By Jennifer Cunningham
Having my baby a few months ago was absolutely life-changing and one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. Thanks to a relatively healthy lifestyle during my pregnancy and a combination of breastfeeding and Bikram yoga after giving birth, I was able to lose my baby weight. But nothing could prepare me for the changes in my body postpartum.
When I looked in the mirror, I noticed that some things had shifted around: my once flat stomach and flanks now looked saggy and almost deflated. I’d developed something called diastasis recti, a condition where abs separate during pregnancy, which affects up to 60 percent of pregnant women. A pouch of fleshy fat appeared right above my pubic bone and jutted out when I wore certain outfits.
My face hadn’t fared much better. I’d gotten barely any sleep for the first two months after my child’s birth, and you could literally see it all over my face. I looked exhausted all the time; my eyes were puffy and enveloped with dark circles.
Obviously, I love my baby to bits and wouldn’t change anything about having her. But I also loved my pre-baby body and wanted to get back to looking like the old me. So, I set off to Dr. Jennifer Levine, a double board certified facial plastic surgeon in New York City, to see what my options were. I was interested in treatments that weren’t invasive and would involve as little downtime as possible. I needed to still be able to get around to look after my little one, after all. I also wanted procedures that were safe and effective for women of color.
After a consultation, Dr. Levine recommended a mix of treatments to whittle down my midsection. EMSculpt, which targets and strengthens muscle, and CoolSculpting, which uses cold temperatures to freeze and kill fat cells. As for my face, Dr. Levine suggested Ultherapy, a procedure that uses ultrasonic waves to tighten skin and stimulate collagen production, as well as eye and cheek fillers to reduce my burned-out look.
“When you’re a new mom, there are changes that make us really tired and make our bodies not exactly the way that we want them to be,” Dr. Levine said. “We’re addressing those changes in an anatomic and systematic type of way. And we’re going to treat them in a way that’s noninvasive, so you’ll be able to go about your day. And they’re safe for people of all skin types.”
I wanted to chronicle my journey in this series to show other new moms that there are options out there for us that are noninvasive and don’t require time off to recover.
“I think it’s important for people to realize that they have choices,” Dr. Levine said. “And they don’t have to feel embarrassed, or ashamed, or guilty about taking control of their bodies. I think body positivity is very important, and for some people, body positivity might include procedures, and that should be okay too.”
EMSculpt uses electromagnetic energy to contract your muscles, strengthening and toning them. One 30-minute session is the equivalent of doing 20,000 sit-ups, according to Dr. Levine, who added that the procedure is ideal for new moms, who often have to deal with stretched out and weakened abdominal muscles after pregnancy. According to the company, after a standard course of treatment of four sessions over a two-week period, you can lose up to 19 percent fat and build 16 percent more muscle. And you can see results in as little as three weeks.
As I sat down in the chair, my practitioner fired up two EMSculpt paddles and placed them on either side of my stomach, securing them with a belt. I asked the practitioner if it would hurt and she said no, but I would feel a sensation that I’d never felt before. She was right. Imagine the feeling of doing thousands of mini crunches over and over — that’s what this body-contouring treatment felt like. But, my practitioner was right, it wasn’t painful. I was even able to read a newspaper during the session.
After every few pulses, the EMSculpt machine would emit a tapping sensation that Dr. Levine said was designed to break up the lactic acid in my muscles that would make me feel sore. I did still feel some soreness afterward, like I would if I had been to an intense abs class. But that feeling also let me know that something was happening down there. Results show from two to four weeks after the last session, but after just two sessions, I noticed two faint ab lines along either side of my stomach when I checked myself in the mirror. I also felt tighter in my midsection and noticed that I sat up straighter.
CoolSculpting uses a process known as cryolipolysis, a procedure where fat cells are frozen and then flushed out by the body. Dr. Levine recommended two sessions for my stomach and lower abdomen. Before we got started, the practitioner marked my stomach with a pen before placing a sheet infused with a fructose-based gel over my treatment areas. Next, she turned on the applicator, and I watched as it vacuumed my skin and fat into it before blasting it with cold air. After a few minutes, the entire area went numb.
The treatment itself took about 40 minutes, and when the practitioner removed the applicator, my treated skin was cold to the touch. The practitioner then massaged the area for two minutes – which was uncomfortable, but not unbearable. Honestly, the massage was the most unpleasant part of the entire procedure. My stomach was swollen and sore for a few hours afterward, but once again, it was minimal, and I was able to go to the office and work a full day right after. Dr. Levine said I should see results in about three months.
After I have my final Emsculpt and CoolSculpting treatments, I’ll begin my facial procedures. Stay tuned!
Have you had any non-invasive cosmetic procedures to help you along your postpartum journey?