before you were expecting Pip, I think you can definitely cut yourself some slack.
    And please know that we have all felt like this. I posts a “40 weeks post” with BG, which featured a day old baby and a still very visible baby bump. I was one day post partum and already felt a bit miserable that I looked so big. And I so so nearly didn’t post that post simply because I felt that I looked awful and huge. But I did in the end, and I’m glad now. It’s one of my favourite photos from those early days, and now all I see when I look at it is what an amazing thing that baby tummy gave me!

    • Carie 01/10/2014 at 1:19 pm

      I didn’t exactly ping back the first time (lucky you) but I was wearing a normal dress for Kitty’s christening at 2 months old so the tummy obviously didn’t hang around too long – not so much with Elma and now Pip too!! And thank you for sharing that you’ve felt like this too – I didn’t mind so much in the pictures when Pip was days old but I was really in two minds about posting these pictures, well the first one anyway, because I don’t really like looking like that, but given how much it seems to resonate with people I’m glad I did.

  • preeta samarasan 01/10/2014 at 10:20 am

    This is the very best sort of post that could ever be written on this topic. I think every mum-to-be needs to read this. I haven’t much to add except to say this: if you’ll remember, I sort of stumbled upon your blog one day and left a comment entirely because of a pretty purple dress Kitty was wearing. But as you can see, I’ve kept coming back — it’s been nearly a year now! And I don’t like to gush — it isn’t really my style, especially with people I’ve never met — but I will say that the reason I’ve kept coming back is that you are honest without being gloomy, encouraging without being judgemental, and always so thoughtful and articulate. I wanted to say this after a recent post in which you wrote that Pip sleeps “exactly as a newborn should” — I wanted to stand up and cheer upon reading those words, because yes, one can read words *like* them in other places — that newborns are meant to wake up frequently for milk and comfort throughout the night — but you conveyed that so very simply and matter-of-factly and with no judgement of all those who seem to think that babies should sleep through the night at [insert impossibly early age]. It was the same when you first talked about the possibility of nursing two — again, you just talked about *yourself* and *your family* and therefore avoided pointing fingers at either “side.” So thank you for your lovely perspective and for these sweet pictures. Your family is beautiful, and your children are lucky to have you. Your daughters, especially, are so very lucky to have a mum who thinks this way.

    • Carie 01/10/2014 at 1:21 pm

      Oh you’re so very sweet – now I’m blushing, and a little bit teary – thank you very much 🙂

  • Lizzie 01/10/2014 at 10:26 am

    We’ll done you, bodies that make babies are beautiful! This is how I carried my babies too. I was advised to wear a support round my immediate post baby tummy to help me stand up. I have found (3 years and a few tunnock’s tea cakes later) that Pilates really helps) I love your blog!

    • Carie 01/10/2014 at 1:24 pm

      I’m so glad it wasn’t just me that couldn’t stand up – for a while I wondered whether I’d properly broken something! If there’s ever a next time I’m definitely getting a support band – a midwife suggested it but I was back to walking by the time we had enough time to go in search of one 🙂

  • Caroline 01/10/2014 at 10:38 am

    I thought you looked fabulous pregnant and you look fabulous now. No one sane is making any judgement on your appearance they are looking at your beautiful family and the wonderful woman holding it all together. To be honest the joy on your face is all I see x

    • Carie 01/10/2014 at 1:24 pm

      Aww thank you lovely x

  • Lauren 01/10/2014 at 10:40 am

    Oh Carie this made me cry. It’s beautiful yet sad at the same time because as women we do seem to have this pressure to lose the bump and have a tiny tummy straight away.
    I love that you’ve shown and described the realistic side to our post baby body.
    I think you look amazing xx

    • Carie 01/10/2014 at 1:27 pm

      thank you so very much 🙂 It does make you feel sorry for the people who are really really under pressure to look perfect again – at least I’ve got the luxury of obscurity and a year before I even need to consider business dress again!

