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10 Tips to Deflate Postpartum Belly Bloat

Are you no longer pregnant, but still seeing a belly “pooch”?  If so, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re in the majority. There are several causes of an enlarged midsection after birth (such as Diastasis Recti, excess abdominal fat, and excess skin). However, one potential cause — that is easily correctable — could simply be bloating. In this piece, Registered Dietitian and PROnatal Advisory Board Member, Madison Milmeister, discusses why postpartum bloating is so common, how to distinguish if the pooch you are seeing is bloated related, and 10 tips to help deflate the bloat.

Why is Postpartum Belly Bloat Common?

Typically, postpartum bloating is due to some form of constipation caused by a temporary factor like the fluctuating and rebalancing of your hormones, medications to relieve pain, change in diet, change in movement habits, lack of sleep and the stress of having a new human to care for. These factors can be the perfect recipe for bloating and constipation – even for the healthiest of people. It is common for women to experience constipation for up to three months after giving birth. So, it is important to give yourself some time (at least a couple of months) to even out.
How Do You Distinguish Bloating from Belly Fat?
  1. Belly fat can be grabbed in your hand, whereas bloating causes a distention in the abdomen that is firm and sometimes even rock hard and can’t be grasped.
  2. Belly fat does not change much within a few days’ time. However, bloating often does. Over the course of a couple of days, take note of your belly size at the beginning of the day, and at the end. Bloating typically causes the stomach to expand throughout the day. Some types of bloating are visible within an hour or so after eating. Depending on the cause of belly bloating, it can shift locations occurring in the upper or lower belly area – or both.
  3. Finally, postpartum belly bloating will usually be accompanied by various symptoms such as flatulence, mild cramps, pressure, constipation, and possibly even diarrhea.

