C-Section Solutions: How to Eliminate the Pooch and Reduce the “Tummy Shelf”

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Just in the last 2 weeks alone, I have randomly met THREE different moms who have asked me the same question. Then while reading my social media comments, I realize even MORE of you out there are hoping for my answer to (again) the same question. This is a sign, if you ask me. A sign that many mamas have a common problem and can’t seem to find help ANYWHERE! It’s a sign that you need me to blog about this. 😉 Now usually I includ dads, aunts, nannies, or any mom-like figure in my posts. But this is one Q&A that can only apply to a mother who has housed a watermelon-sized human (or two) in her tummy for 9 months!

If you’ve had a C-section or a hysterectomy, and you are struggling with the surgical battle wounds, this post is for YOU! Now don’t stop reading if this isn’t you…these tips and tricks can apply to any postpartum belly.



The common question goes something like this: “I had a C-section X# of years ago, and I have this shelf of skin now to accompany my pooch that I just CANNOT get rid of!!! How on earth can I get rid of my tummy shelf and postpartum pooch?” Oh mama…that extra skin that gathers at the bikini incision line after a belly surgery can be so frustrating, as can be the seemingly permanent bulge! I get it…you are doing all you can to get rid of it, but sometimes it just doesn’t seem to want go away. And not to mention, it’s in one of the worst possible spots for that picture perfect profile you’re wanting to show off after popping that baby out. Well, ladies…it’s time to ditch the Spanx and “shelf” that tummy shelf problem once and for all!

Before we get started with my tried and true exercises, I need to make 2 things clear:

  1. Abs are made in the kitchen, as I always say. While people love to think that unlimited crunches or weighted sit ups can help reduce the layer around the belly shelf (and obtain those washboard abs we’ve always dreamed of), the cold hard truth is that ab exercises have NOTHING to do with minimizing that layer of fat over your abs to reveal the “bricks” underneath. It is a complete myth that you can spot reduce by working an area really hard. Fat is lost globally, which means all over your body at the same time. You may notice fat loss quicker in certain areas, but that has nothing to do with the exercises done to tone or work the muscle. So how is fat lost? With proper nutrition, first and foremost, and through increasing your calorie deficit with exercise.
  2. Just because your extra belly skin has not tightened yet does NOT mean that it won’t. While this isn’t always the case, I want new moms to be patient with your bodies! Any extra/loose skin over your abs will likely tighten (even if just a little) over time depending on your skin’s elasticity. I personally use an AMAZING body firming product for my own belly…and I swear by it! Just try one…any one…it can’t hurt. But if you do have some loose skin that will not go back after lots of hard work and body fat burning, the fact is that we may have to learn to live with it…and appreciate that it is one of our worthy battle wounds we gained while creating our little miracle on earth or from surviving that surgery.

So while you cannot reduce the layer or get rid of the shelf with exercise (we just established that this is done with nutrition), resistance training plays a vital role in sculpting the muscles underneath the layer of body fat and skin. By training the abdominal muscles properly, you’ll add some shape to those muscles and create proper core strength to help you COMPLETELY eliminate the pooch. Bonus: Once that layer IS gone (by eating right), you will have some beautiful flat abs waiting for you.

Even better…we are going to create a solid core from the inside out to help minimize the all-too-common condition for postpartum moms known as Diastasis Recti (abdominal separation).

Here are my top 5 favorite moves to flatten the abs, strengthen the core, reduce the pooch, and start feeling great again.

**NOTE: Please check with your doctor before doing ANY of these moves postpartum/post surgery, as every woman’s body heals at a different pace.

Vacuums: These are my EVERYDAY go-to ab move!! Sometimes I will do these twice a day. Plain and simple: Either sitting, standing, or lying on your back, inhale to fully inflate your lungs, then exhale. As soon as all the air is deflated from your lungs, hold your breath as you “draw in” from the inside of your lower abs, bringing your belly button in and up toward your spine. Hold for as long as you can, even if it’s only 10 seconds to start. When you can’t hold your breath any longer, slowly inhale as your abs remain drawn in. Work your way up to 5-10 sets of 30 seconds each day.

