No matter how much you’ve anticipated the sleep deprivation and fatigue following your baby’s birth, the level of exhaustion that most new parents feel can still take them by surprise. With the care needs of your newborn baby occupying your days and nights, it’s not surprising that many new parents have precious little time to consider their own needs. The physical and emotional transition to parenthood can bring mixed feelings too – the elation of being a new mum, as well as the transition in moving from being partners to becoming parents, which can impact on some new mums’ sense of identity and confidence in their body image. This article provides some simple tried and tested tips for looking and feeling good, even on those days when you feel anything but!
Women tend to put on around two stone in weight during pregnancy, so it is natural that your body feels different to the way it did before pregnancy and birth. The muscles of your abdominal wall (called the rectus abdominus) gradually separate as the pregnancy advances and your uterus (womb) grows larger. These muscles remain separated for awhile after the birth, so your abdomen can feel a bit like a ’jelly belly’. Please don’t worry though, the abdominal wall muscles will come together again and doing postnatal exercises can help to strengthen them further. See our section on ‘Postnatal exercises’. Your midwife can also advise you and if you have any concerns, can refer you to an obstetric physiotherapist for specialist support and guidance.
It is perfectly natural to have a thickened waistline in the early weeks/months post birth, so when dressing think about comfort, but also about details that will divert attention away from your post-baby belly. If you wear a garment that has some extra detailing or embellishment around the neckline, on the shoulders, or on the sleeves/cuffs, people’s eyes will automatically be drawn towards these and away from your waistline. You may also find that bolder and colourful prints help to camouflage rather than draw attention to any wobbly bits. We tended to favour dresses and tunics that had ruches, draping or some pleating details around the waistline, as these also helped to hide our post-baby bellies.
Time is of the essence and leggings/jeggings and tunics tend to come into their own post birth. They are easy-to wear, comfortable when lifting and cuddling a young baby and come in a range of fabrics and styles. Any styles that draw attention away from the waistline eg garments with an empire line (ie have a seam just beneath your bust) and v-neckline are ideal in pregnancy and post birth too! While it may be tempting to live in jogging bottoms and sweatshirts, as you settle into a routine with your baby’s care, it’s important to try to make the effort to dress up sometimes and feel good about your appearance. Some garments give shape all the time and are hugely flattering – a fitted jacket is a prime example! They nip you in at the waist; sit at the level of your hips, and the jacket’s lapels draw the eyes upwards away from your tummy. A lot of fashion retailers now offer fitted jackets that are made up in jersey fabrics; these have the added benefit of stretching – practical when you’re tackling car safety seats, prams and buggies! Similarly, a tailored blazer or striped jacket (NB Horizontal stripes ARE slimming!) are timeless classics and looks great with a pair of smart jeans and stilettos or kitten heels, or with a pair of boyfriend jeans and pumps. They also work just as well over a dress, skirt and trousers.
During the first 24 hours post birth, you lose the extra fluid that you were carrying in pregnancy and pass lots of urine. You will soon begin to notice that puffy feet and ankles are a thing of the past, as your pre-pregnancy ankles reappear and you can look forward to getting back into your heels again. It is a well known fact that wearing a pair of heels elongates your legs and makes your calf muscles look slimmer.
Having a baby is expensive and many new parents find that they need to pull in their purse strings. Purchasing a small number of items to make up a capsule wardrobe is something that requires careful thought. A great way of ringing the changes to an often limited number of garments is through careful accessorising. Sue and I swear by scarves and have a drawer full each in different colour-ways, textures and patterns. You don’t have to pay out a fortune for a Pashmina; there are a great many lighter weight alternatives out there. Amazon.co.uk is a great place to purchase inexpensive scarves in an extensive range of classic, contemporary and novelty designs.
We both also love wearing necklaces – chunky, eye-catching necklaces can be instantly slimming because they draw the eyes upwards, away from your baby belly and, if breastfeeding, towards your larger cleavage (décolletage). There are a number of retailers who now offer a range of bold, colourful, rubberised jewellery which has been designed to be stylish and baby-friendly too. Babies will often explore the world around them by placing items into their mouths; if they are teething, they will want to bite on things to soothe the discomfort. These chunky bangles and necklaces look attractive, are safe for your baby to bite on, and can even be kept in the fridge – just like a cooled teething ring!