10 Tips to Decrease Bloating

  1. Eat Larger, Consolidated Meals: Wait WHAT?! Yes… that’s right. Larger meals. This will help you trigger what’s called the gastrocolic reflex (GCR), a nerve signal that stimulates your colon (the last part of your intestines). This works by activating stretch receptors inside the stomach, which detect how full the stomach is getting from a meal. The receptors then send the message down to the colon to make more room for incoming content by pushing everything onward and outward. The greater the trigger, the stronger the response. Small mini meals will not have this same effect. So, when trying to clear out constipation – eat three more sizable meals each day to take advantage of this natural evacuation mechanism.
    • What is a sizeable meal? It’s something that fills you up, but doesn’t push you over the edge. One a scale of 1-10 hunger — with 1 being famished and 10 being the fullest, you should be at about a 7. Also, it’s a meal, so it should include a good mix of fiber-filled carbohydrates (think vegetables here – broccoli, sweet potatoes, kale, squash, etc.), protein, and healthy fats (like cheeses, olive oil, avocados, etc.).
  2. Eat Enough Fat: Don’t avoid all fats in an effort to lose weight. Fat stimulates the release of bile from the gall bladder, which naturally stimulates the movement of your intestines and facilitates propulsive contractions of your colon which helps get the waste out. Focus on healthy fats like nuts, avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, fatty fish, nut butters and full fat dairy.
  3. Get Enough Fiber: You want to get a good balance of both fiber types – soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber helps soak up the moisture in food and give waste an easier ride through the digestive tract. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to your stool, speeding up transit time and can ultimately help relieve constipation. Focus on fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes for great sources fiber sources. While whole grains do contain fiber as well, they are often not the best sources when eaten in a modified form like in breads and cereals.
  4. Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate! When you’re not hydrating adequately, your body retains water to prevent dehydration. Staying hydrated can actually reduce water retention. Additionally, drinking enough water can help prevent constipation. Try to get at least 2-3 liters of fluids each day (preferably most of it is water).
  5. Avoid Inulin: Inulin is one of the most abundant types of fiber in processed foods, which aim to boost up the fiber content like cereals, bars, low-carb pastas, low-cal yogurts, low-cal frozen treats, probiotic supplements, and protein powders. One problem – inulin is notorious for making you more gassy and increasing the bloat.  Stay far away while in a bloated state. Check your labels for this gassy culprit! Common aliases for inulin are chicory root fiber, Jerusalem artichoke fiber, and yacon syrup.
  6. Drink Coffee in the Morning: Well most new moms can say “CHECK” to this one. Coffee contains a compound called chlorogenic acid, which stimulates the motility of the colon. Due to the naturally higher morning levels of cortisol, your bowel is primed to relieve itself before 10am. Adding a well-timed dose of coffee to this natural rhythm can help you clear out some old waste and reduce your feelings of bloat. Just remember, try not to overdue the coffee as caffeine does make its way into the breastmilk and too much has been reported to cause fussiness in your baby (more than 3 cups or so).
  7. Use a Magnesium Supplement: Magnesium supplements can help alleviate bloating related to constipation because certain types of magnesium draw water into the bowel and soften your stool, making them easier to pass. If you’re feeling bloated as a result of constipation, try a magnesium supplement. THE KIND YOU TAKE MATTERS. For constipation, take magnesium citrate.
  8. Try a Probiotic: Although probiotics usually get touted as a cure-all for any gut issue, they are actually a highly specific supplement. This means you need to match the type of probiotic you take to the symptom you’re trying to relieve. In the case of constipation, look for a probiotic that has a combination of Lactobacillus and Bifidus This combination has been shown in studies to be effective at treating constipation.
  9. Move Daily: Although the exact mechanism of how exercise effects your bowels is still up for debate, one thing is for sure: Body movement = Bowel movements. Studies show that sedentary subjects are three times more likely to report constipation… and constipation can lead to bloating. In the immediate post-partum weeks, try to go for a walk for at least 30 minutes most days of the week. Once you are cleared to exercise, then you can do more. However, it’s essential to ensure you transition back into exercise safely, such as with the PROnatal postpartum training program or by working with a PROnatal Personal Trainer.
  10. Mindful Meditation: It may seem like a pipedream to think about getting some quite time to yourself to meditate. But if you can… you should. Studies show that mindful meditation can have a very positive impact on your bowels. By stimulating changes within the brain—changes that affect the way we process sensations, our thoughts, and our emotional responses, mindful meditation can help reduce anxiety related GI symptoms like constipation (what new mom doesn’t have anxiety?!). Even if you can’t find a large block of time to devote to this, try a few 5-10 minute mindful meditations each day while you’re breastfeeding, pumping, or while your baby is napping.

Last Important Notes

It’s important to keep in mind that none of these will be a “magic fix” when used in isolation. Alleviating bloating related to constipation is usually best accomplished with a multifactorial approach.  So, try to incorporate as many of these techniques into your daily routine as possible. However, be kind to yourself and take it slow. The last thing you want to do is put MORE stress on yourself and then worsen the monster of bloating. If after trying out some — or all — of these tips you’re still feeling excessively bloated and uncomfortable, seek out the care of a gastroenterologist who can determine if you have a more specific and chronic gastrointestinal issue that is causing you to bloat.

For more information on postpartum nutrition from Madison — including safe and effective weight loss, healing your body, and nutritional approaches to optimize breastmilk — check out our Postpartum Training Program.

About the Author

Madison Milmeister is a registered dietitian – and mother — who specializes in fertility and pregnancy nutrition.  She holds an undergraduate degree in Nutrition Science and a master’s degree in Clinical Nutrition. She is currently completing a Master of Education at Columbia University with thesis work that highlights the important role of diet in human fertility.  Madison loves working with and inspiring women to pursue peak health early on in their pregnancy journey because she wants to help create a healthier next generation, indefinitely. Her research and practice has led her to the motto, “A person’s health starts with the effort of their parents.” Have questions for Madison? Reach out to her at madison@mamahera.com.

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