Looks like this: Inhale, filling your lungs…

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Completely exhale…

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“Draw in” from you lower abdomen, and hold.

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Side view of the move during the hold part…

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Vacuums work the inner core muscles that are too often neglected and will help improve posture, tighten your waistline, and stabilize your back (and we are all in need of that after 9 months of carrying a baby!!).

Dowel Rotations: These are another move that will focus on those overlooked internal core muscles and will also throw in some oblique stimulation to help bring in your waistline. How to: With a dowel or a broomstick across your back, perform a vacuum. On the exhale/draw in part, continue holding your breath and squeezing in from your lower abdomen as you slowly twist from side-to-side. Perform as many reps as you can on each side until you need to breathe. Rest. Repeat 5-10 times each day you do these.

Looks like this: Inhale, inflating your lungs completely…

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Exhale all of the air out of your lungs…

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Draw in from the lower abdomen, and hold…

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Slowly squeeze the abs and twist to one side…

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Then to the other.

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Planks: Planks are one of the best stabilizing moves for your core and literally target every single one of the abdominal muscles. Assume the plank position from your toes with elbows on the ground (can perform from knees if toes are too difficult). With your body in a straight/rigid line and core tight, drawing your belly button in and up toward your spine, hold the position for as long as you can. Work up to 5 sets of 30 seconds each time you perform.

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Heel Slides: These are another core-strengthening/diastasis recti-minimizing move for us postpartum moms that focus on those internal core muscles. This one targets the lower abs more than the others…which is right where that bikini incision is. Lying on your back with knees bent at 90 degrees, perform a vacuum (inhale, exhale, draw in). On the exhale and draw in, slowly slide one heel out to full extension, then back up to starting position. Inhale, exhale, and repeat. Start with 3 sets of 10 on each leg, working up to 5 sets of 15 on each leg over time.

Looks like this: Perform a vacuum…

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While drawing in, squeezing the abs, and holding your breath, slowly slide one heel down to an extended leg position…

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Then back up to start and repeat with the other leg.

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Inhale and repeat.

Weighted Crunches (with caution): This is for those who want more!!! I ONLY recommend this once you KNOW you do not have diastasis recti AND once your doctor has cleared you for exercise that is a little more intense. This is the one move of the 5 that focuses mostly on the outer ab muscles (rectus abdominus)—the ones you see once the layer is gone. Lying on a bench with your shoulders hanging over the edge and the appropriate weight behind your neck (or no weight for starters), exhale as you crunch up as high as you can go, then inhale on your way down. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 10.

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Recommendation: While I recommend doing exercise #1 every single day, the others can be mixed and matched. I like to combine exercise #1 (vacuums) with one of the other moves, alternating each day. So in short, 7 days a week I do SOMETHING…even if I just vacuum.

Keep in mind that every exercise is done with a “draw in.” Drawing in is NOT sucking in—it’s drawing in from the lower abdomen. Each time an ab exercise is performed, it should be done with this in mind, otherwise we risk actually CREATING a lower abdomen “pooch.” By targeting these muscles with every exercise, we are preventing this from happening.

One final note…it’s all about taking one baby step after another. While these may not seem like much, consistency will get you the results you want and the tummy you deserve! Try these out and feel free to comment below with related questions. I will answer as many as I can!

Xoxo,

Heidi

Related reading:

Diastasis Recti: Closing the Gap
Carb Cycling 101
Emotional Eating: How to Take Control Once and for All


66 Comments

  1. Sue - March 8, 2017

    Would you please consider sharing the firming cream you find AMAZING? It would save a lot of trial and error because there’s ALOT of products out there that don’t work and wasted money down the drain. ;-(

    • MrsThomas - March 11, 2017

      I too have tried several firming creams over many years. Mary Kays cellulite gel is the ONLY one that helped. If interested, I can email before and after pictures.