Because breastfeeding is baby-led, you need to be able to feed (nurse) your baby whenever they want to and wherever you happen to be. This means that breastfeeding mums need to have a wardrobe which includes items that enable them to breastfeed their baby as discreetly as possible without necessarily exposing too much breast. A lot of clothes that are designed specifically for nursing mums have integral flaps, fastenings and layers which facilitate access for breastfeeding. However, if you are unsure how long you’re going to breastfeed for and/or wish to avoid a large financial outlay, you may choose to do what other mums do and layer your garments instead of buying nursing wear. Wearing a vest top or camisole under your t-shirt or blouse, will minimise exposure while breastfeeding. During the winter months, loose fitting jumpers or poncho style tops can also be key items in your wardrobe. We used to pop our babies under our baggy jumpers and nobody knew that we were breastfeeding them – a scooped or v-neckline means that you can also keep a discreet eye on your baby from ‘above’ to make sure they are okay.
If you had a high maintenance hairstyle before giving birth, you may find that this is no longer practicable alongside caring for your new baby. You may opt for a shorter, choppier (and much easier to manage) style – some mums will ‘ring the changes’ post birth as they embrace their new identity as a mum. However, our hair is a big part of our personality, so don’t feel that you have to sacrifice your long tresses. Wearing your hair up, in a bun, or tied back in a pony tail is practical and also bang on trend. It also gives you the option of greater flexibility with different hair styles when it suits you.
The effect of hormones means that hair doesn’t shed as much as normally during pregnancy, so many expectant mums enjoy a full head of hair that looks and feels in tip top condition. Unfortunately, following the birth all this excess hair falls out so your hair can often feel much thinner. If you don’t already have some, getting layers cut into your hair and/or adding high/low lights to your hair’s colour can help to make your hair appear much more voluminous.
To build in additional volume, you may wish to consider using some of the thickening shampoos, conditioners and styling products that are widely available (eg styling mousses, blow-dry sprays and root-lifting lotions). Your hairdresser can also offer their expert advice and hair styling tips. There are however, some simple steps that you can take to build in extra volume when styling your hair at home:
1. Dry off your hair, so that it is damp rather than soaking wet. Apply a volumising mousse, following the instructions on the container (too much will make your hair feel sticky and heavy). When applying the mousse concentrate more on the roots, extending the application out towards the very ends of the hair
2. Using the medium setting on your hair dryer, bend forwards so that your head is upside down and begin blow drying from the roots
3. If you apply some root-lifting lotion (these are heat–activated products) apply the lotion close to the roots of your hair and blow dry again, this will help to add in even more volume to your hair style
4. It may be appropriate to back-comb a small section of your hair to give it more height/volume
5. Finish off by fixing your style with a hair spray and your good to go!
Pregnancy hormones tend to give many expectant mums a healthy glow and they positively ‘bloom’ during pregnancy. Others are less fortunate however, and the action of the pregnancy hormones can lead to spots, uneven skin tone and pregnancy-related skin rashes. The good news is that any skin problems endured during pregnancy will resolve in the coming months as your hormones begin to rebalance. If you were fortunate enough to ‘bloom’ in pregnancy, you may find that your complexion appears a little sallow post birth, which combined with the visible effects of chronic sleep deprivation can make you look under the weather. The good news is that there are many different products out there, which can restore the bloom of pregnancy.
Our skin care is often neglected; particularly, when we are busy meeting the 24/7 care needs of a newborn baby. It is important to treat our skin rather like our laundry – if we think about it, we follow the laundry instructions on the label; we use washing powders, fabric softeners and conditioners, or dry/specialist cleaning services. Yet we live in our skin 24/7 and by comparison, invest very little time and effort in its care.
Even when time is short, there is still an extensive range of skincare products on the market that enable you to cleanse, tone and moisturise quickly. Skin care wipes that cleanse and tone can often be very practicable and can be carried around to freshen up whenever needed. It is also very important to moisturise your face and neck day and night, and to try to get back into a quick routine. They don’t have to be expensive products either; there are lots of lower-priced/budget range moisturisers on the market that do the job just as well.
One simple step that can help bring a fresh new bloom to your complexion is to use a facial exfoliator. These remove the upper layer of dead skin cells which, if left in place, can make your complexion look dull. Exfoliators don’t need to be confined to just your face either; a body exfoliator or a hand-held loofah are great for removing dead skin cells and stimulating your body’s blood circulation.
Well, top models swear by it… drinking water and plenty of it too! We should all aim to drink around two litres of water each day; this is a volume that a number of us might struggle with. However, water is great for flushing the toxins out of our bodies and plumping up the surface of our skin so we look healthy.
Make-up for your face
Most new mums simply don’t have the time to fiddle around applying foundation in the early days post birth, so a slick of tinted lip gloss and sweep of mascara usually has to suffice. As your baby settles into their routine however, you may want to return to your usual make-up application.
