A great follow up to our last post, “How Stress Affects the Health of New Moms“, here’s a guest post by Varsha Aditya about what to do following the birth of your new baby to keep healthy and lose that extra baby weight.
Postpartum weight loss is a major concern for many women. With all the emphasis our society places on losing weight, it may be difficult to accept the pounds you put on during pregnancy. Especially after the baby is born, it may be very difficult to accept the lingering fat around your waist. Many first-time mothers don’t even realize that it will be many months before their abdominal wall will be back to normal!
You may be tempted to start dieting immediately, but there are many reasons why this is a bad idea. Don’t let yourself cave in to a negative self-image or start believing that you absolutely have to get back in your old clothes as soon as possible! There are natural processes at work and understanding them can help you get your figure (and more importantly, your health) back without endangering the health of either you or your newborn.
Birthing Body Changes
Most women gain around 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy and lose only 12 to 15 at birth. That means you could easily have 20 pounds left to lose before you get back to your pre-pregnancy weight. But it’s not just fat making you bigger. Your bone structure, especially in your hips, may have widened significantly if it was your first baby. For some people, the hips “close” after a year or so—others never go back to their pre-pregnancy size. Your bone structure has nothing to do with your body fat. So don’t measure your weight loss by your hip size. Your pant size may be one or two sizes bigger than your pre-pregnancy size, even after you are completely back in shape.
To me, this is one of the saddest things about the modern conception of women. We are taught to feel shame about no longer having a teenager’s body. The fact is, my pre-pregnancy body turned into something far more marvelous when I became pregnant and gave birth—it became a woman’s body. Even though I lost a lot of weight after the birth of my first child, my shirts and pants still never fit the same way again. My shoulders and my hips were wider, even though I was even underweight at one point. Never feel ashamed of your widening hips. Flab is one thing, but a wide pelvis is a point of pride—celebrate the bones that allowed the passage of a new being into the world!
Downtime After Birthing
Because of pregnancy hormones that helped you open up enough to birth your baby, your ligaments and joints may be extremely flexible for months after birth. While this is generally a good thing, you are more prone to overstretching injuries. Many cultures around the world limit the new mother’s activity for the first 40 days after childbirth. While we tend to disregard traditions that may seem like stuffy old wives tales, some traditions have very good scientific reasons behind them. Letting your hormones adjust postpartum is one of those reasons. Don’t start heavy exercise workouts immediately as tempting as it may be.
Wait to Diet
The first few days and weeks after childbirth are also crucial in establishing your milk supply, if you plan on breastfeeding. Dieting at this time can have two important side effects. First, it can reduce your milk supply. Second, dieting and fasting release the toxins stored in your cells into your bloodstream, and these can pass on to the baby through your milk. (If this makes you wonder if you should breastfeed at all, the answer is a resounding YES!!!! There are far too many benefits to breastfeeding to justify not breastfeeding without very strong reasons). So: don’t start dieting in the first few weeks after delivery.
Developing Good Habits Postpartum
All this doesn’t mean you should let loose and eat whatever you want after childbirth. The postpartum period is a great time to establish good habits that will continue as your baby grows up. Here’s what you can and should do to care for your body postpartum:
- Definitely continue to take the same care over your diet as you did when pregnant. Don’t rely on supplements or vitamin tablets. While cooking complicated meals will be out of the question for a while as you adjust to life with a newborn, simple habits like snacking on baby carrots instead of junk food will give you the high-quality energy you need. By eating regularly and healthfully, you can also avoid the sugar highs and lows that may contribute to emotional illnesses like postpartum depression.
- The best exercise immediately following delivery isn’t cardio or even yoga. The best thing you can do is wear your baby. The weight of your newborn in a sling or a wrap (NOT a bag sling, as these are dangerous for newborns, despite their popularity) is something your body is used to handling. As your infant grows, the “exercise” will increase slowly. It’s Nature’s form of endurance and weight training, perfectly designed to tone those back and abdominal muscles that were under such stress during pregnancy.
- Once you pass the six-week checkup with your doctor or midwife, you can start getting into an exercise routine again slowly. You can also start a reduced calorie diet as long as you don’t drop below 1800 calories a day (if breastfeeding). Aim to lose NO MORE than a pound a week. If you have 35 pounds to lose, it will take roughly 9 months, and that’s perfectly fine! Your responsibilities as a parent are more than enough to handle—you don’t need to be obsessing about your weight.
Keep in mind that weight alone is not the best indicator of health. Keep track of your BMI (body mass index) and your body fat percentage to have a better idea of what’s healthy for you. And before making any changes to your diet or fitness routine, be sure to check with your doctor or midwife.
About the Author
Varsha Aditya is a writer for the popular calorie counter website CaloriesAndMore.com which promotes healthy and sustainable weight loss without all the impossible rules of fad diets. Visit us to find more articles about sustainable weight loss, and see how CaloriesAndMore.com’s huge database of foods and activities can make calorie counting a breeze.
Have you any healthy living tips to share based on your postpartum experience?