  2. NewGirl2016 - February 25, 2017

    Hi there! I’d like to begin extreme carb cycling but I dont get it entirely… For instance i want to make my own meals but I don’t know how to do it… Should I count every gram of carbohydrates, lipids and proteins I put in my meals? If I eat brown bread which is in the carbohydrates category for example do I have to count the amount of fats and proteins in it?? Thanks for your help I’m lost!!
    Last question:if I weigh 181.9lbs and I extreme cycle how many calories fats proteins and carbohydrates must I eat per day?
    Thank you again I want to change my life… Definitely!!

    • Team Powell - February 27, 2017

      Welcome to carb cycling! There are some great meal planning tips in this post: http://heidipowell.net/10617. As for your last question, everything is figured out for you on all of Chris and Heidi’s carb cycles, and there is some great info and helpful charts in the blog post link I shared that will help you figure out which foods count in which categories. You can do this!

  3. Anne Miller - February 2, 2017

    I want to say thank you for inspiration to loose. I am a stay at home mom of 4 and I am still working on just losing 80 lbs after having many health problems since I was 20 now 35. Had one misscarage n 4 c-sections n two other surgeries. Between candida, thyroid, pcos, fibroid, thickened uterus linning. I struggle with the c-section pouch. It is fustraining. We eat good due to my kids health reasons. How can i get a good work out in without excersies equipment.

    • Team Powell - February 3, 2017

      Hi Anne: You can get an amazing workout without any equipment! Please discuss any exercise program with your healthcare team first, and Heidi has several no-equipment-needed workouts on this blog. You can find several here: http://heidipowell.net/category/blog/workouts/. You can do this!

    • Anne - February 3, 2017

      Thank you. I love watching the show. It’s amazing how you guys can do that. Thanks for helping people.

  4. Allison - January 19, 2017

    What’s the firming product that you use that you like. You mentioned it in #2

  5. Marisol - January 9, 2017

    Buenas tardes….. Quisiera empezar un tratamiento de perdida de peso. Ojalá puedan contactar conmigo. Saludos

    • Team Powell - January 10, 2017

      Hi Marisol: Chris y Heidi no están aceptando nuevos clientes en este momento, pero usted puede aprender acerca de su programa de ciclismo en carbohidratos – el mismo programa que utilizan en su programa – en este post: http://heidipowell.net/9060 . Y asegúrese de seguir todos los enlaces dentro de la publicación también. Todo lo que necesitas para alcanzar tus metas de transformación está en este post, ¡y puedes hacerlo!

  6. Sherra - January 3, 2017

    Excited to try these exercises! In the blog Heidi mentioned that she was impressed with a very specific skin firming cream “AMAZING”. It works great or she would not be so impressed with this specific cream. I noticed several ladies have asked abt this and have not been acknowledged. Isn’t only fair to share the information since Heidi mentioned it so specifically? It is like dangling the unattainable carrot. If not, perhaps it would have been best to just recommend using some kind of skin firming cream instead of an amazing one she uses but is unsure abt putting the brand out there. Thank you. LOVE me some Heidi and the Powell family and look forward to the carb cycling app.

  7. Suzanne (me) - January 1, 2017

    I have been trying so hard to loose what I call 4 c sections and with my second child I fell and ruptured my spleen and they did a horrible thing to my stomach and cut me from breast to belly button which was also put back in the wrong place. I do yoga and run with my daughter and I’m doing a 30 day an challenge which is helping but please what I want is to have help getting my daughter Alley to love herself she is so beautiful but has no self esteem and is bullied at school. I can’t tell her she has to look at herself and eat better because I’m so afraid of hurting her feelings and I feel like she is at risk of diabetes and other health issues please help me so I can help my baby girl thank you Suzanne [email protected] com she is over 200lbs and I love her very much ?