You are going to feel tired and if you are also anaemic from childbirth, may look paler than usual (See our article ‘Anaemia after Childbirth’). It is advised that new mums avoid wearing heavy make-up and strong colours, and instead, stick to a more natural look. A tinted moisturiser is fantastic for moisturising and giving your complexion a hint of colour. There are many brands available, so if you are not used to wearing tinted moisturiser, it is better to begin with one that has quite a light texture. Assistants in the Cosmetics’ departments of larger Chemists and High Street Stores will be more than happy to give you advice and show you how best to apply your tinted moisturiser.
Unfortunately, we have no magic wand! It’s a recognised fact that sleep deprivation results in dark circles and sore tired-looking eyes. An under-eye concealer is a great investment and a quick and easy remedy to camouflage dark circles. ‘Touche Éclat’ by Yves Saint Laurent is a very popular brand, but I personally favour ‘Precious Light’ by Guerlain because it’s more moisturising and doesn’t leave my under eyes feeling dry. It is unlikely that you’ll have much time to spend on your eye make-up in the early days and weeks, so smudging a little eyeliner (soft pencil or pressed powder) along your lash lines can be a speedier alternative to applying eye shadow and mascara.
Alternatively, if you are in a rush, wearing a pair of dark sunglasses is an instant remedy. Let’s face it, if it works for the A-listers…?
Blushers and bronzers which have a pearlised shimmer are always very complimentary for the complexion because they reflect the light. Cream blushers tend to be easier to use because you apply them with your finger tips which is easier for blending. A ‘soft pink’ or ‘coral’ tinted blusher can give your complexion that ‘English Rose’ glow – just apply to the ‘apples’ of your cheeks (the fullest part of your cheek).
For me, lipstick or lip gloss is something that I just can’t do without! Even in the early days post birth, a quick slick of tinted or natural lip gloss was important in making me feel good about my appearance. A lot of us have our trademark lipsticks and lip glosses, so to speak, whether we choose shades of pink, coral or red for our lips.
Alas, long nails and newborn babies don’t tend to be a good combination for obvious reasons. It is often better to keep nails shorter and regularly trimmed, but there is no reason why you still can’t wear nail varnish. Having a manicure or pedicure is very relaxing and also offers new mums some precious ‘me’ time. However, finding the time to have this done professionally can be a major challenge as a new mum. A home manicure or pedicure can be a suitable alternative though:
1. Begin by removing any old nail varnish
2. If giving yourself a pedicure, use a foot file to remove any hard skin on your feet; concentrate on the heels and the balls of your feet
3. Fill up a bowl with hot water (a washing up-sized bowl is ideal for feet). Add in a few drops of either olive oil or cuticle oil as this will help to soften your skin – soak your hands/feet
4. Remove your hands/feet from the water and dry your skin thoroughly paying special attention to the skin between your finger and toes
5. When trimming your nails, remember to cut around your finger nails and straight across your toe nails (this helps to prevent in-growing toe nails!). To finish, file down with an emery board ensuring that you file in one direction only (this helps prevent nails from splitting)
6. Apply a generous amount of moisturiser to your hands/feet and give it time to be absorbed into your skin. Once fully absorbed, you can think about which shade of nail varnish you’re going to apply!
7. Apply the first coat of nail varnish and allow it to dry completely before adding the second. If you are in a rush, you might want to use a quick-drying spray to ensure a smooth finish. Handy tips: Toe separators are inexpensive and really helpful when painting toe nails. If you wish to make your finger nails look longer than they are, you can leave a small gap either side of the nail which gives the illusion of length.
Colours to compliment
It has been said that ‘most women wear only 20 per cent of their wardrobe 80 per cent of the time’. Often we are drawn to the colours that we feel most ‘comfortable’ wearing or wear colours that always seem to prompt compliments from others. This tends to be because the colours we are wearing are actually working in harmony with our skin tone, hair and eye colour. There are other occasions however, when our colleagues may ask whether we are feeling unwell or tired, when in fact, we are feeling perfectly well. This may be because we are wearing the wrong colour palette which is draining the colour from our face, casting shadows, or giving us an uneven skin tone. What we do know is that wearing the right colours and style of clothes for our body shape and size will make us look healthier and younger.
One of the best things Sue and I ever did was to book a Colour me Beautiful colour profile. We both now understand which colours work in harmony with our natural colouring and those we should avoid. We have also said good-bye to ‘a wardrobe full of clothes but nothing to wear’.
Being a new mum is an immense achievement and an opportunity to embrace your new identity. While some new mums struggle with their post-baby belly, others embrace it and view it as a natural part of the whole pregnancy/birth experience. Don’t be afraid to be individual and set your own style – you might want to take inspiration from celebrity yummy mummies? While many of us may not have the same amount of money to splash out on our wardrobes, we can still get ideas and adapt these to suit our own purse and wardrobe. Vintage buys from Charity Shops and ‘Swishing’ are also great fun and you can pick up some real bargains.
Images published by kind permission of Roger Acres Photography