  • Anna 01/10/2014 at 12:31 pm

    I totally agree with all the comments above, thanks for sharing this and being so honest. You look beautiful. I’m feeling pretty frumpy myself right now, 7 months after giving birth to number 2 and constantly wearing the same hair style and jeans (have a new pair, but foolishly went for the optimistic smaller size option!) and really feeling like I should start doing some proper exercise. But then life is long(ish) and infancy is short. There is a season for running and fitness and a season for breastfeeding and treating yourself kindly. With cake on hand.

    • Carie 01/10/2014 at 1:31 pm

      I couldn’t agree more – cake is always the answer! I just have to keep telling myself that, mind over matter. And I’m certain that you don’t look in the least bit frumpy 🙂

  • Notmyyearoff 01/10/2014 at 12:39 pm

    You look gorgeous and congratulations on your little man 🙂 I remember having Z and looking down at my tummy thinking it looked like a big deflated balloon. I think after the aches and groans after the 9 months, after baby is out, we have our body somewhat back again and we want it to be back to normal. I liked walking, it wasn’t too strenuous but did little things to help it go back to (kind of) what it used to be. xx

    • Carie 01/10/2014 at 1:32 pm

      Thank you 🙂 I think you’re right about part of it just being wanting to be back to normal – but that will come in its own time (hopefully)

  • To Infinity and IVF 01/10/2014 at 12:41 pm

    Thanks for the very lovely comment on my blog, I know it took me about 2 to 3 years to get my tummy back to what it kind of was – I was really slack with exercise so I guess it was probably fair to take that long. Beautifully written post 🙂

    • Carie 01/10/2014 at 1:35 pm

      thank you 🙂 From everything I’ve read, and echoing Lucy’s comment, its supposed to take us two years to recover – the mystery is why and how anyone decided it should be less than that!

  • Louise (@TattooedMumsy) 01/10/2014 at 1:42 pm

    A lovely honest post, it’s so refreshing to read this. There is so much pressure put on women to get back in shape after having a baby. I’m the opposite, the first few weeks I felt like I was back to normal but as I healed form a section I began to see my wobbly belly. I tried to not worry about it for the res to f my mat leave but just enjoy my little baby, maybe a bit too much as it’s only now, 15 months later I feel I have it in to make a proper start on getting my shape back. When I look at your pictures I’m immediately drawn to your happy disposition and the gorgeous baby not your tummy xo

    • Carie 02/10/2014 at 5:01 pm

      Aww thank you 🙂 it’s that odd mixture of wanting to not care and then caring when I catch someone giving me a sideways glance.

  • Becky | Spirited Puddle Jumper 01/10/2014 at 2:33 pm

    I hope this post gives women who are post-partum lots of confidence, carie! It’s crazy how much pressure there is to snap back straight away. I’m with you on feeling like things had shifted internally! It takes a good while to regain strength. I went for a run last summer when Sasha was just over 1, and it seriously felt like my insides were going to fall out! Fast forward another year, and running is fine and I feel much stronger in the tummy/pelvic/abdominal area. Sasha is over 2! It can take our bodies a long time to heal properly, and I think mine tooks ages because I had 2 babies within 15 months. xx PS I thought you were loads younger than 34! xx

    • Carie 02/10/2014 at 5:09 pm

      It definitely seems like second and subsequent pregnancies are the ones that cause all the trouble, especially when they’re close together – hopefully one day I won’t feel like my innerds are quite so wobbly, though it is quite funny when I laugh!

  • Brandi 01/10/2014 at 2:38 pm

    You and babe are beautiful! It does take time…my maternity/non maternity lines blurred years ago as far as clothes go, but I sure do look forward to feeling like myself again. Pretty sure my abs will never be the same (I think mine split with my last pregnancy, there is no hope for them now). Hopefully you’ll be back in form before you know it!