    • Team Powell - January 2, 2017

      Hi Suzanne: I’m so sorry to hear about all you’ve been through! I’d discuss the exercises in this post with your doc and make sure they’re okay for you to do first. And it sounds like you’re definitely doing the right things to achieve your goals! You can do this!

  8. Pam - December 23, 2016

    Nerium has an amazing body firming product, but it’s very expensive (I think about $120/tube). My boyfriend has used it with great results–on his stomach after losing 40 pounds. You have to find it through a distributor (no, I’m not one 🙂 )

    Anyway, that’s not why I am posting, though :). I had a question for Heidi/the mods. Why do you have to hold your breath during these exercises? Are they still effective if you hold the move and breathe shallowly? I have trouble holding my breath after the exhale/emptying of the lungs.

    Thanks!

  9. Christine - December 22, 2016

    Thank you! Do you have any YouTube videos demonstrating the exercises?
    Merry Christmas:)

  10. Heather - December 21, 2016

    Super interested in the skin tightening product info:)

  11. Heather - December 21, 2016

    Hi there! Love your posts! I am 5 weeks postpartum now and trying to tighten some skin. Product info please!

  12. Jeanie Drinkwine - December 19, 2016

    I have had 3 c-sections in a span of 8 years. I would like to lose at least 41 pounds to be at my target weight but I can’t find the motivation to do it. I have an 8 year old that I tried to race up to a stop sign (which was just a block) on my bike. I joked and got a head start and he still beat me. I want to be more fit. Not just lose weight. But I do have bad habits like eating candy and drinking soda every day. And I need motivation to do it. I don’t have family really to push me and my husband loves me, but if I say no or I need this, he will get it for me. And I can look up things every day and say I’m gonna do it, but I don’t. Any help you could give me on the motivation part?

    • Team Powell - December 20, 2016

      Hi Jeanie: Yes!!!! Here’s a post about Chris and Heidi’s carb cycling program, which includes several links. Be sure to read about and click on the part about promises. http://heidipowell.net/9060. Promises are definitely their #1 motivation tool, so I hope you’ll give them a try! You can do this! 🙂

    • Tiffany - January 7, 2017

      Hi Jeanie.. I would love some motivation too. Maybe we can work together on this!!?? Shoot me an email

  13. Vanessa Gough - December 17, 2016

    Great that so many women are trying hard to get fit. I am too intrigued of the firming product that heidi uses. Can you say on private email, is it available in NZ?
    I am 7 years on from 3 C Sections and am 46, and a pooch and ovehang still there though starting to see more definition in my abs since I have been doing an intense training program and also do martial arts, though can see why lots of people do not stay for the long haul as it seems to be taking forever!
    I have been strict with my diet not for 12 weeks . At 59kg at start i am now 56kg and fat percentage falling still so hope that it will continue in the right direction. What are your thoughts on oxyshred and such supplements? Any other tips to get rid of the pooch?

    • Team Powell - December 19, 2016

      Hi Vanessa: It’s best to discuss any supplements with your healthcare team first, and it sounds like you’re doing awesome! 🙂

  14. Rose - December 6, 2016

    Hello Heidi

    I have had 3 C-Sections and was cut the old fashion way not the bikini cut. I have lost over 50 lbs. I was working with a trainer but they was unable to help me with my stomach, they said there was a certain way I would need to work my stomach and would need to research it but never did, I would love to know what can I do that will not make my stomach budge out more. I also hade to have a hysterectomy my insides had begun to fuse to everything do to scare tissue… Help

    • Team Powell - December 6, 2016

      Hi Rose: Since how each woman is affected by a C-section can be very different, it would be best to discuss what exercises are best for you with your healthcare team since they can work with you personally. We wish you the best! 🙂

  15. Candice - November 14, 2016

    I had a c section as well but mine isn’t the bikini kind back in my days they gave you the ugly one and for years I have had the pouch and hate it will this work for me as well

  16. Sandra - November 14, 2016

    Thanks for the info. I have 13 children that include a set of twins 2 babies that were over 10 lbs and 4 c-sections. Don’t think my extra skin is going to go away but hopefully I can get ab muscles again. Have lost 80 lbs with 50 left to lose. I find you and Chris very inspiring.

