Cosmetic treatments for repairing your body after birth
Most of us learn to love our post-pregnancy bodies but for those who really can't there are cosmetic options, says Rebecca Howard Dennis.
Motherhood is magical, we can all agree on that, but few of us emerge from the maternity ward entirely unscathed. Most of us accept that a bit of wear and tear is inevitable, and that post-birth bodies repair naturally in the months – or years – following birth. But for others who are struggling with the changes childbearing can bring, there are products and procedures that can help. So what’s on offer?
Stubborn pockets of fat
According to therapieclinic.com, 85 per cent of new mums say that their stomach and thighs are the toughest areas to get back into shape. ‘Most women are not looking for some kind of miraculous transformation,’ explains Melissa Doft, a clinical assistant professor of surgery at the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. ‘They just want to look “restored” and get things back to something approaching where they were. They want to feel confident again.’ For most new mums, saddlebag thighs and a pregnancy ‘pouch’ of excess fat around the stomach can be dealt with through a change in diet and exercise. But for those who have tried that and found it less effective than they’d hoped it can be a bit disheartening.
Cosmetic solution - Often billed as a non-surgical alternative to liposuction, and touted as a less radical alternative (in terms of both the procedure and the results) to a tummy tuck, the most innovative treatments use extremes of temperature to either melt or freeze localised fat cells. These techniques are best used on small, specific areas to destroy problematic pockets of fat cells. There are two main treatments – cryolipolysis relies on controlled cooling to cause cell death without damaging the overlying skin (no frostbite!), while heat therapies use lasers, ultrasound or radio waves to heat cells and allow fat stores under the skin’s surface to be targeted and emulsified. In both cases, the body naturally excretes the dead or liquified fat cells as waste, resulting in a sleeker silhouette.
Slack or crepey skin
After all that stretching it had to do to accommodate your growing baby, skin can struggle to return to its prepregnancy state. How well everything springs back will depend on many factors, most notably genetics, how much weight you gained and the natural elasticity of your skin.
Losing weight too quickly after giving birth is also a known risk factor (look out celebs). ‘Skin is made of collagen and elastin that allows it to expand with a growing bump,’ explains Jim Pivarnik, a professor at Michigan State University, who specialises in physical activity during pregnancy. ‘The more time skin has to recover and regain its elasticity post-pregnancy, the better its long-term aesthetic appearance will be. Loose postpartum skin on the stomach affects almost all new mums to some degree – whatever their pre-pregnancy size or their fitness level was.’
Cosmetic Solution - Heat therapies and collagen induction therapy (CIT, also called microneedling) seem to give the best results with this type of skin problem. Kick-starting the body’s repair mechanisms to lay down more collagen and elastin is essential to help pull super-stretched skin back into shape.
Targeted Cosmetic skin Treatments
- ULTRAcel combines the holy trinity of skin tightening – ultrasound, radio frequency and microneedling – to restore tone and texture to slack skin. From £755, ultraceluk.com
- Body Thermage works by uniformly heating collagen fibres deep in the tissue, causing them to immediately tighten, which improves the appearance of flaccid, as well as crepey-textured, skin. From £2,500, thermage.com
More than half of all expectant mums will develop these to some degree, often across their bump, boobs, hips, bum or thighs. Caused by tiny tears in the supporting layers of tissue, they can start to show as early as 13 weeks. They tend to run in families, so your mum and female relatives are a good indicator as to whether you’ll also suffer. To lessen the likelihood, try to avoid sudden spurts of weight gain, sticking instead to the more gradual, recommended trimester-by-trimester guidelines – visit nct.org.uk/pregnancy/ weight-gain-pregnancy for details.
Cosmetic solution - The new generation of stretch mark therapies are showing great promise in eradicating one of pregnancy’s most lingering legacies. Look out for double-duty treatments that both break down the fibrous tissue of stretch marks and stimulate collagen production to help the skin appear smoother and softer.
‘We’re seeing fantastic results with micro-focused radio frequency systems,’ explains dermatologist Annie Chiu of the Derm Institute in Redondo Beach, California. ‘Microneedling therapy uses fine needles to create controlled skin injury, as well as delivering heat from the radio frequency to destroy existing stretch marks and help the body repair with new collagen.’