    • Carie 02/10/2014 at 5:10 pm

      Hopefully – I know my abs had started to separate with Elma so goodness knows what’s left after Pip!

  • Donna 01/10/2014 at 5:22 pm

    You look great to me. The one thing I wish was enforced more during pregnancy is the fact that after birth most mothers still look 6 months pregnant and will do until their tummies go back down – whenever that may be.
    It’s so refreshing to hear a post like this rather than just a ‘look how amazing I look just after birth’ post. You’re human and completely normal and I love that about you and your whole family x

    • Carie 02/10/2014 at 5:11 pm

      I think that’s the key too, the ‘whenever that may be’ bit, and the realisation that it won’t necessarily be for a few months after delivery and it doesn’t mean they ‘let themselves go’ 🙂

  • Sara 01/10/2014 at 8:57 pm

    You and your words and your soul and your body are just beautiful. 🙂

    • Carie 02/10/2014 at 5:15 pm

      Aww thank you 🙂

  • Sara (@mumturnedmom) 01/10/2014 at 10:15 pm

    Fantastic post, just wonderful. So honest, true and real. After three sections my body will never look the same, but my husband calls it my magic tummy, and I love that; and actually – it is! #sharewithme

    • Carie 02/10/2014 at 5:16 pm

      Your husband is wonderful!! I love a magic tummy, and definitely true, it’s done something amazing three times!

  • ailsa 01/10/2014 at 10:28 pm

    Just to say, although I rarely comment on your blog I read every post and enjoy your photos immensely.

    My daughter gave birth to a 11lb 4oz baby 8 months ago and her tummy hasn’t completely recovered. I gave birth to 2 biggish babies (the last one 24 years ago) and I still have a bit of a baby tummy, I don’t think the muscles completely recover unless you are really lucky or you have the time & money to exercise like the ‘stars’ (I use that term with tongue in cheek) do.

    • Carie 02/10/2014 at 5:20 pm

      Thank you very much 🙂 I think you never do go back to how you were pre baby, particularly not after three babies, I think I’d just like to not mind that it’s going to take several months of maternity clothes! And kudos to your daughter – 11lb 4oz is a lot of baby!

  • Jenny 01/10/2014 at 10:43 pm

    What a beautiful and honest and brave post Carie. WOW you almost had me in tears as I can relate so much with the pressures and questioning myself the second time around. The first I was a ping back but the second nothing ping anywhere forever. It was a challenge and I continue to have to watch myself that little tummy just never is the same. We are women and have babies and our babies change so much over 9 months it took to get that way it makes sense to take another or more so to get back to some what normal. I love that you took a photo and I love also that you proved it with another beautiful photo why it doesn’t matter! lol You are so beautiful inside and OUT! Great post. Thanks for linking up to Share With Me. I hope to see you again soon. #sharewithme

    • Carie 02/10/2014 at 5:22 pm

      Thank you, it’s been lovely to know that I’m not alone in this 🙂

  • Claire @ Clarina's Contemplations 01/10/2014 at 11:37 pm

    Oh Carie… I so TOTALLY get this. I also had two big babies within 18 months of each other, also had to do the hold-the-tummy thing and lost my abdominal muscles to the point where I had to have physio! I have battled with this so long, and even now, my body doesn’t, and will never, look the way it did pre-children… But you are so right to preach that message to yourself… What does it matter?! We have these glorious bundles of joy to show for it! A wonderful post!x

    • Carie 02/10/2014 at 10:41 pm

      Thank you very much 🙂 I’ve got another week and then I’m allowed to find out what muscles I’ve got left – hopefully there’s something there to work with 🙂

  • Jojo 02/10/2014 at 9:42 am

    This post should be syndicated in the press . Your raw achingly honest words would resonate with SO SO many women who have given birth. When I had my first child 23 years ago, I was utterly shocked at my wrinkled saggy bloated tummy. I was also alarmed at the bleeding which continued for so long afterwards. These topics were never discussed not even in antenatal classes. Had I been able to read your post at the time, it would have made SUCH a difference. Well DONE Carie for putting this subject out there.