  17. Harmony - November 14, 2016

    I am so happy that you wrote a blog about this! I am curious though, are these exercises safe to do if you have hypertonic pelvic floor muscles and prolapses? Thank you for sharing your insight!

    • Team Powell - November 14, 2016

      Hi Harmony: I’d definitely check with your doctor about this. 🙂

  18. Rhonda - November 12, 2016

    I would love to know the firming product as well, although I know there might be legal reasons why she can’t mention a product she isn’t sponsored by. I am 15 weeks pregnant and getting ready for my post baby body. Please tell us the firming product! So many are a waste if money. Thank you!

  19. denise alves - November 9, 2016

    have hard time losing wight I need help now my name is denise alves from boston

    • Team Powell - November 9, 2016

      Hi Denise: You can learn all about Chris and Heidi’s carb cycling program in this post: http://heidipowell.net/9060. And be sure and follow all the links within the post too. You can do this! 🙂

  20. sandra - November 9, 2016

    Hello, is it safe doing planks if you still have diastasis recti? Thank you!

    • Team Powell - November 9, 2016

      Hi Sandra: You’ll want to chat with your doc about this and then follow his/her recommendations. 🙂

  21. Becca - November 7, 2016

    Hey, I’ve watched so many of your programmers with Chris and a year to save my life. I have had two kids, my motivation to work out has disappeared, I hate looking at myself and feel miserable about how I look. I feel as if I am fat even tho I am size 10. Please can you help?

    • Team Powell - November 7, 2016

      Hi Becca: You can learn about Chris and Heidi’s carb cycling program – the same program they use on the show – in this post: http://heidipowell.net/9060. Their program can work no matter how many pounds you want to lose, and be sure and follow all the links within the post too. You can do this! 🙂

  22. Ashley - November 6, 2016

    Tips on diet and nursing while working out? Don’t want a dip in supply

  23. carrie hart - November 5, 2016

    Had a baby 12 weeks ago, lost all the baby weight(and a little more!) working out and eating well, feeling great…and then two strangers in three days ask if I’m pregnant. This post could not come at a better time. Thank you!

  24. Jennifer - November 5, 2016

    Heidi did you have a C-section? It’s unclear, but it’s like the elephant in the room here. Can anyone tell me?

  25. Cindy - November 4, 2016

    Videos of these please!!!

  26. Katie - November 4, 2016

    Hi Heidi,

    Thanks for addressing this issue. It’s something I’ve struggled with for years. I like that you address the importance of nutrition. My question is, what “diet” do you most recommend? My husband and I recently started following a low carb-high fat food plan. I’m a little nervous about consuming so many fats, but there seems to be a lot of support for the theory. Your thoughts on the subject would be greatly appreciated. ?

    God bless!

  27. Stephanie - November 4, 2016

    Please share you firming product, I’ve tried just about everything! Completely closed my diastasis, but I have loose skin around my belly button I cannot get rid of! Thanks

    • Ashley Kilday - November 14, 2016

      I had great success with It Works wraps and defining gel. It is a direct sales product but I swear by it. Their main site should be able to connect you with a person who sells it if you don’t already know someone.

  28. Stephanie - November 4, 2016

    I have tried a lot of firming products, and it’s been a year since my daughter was born and I still need a little help. I’ve closed my diastasis with a physical therapist but still have some lose skin around my belly button! Please share what I could try!

  29. Lorien - November 4, 2016

    Love this! Thank you so much. When are you going to come out with an app with your carb-cycling and workouts? I have your books but would love an App!

    • Team Powell - November 4, 2016

      Hi Lorien: Chris and Heidi are working on an amazing app that should be available in the next few months! Keep an eye on all their social media channels for any announcements. 🙂

  30. Rebecca - November 4, 2016

    Thank you! 3 c sections have not been kind to my middle. Can’t wait to try these!

