At last, the long months of pregnancy are over and you’re home with baby. A mixture of emotions from sheer joy to complete bewilderment becomes a regular part of your daily life for the first few months. You gradually lose your fears in your parenting skills, but the loss of any excess baby weight gained during pregnancy can be a different story.
Did you know losing the weight gained in pregnancy is among the top concerns of new moms? Your amazing body has just grown and birthed a beautiful baby. It now needs rest, healthy food and time to recover. How quickly your body may “bounce back” from pregnancy, and what it may be like post-pregnancy, may be very different from what your friends may have experienced post-partum.
Pre-pregnancy weight, age, hormones, lifestyle, diet and activity level are all variables in the way your body responds postpartum. Regardless of what your body looked like before pregnancy, or what it looks like after, it’s important for you to eat healthfully and exercise correctly postpartum.
There are a number of things you can do to give your body a boost to shed unwanted weight in the weeks and months after having a baby. Good nutrition and exercise habits have both mental and physical benefits that will only add to the joys of motherhood.
Breastfeed that baby!
Nursing your baby is not only giving them optimal nutrition for their growth and development, it has amazing benefits for you too that last a lifetime. Breastfeeding helps you burn more than 500 calories a day–that would require a whole lot of exercise to otherwise burn that much fuel! Research shows that moms who breastfeed their babies for at least the first 3-6 months of baby’s life may struggle less when trying to lose weight gained in pregnancy.
Eating healthfully is essential to any postpartum diet. When most women hear “healthy,” they assume they’ll have to go on a strict diet of restrictive calories and boring food. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sleepless nights, breastfeeding and the stresses of a new baby are all energy sappers and the best way to restore the loss of energy is to eat “clean” by eating healthy fruits, vegetables, proteins and fats in their most natural forms.
Typically whole foods in their most natural form are clean foods as they’re minimally processed, contain few additives and are packed with vitamins and minerals. Your body knows exactly what to do with the nutrition in real food, and it will reward you with the energy you’ll need to exercise, even if it’s just going for a walk with a stroller. Packaged or processed foods, including many “diet” foods, have no nutritional value and in most cases are loaded with sugar or artificial sweeteners.
Now that you’re home with baby, it’s understandable you’ll want to get out of the house for a walk around the block to trip to the park. In those first few weeks focus solely on caring for yourself and for your baby, getting sleep and drinking lots of water. Then, introduce moderate exercise after your body has recovered enough postpartum (usually two months). Gradually introducing a steady regime of cardiovascular and strength-based exercises will trim and tone your body.
Megan Dillow, mother of three and Pilates Instructor at Lincoln Park Athletic Club in Chicago, Ill., knew getting back to a healthy weight was important, but realized that it wouldn’t happen overnight: “Hollywood tells us we’ll walk out of the hospital feeling amazing, and that we can start working out 4 days after delivering. Like magic, we’ll have our bodies back in 2 months. For some people maybe that may be true. However, for most of us, we come out of the hospital looking like we are still a few months pregnant. Our bodies need the recommended recovery time of 6-8 weeks before working out again. Our bodies will only start to feel ‘normal’ 10 months to a year later.”
When Dillow did start working out, she immediately made it a family affair. “People in general are in the mindset that working out has to be for an allotted time in a certain location. That is not true! I try to incorporate extra movements into my daily routine. Some days I can do an hour other days I can only do a half hour. When my kids did tummy time, I did abdominal exercises. I sat on a stability ball to rock them to sleep. I had a baby jogger and we went for runs together. Now as my kids get older we have exercise time. My daughter and I run home from school, my sons and I go for bike rides. I want to incorporate movement into their life as much as my own.”
Commit to a healthy lifestyle
As you recover, commit to adopting a healthy way of eating and being active that you can make a habit for the days and months to come. Research shows postpartum moms are at risk for regaining any pregnancy weight lost within 2 years of giving birth–this is because caring for a baby during their first two years of life is time- and energy-consuming! By committing to a healthy way of eating and being active that you can do day after day you’ll diminish those risks of any weight gain in those 2 years following baby’s birth.
Three exercises Megan Dillow says she can’t do without are Pilates-based. I can’t do without ‘the hundreds’, crisscross obliques and side leg lifts. The hundreds get the abs connected. The crisscross helps me to stand up tall, and the side leg lift series help to keep my hips strong.
Lying flat on your back, raise your legs to a 45 degree angle, and place your arms straight down. Lift your head and shoulders, tucking your chin toward your chest. Begin pumping your arms quickly down to the ground. Pump your arms 100 times, and you’re done!
Side Leg Lift
Lying on your side, with your hand holding your head. Lift your legs together without letting them separate. Keep your thighs and bottom tight, engaging those muscles and hold for 5 seconds. Return to a resting position, and repeat 10 times before working the other side.
Criss cross obliques
Lying flat on your back, place your hands behind your head with your elbows wide. Bring one knee in toward your chest and extend the other leg out long. Leading with your shoulder, reach your armpit to the knee on the opposite side of your body that’s pulled in. Release, and switch to the opposite side. Repeat 10-15 times, rest and repeat again.
About the author: Traci Danielson Mitchell is a freelance health and wellness writer and founder of DM Nutrition & Fitness.