    • Carie 02/10/2014 at 10:41 pm

      Well thank you very much, I’m flattered 🙂

  • ghostwritermummy 02/10/2014 at 10:50 am

    I think you look amazing. Please don’t give yourself a hard time about getting back into shape, life is far too short. Enjoy your babies and ignore the media/ skinny ladies. x x x

    • Carie 02/10/2014 at 10:43 pm

      Aww thank you 🙂 – I’m not really bothered by how other people look I think, so much as feeling horribly shallow about how I look – but hopefully my inner critic will start to get a grip soon!

  • Rachel @ The Ordinary Lovely 02/10/2014 at 2:02 pm

    Well don’t those last two photos sum it all up absolutely beautifully. I have days when I look at my tummy and wonder if it will ever stop wobbling and other days of really not caring. My boys were both 10 pound whoppers and I’m only 5 foot 4 so I just grew outward. My skin has no chance of returning to its pre-baby condition but I have two cherubs to show for it.

    • Carie 02/10/2014 at 10:52 pm

      Wow, two 10lb babies! And I thought I was doing well with two 8lb something girls and a alb 9oz wee man! I think I lurch from not being bothered (usually when in my house) to caring more than I should (when I catch sight of my reflection in shop windows) and it really makes me wonder where that reaction came from – hence this post!

  • Katie @mummydaddyme 02/10/2014 at 2:50 pm

    Carie what a beautiful and honest post. I for one think you look great and I wish this post could get shared over and over because it would resonate and help other women I am sure. I bounced back ok after my first pregnancy, second not so much. In January, after 11 months of LL being here, I decided enough was enough and that I was going to start to exercise. It has been a long hard slog but I am proud of what I have achieved. But I still have wobbly bits, a saggy wrinkly belly, and well my boobs? They are something else. Breastfeeding two babies, plus losing almost 2 stone has meant they have disappeared and all that is left is saggy lumps (gross but true) I, like you, have days where I think I made two humans and that is that matters, but on other days I feel a little glum. But deep down at the end of the day we wouldn’t change it.
    I think you have written this post beautifully Carie, we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about this kind of thing. You are beautiful, inside and out, and you have a beautiful family. xx

    • Carie 02/10/2014 at 11:00 pm

      Aww thank you 🙂 I know I wouldn’t change even one stretch mark or poochy tummy because they are the marks of my children but perhaps it’s also OK to look back and think I really liked how I looked before the babies came along! From everyone’s comments it seems that we’re all in the same boat which makes it crazy that the actual reality of post-baby bodies is rarely spoken about, especially when we’re also trying to be role models to our daughters and teach them to love themselves for who they are.

  • Katie 04/10/2014 at 10:02 pm

    Just beautiful Carie, those photos and words at the end made me teary eyed. Everything you say is so true xx

    • Carie 04/10/2014 at 11:00 pm

      thank you lovely 🙂

  • Bex @ The Mummy Adventure 05/10/2014 at 12:02 am

    It took me days to bounce back the first time (I was so lucky), months the second and I am resigning myself to the fact it will probably be years this time, but I also think that with each baby I care less. Beautiful and honest words and Pip is just perfect x

    • Carie 05/10/2014 at 7:01 am

      I think I’m definitely going for year this time – maybe decades!! 🙂

  • older mum in a muddle 05/10/2014 at 11:06 am

    This is a wonderful post… I didn’t feel too great about my body afterwards either, and as I had Little A at the age of 39, it took years to get myself back into shape (those poor tummy muscles suffered), but still I have a little bit of a tummy and lots of stretch marks. You look beautiful in the photo, and Pip is simply magical. X

    • Carie 05/10/2014 at 7:04 pm

      Thank you very much 🙂