  31. Alicia - November 4, 2016

    Also wondering what firming product you use….thanks!!

  32. Lindsay - November 4, 2016

    What firming product???

  33. Sally kelly - November 4, 2016

    This is great help thanks but yes please do share what product you also use ..thanks sally xx

  34. April Hort - November 3, 2016

    Heidi, thank you for your time! I’m a mother of three boys . 1 c-section and 1-9.3 oz giant! Lol my husband and I started on our fitness journey a year ago and have had great results. I’ve lost 45 lbs, 35 for him. But of course he has more gains! I’m still working on those problem areas…such as my stomach. Here is my question. I had back surgery two years ago and struggle everyday with back pain. I was diagnosed with several generic spinal diseases that cannot be fixed. (and some that can but I don’t want to go under the knife again) I’m excited to try the exercises listed in your blog because with my back problems my abdominal area is the hardest area for me to work on. Generally in the past year I power through the pain, for the end result. And try to skip anything that might injure me. How do I know if I am strengthening myself or hurting myself, if it hurts all the time? Any other exercises or advice for someone with a bad back?

    • Team Powell - November 4, 2016

      Hi April: Congrats on losing 45 lbs! With any back issues, it’s best to chat with your healthcare team about any questions you might have concerning exercises and your back issues since they understand your exact issues and can work with you on a one-on-one basis. 🙂

  35. Ashley lane - November 3, 2016

    You said you used an anazing body firming product, what was it called? Also what did you do to prevent stretch marks while being pregnant?

  36. Tina - November 3, 2016

    Hi Heidi!

    I have tried many body firming products, but they just weren’t that effective. Which one do you use?

    Thanks so much!

  37. Maren - November 3, 2016

    Hi Heidi,
    Thanks for the tips! I am pregnant with my third baby and I’m
    Definitely going to need these in a few months. I was wondering if you could tell me what skin firming cream you use.

    Thanks!!

  38. Bonnie - November 3, 2016

    What is the body firming product you swear by?

  39. Michelle rios - November 3, 2016

    Just wanted to say I love reading your posts about true honest things that women go through. You are an inspiration to many, I struggle with weight gain because of my hypothyroidism. Do you have experience deal with people that have this condition? I’ve had two children and it’s extremely hard to lose the weight without cutting back almost all calorie intake.

    You and Chris are real people with real advice, thank you for the honesty.

    If my husband and I could meet y’all someday it would be amazing, my husband did body building years ago. We’ve seen yalls progress and it’s truly an inspiration to get there one day.

  40. Tiffany Thomas - November 3, 2016

    Great information- – thank you Heidi! Would you mind sharing the name of the body firming product you use?

  41. Carolyn - November 3, 2016

    Thank of for posting. After 2 c-sections, final was 2 years ago with full term twins, my stomach is a hot mess!!

    I always appreciate your candidness btw!

  42. Megan - November 3, 2016

    What body firming product do you use?? Would love to try it- thanks!

    • Samantha - November 4, 2016

      I would also love to know the body firming product that you use. I have tried a few but haven’t found one that I really love.
      Thank you!

  43. Vanessa - November 3, 2016

    Thanks Heidi for the C section tips I’ve had two boys. And both have been emergency c section. after we have had family pictures and got them back I told myself that it’s time to focus on myself and get back into shape and feel good about myself
    Thanks for all the tips you guys post of Facebook

  44. Sara - November 3, 2016

    Thank you for thinking of us mamas who’s babies don’t want to blaze the “normal” path!! My oldest is 17 & I have tried for years to get rid of this pooch. My 2nd is 11 & in the last 5 yrs I have lost around 60lbs through diet & exercise. Here in the last 6 weeks or so I have gone to trying to eat 80/20 clean & mixing up my workouts with more Hiit, where I used to run mostly. I will try these as well & if it works great, if not Ive got great kids! Lol!! I love watching your show & the inspiring stories of weight loss!

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