It’s a little-discussed fact of new motherhood: You give birth and, for a while, your stomach still looks a little like you’re pregnant, even though the baby has vacated the premises.
The Bachelor star and new mom Catherine Giudici got candid about it in an Instagram post simply captioned “one week.” (She gave birth to her son, Samuel, in early July.) In the corresponding split picture, Giudici is shown modeling a profile of her baby bump on one side and cradling her still slightly-rounded post-baby belly on another.
But the postbaby bump is still a shock for a lot of new moms. Why does it happen?
There are a lot of reasons for it, but a major one is that your uterus, which has to stretch out during pregnancy, doesn’t just automatically return to size, says Jason James, M.D., medical director at Miami’s FemCare Ob-Gyn. “Many factors influence how quickly this occurs, including prepregnancy weight, age, genetic factors, how large the baby was, activity and diet, breastfeeding, and vaginal versus cesarean delivery,” he explains. Also, an enlarged uterus can be more obvious in petite women like Giudici than in others, he adds.
Michael Cackovic, M.D., an ob-gyn at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, points out that your uterus can take time—like up to two months—to bounce back. While the top of it is often found just over your belly button a few days over delivery, “it reaches the normal prepregnancy size in about six to eight weeks,” he says.
And then there’s the fact that your abs have been slowly stretched out for nine months. “It happens subtly, day by day, like braces,” says Jim Pivarnik, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology at Michigan State University who studies the effect of exercise on pregnant women. “The changes are so small that you can’t see them, but it takes time for your muscle lengths to reset.” Even if you do core exercises afterward, he says it can still take months to get your abdominal muscles back to where they were pre-baby.
Some women manage to avoid the post-baby bump, but it’s pretty rare to have flat abs after giving birth, says women’s health expert, Jennifer Wider, M.D.—and there’s really no way to know in advance if you’ll have a pooch or not.
Her advice: Cut yourself some slack. Pivarnik agrees. “For 99 percent of women, you’re not going to have flat abs again in a few weeks,” he says. “And that’s OK. It’s totally normal.”