‘Fresh’ stretch marks respond better than old, existing streaks. ‘This is a problem you should seek treatment for sooner rather than later,’ explains Annie, ‘while the collagen is open to remodelling and before skin becomes less responsive to treatment. Essentially, the earlier you start, the more treatment options you have available to you. Book for a consultation post-pregnancy, but while your stretch marks are still ‘young’ - meaning when they are still pink.’
Stretch mark treatments
- Fractional laser skin resurfacing - This uses a laser to precisely target light into each individual stretch mark. The treatment kick-starts the body’s natural healing process, resulting in the production of collagen and elastin that makes the stretch marks narrower and the skin tighter to give a smoother appearance. Kim Kardashian West is a rumoured devotee. From £500, consulting room.com
- EF Microfirm - Uses microneedling and radio frequency to improve the appearance of stretch marks, both superficial and deep. Be warned, though – it might be noninvasive but treating the deeper streaks can be uncomfortable. £800 per treatment, efmedispa.com
- Dermaeraze - Uses skin needling and claims that 90 per cent of clients see a 70 per cent improvement after just one session. From £450, lorenaoberg.co.uk
Boobs often bear the brunt of pregnancy. If yours have been left deflated or, as one mum recently described them, ‘droopy, like two Spanish peppers’, then it can be tempting to explore the very many surgical and non-surgical treatment options out there.
Cosmetic solution - Breast ‘ptosis’ (empty and saggy boobs, to you and me) is best treated by a surgeon specialising in breast augmentation. While injectable substances such as Macrolane (re-volumising without the need for implants) or autologous fat transfer (which takes fat from your hips or bum and pumps it into your cleavage) promise much, the results can be short-lived and disappointing.
If your post-baby breasts are really getting you down and you’re determied to explore more permanent, surgical options, then seek out the best ‘re-plumper’ in your area. My top tip is reconstructive plastic surgeon Adam Searle (adamsearlelondon.co.uk).
These affect around one in three of us but pregnancy does not actually cause them. ‘If someone already has an underlying venous condition,’ says Professor Mark Whiteley (whiteley clinic.co.uk), the goto guy for varicose treatment, ‘pregnancy can often bring it to the surface and make it worse.’
Sufferers often find that the troublesome veins may seem to disappear after delivery, only to pop up again later. ‘We believe that veins are simply less swollen outside of pregnancy,’ says Mark. ‘And the problem is likely to come back naturally over time or in future pregnancies. It’s advisable to get them checked out as this will help to avoid future complications.’
We all know celebrities ‘slip’ into their size zero jeans far faster than the rest of us mere mortals; it’s almost become a given. Sadly, so too are the inevitable feelings of inadequacy the rest of us can feel as a consequence. In fact, figures released by the Harley Medical Group reveal that 40 per cent of new mothers say celebrity mums make them feel ‘obliged’ to lose weight quickly.
These findings are backed up by The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, which says that mothers are the fastest growing group in society seeking surgery, with one in four considering going under the knife.
As ‘mummy makeovers’ become more mainstream and ‘mummy tucks’ are run of the mill for the rich and famous, there’s a growing sense that we’re no longer all ‘in it together’ and our expectations of what a postpartum body should look like are not very realistic. While the finger points to the Kardashians of the world, closer to home our very own Kate Middleton unintentionally added to the pressure. When she flashed a toned, taut stomach just a few months after Prince George’s birth, clinics up and down the country reported a staggering 650 per cent increase in the number of enquiries about liposuction and body contouring. Wow.
‘I think people get this jaded idea that everybody’s losing baby weight so quickly,’ said model Chrissy Teigan recently. ‘But we have nutritionists, we have trainers, we have dieticians, we have our own schedules and we have nannies!’ There’s something worth remembering.
AND FINALLY… Got a bad case of the baby-bod blues? Then check out 4thtrimesterbodiesproject.com – the celebratory photos of real postpartum women are the perfect antidote to airbrushed images and filtered Instagram feeds and will help restore a sense of perspective about your body.