Personal trainer Jana Shirley says it’s quite possible for new mums to tackle post natal ‘jelly belly’ without doing a single sit up. In fact, sit ups are possibly the worst exercise for muscles weakened by childbirth. HILARIE STELFOX reports

ONLY the lucky few possess bodies that spring back into shape after having a baby.

For many women, childbirth results in some degree of weight gain, poor abdominal muscle tone and the dreaded ‘jelly belly.’

“It’s the one thing that all mums worry about,” says Anna Headon of Mirfield, whose second child, Marcus, was born 10 weeks ago.

“You want to get your tummy area back into shape,’’ she added.

Anna decided that second time around she wanted to do something to restore her figure and joined a post-natal Pilates class run by personal trainer Jana Shirley in Milnsbridge. She is now part of a small group that meets weekly at the Village Hall with their babies.

Pilates is a system of exercises that focus on the core muscles cradling the internal organs and supporting the spine. It was devised to help dancers regain and maintain fitness but is now widely practised by all sections of the community.

Jana, who lives in Golcar, offers a 45 minute session of Pilates exercises tailored especially for new mums, concentrating on the muscle groups most affected by pregnancy.

Melanie Haigh, whose baby daughter Lucia is now seven-months-old, added: “At the hospital, they just give you a leaflet about post-natal care – there are no exercise sessions.

“Jana’s class is such a brilliant idea because you can bring your baby and have a cup of tea and a chat afterwards.”

In fact, the babies are often used as weights during the exercise session, enjoying the interaction with their mums and each other.

Kirsty Holdsworth, from Birkby, who has just joined the Milnsbridge group, says she found Jana after searching on the internet and was surprised by the lack of post-natal help for women who want to exercise after delivery.

Kirsty, whose baby daughter Lyliath is now eight-months-old, explained: “My doctor said that Pilates would be good for helping the stomach muscles to knit together.”

Jana, who trained in fitness techniques six year ago, says Pilates is ideal for women who have had babies. “They can start Pilates once they’ve had their six-week check up after delivery.

“Pilates is great for getting the core muscles back into shape before someone resumes more strenuous exercise and for women whose abdominal muscles have split during pregnancy,” she said.

“When a woman is pregnant and breastfeeding, the hormones relax the joints and muscles, which makes it quite dangerous to start exercising and doing the wrong things like sit-ups. I meet a lot of mums with bad backs.

“Pilates works the lower, deepest abdominal muscles, working from the inside out, and gets them switched back on before exercising,” added Jana.

Strengthening the core muscles is the key to regaining a really flat tummy, says Jana. Without firming the core muscles it is, in fact, impossible to get rid of ‘jelly belly.’

Anna says she has already discovered this for herself. “I could do hundreds of sit ups and nothing changed, “ she said. “But the Pilates has made a difference already.”

Suzanne Hindle from Scammonden, attends the classes with her seven-month-old son Daniel, her fourth child.

She said: “After having four children, three in three years, I felt I needed some help. I have really noticed the difference.”

Up to 25% of UK births are now Caesarian sections, which can leave women feeling anxious about resuming exercise.

Melanie, of Golcar, had little Lucia by C section, and says she waited six months before seeking out an exercise class.

While Jana believes that most women know when they’re ready – and everyone is different – she says that Melanie could have started Pilates anything from 12 weeks after delivery – and there’s no set time after which women can resume more strenuous exercise.

“I’d say that once someone has firmed up they can go back to their aerobics classes and do what they want, but it’s vital to get the core muscles working properly first.

“Don’t go straight into doing sit-ups immediately after having a baby,” she said.

l More information on post-natal Pilates is available from

l Jana is holding a charity work-out, including Pilates, on Saturday, October 23, at the Longwood Mechanics Hall. The marathon of exercise classes, to which all are welcome, will raise funds for the Cancer Research Charity’s work into breast cancer.

During pregnancy the ligaments of the whole body soften due to the action of hormones. This allows the bones of the pelvis to separate slightly during the delivery to facilitate the passage of the baby’s head through the pelvis. Unfortunately this softening affects the whole body and makes it more vulnerable to strain during pregnancy and after delivery.

Women’s bodies are designed to store fat during pregnancy and breastfeeding in order to protect the baby. This means that after delivery women have a slower metabolism and a tendency to gain weight more easily. However, dieting may be counterproductive as the body’s famine mechanism is already switched on – leading to more efficient use of less and less food.

Around half of all women complain of having a bad back during or after pregnancy. This is because the core muscles supporting the back are stretched and weakened. A Caesarian section may actually damage these muscles further.