Bouncing Back After Baby
Wed, 02/26/2020 - 16:14
I recently gave birth to my first child and I'm finding it harder than expected to get back into shape. How can a new mom like me bounce back from their postpartum body?
One of the all-time most frequent questions I get is, “How do I lose the baby weight?”
First of all, give yourself a break. You just built a human and it sounds like you are in your “4th trimester” – referring to the crucial three to six month period after birth when many of the physical, psychological, emotional, and social effects of pregnancy continue.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that has an underlying expectation of women to look just like they did pre-baby ASAP. We literally go from talking about how beautiful the baby bump is and how pregnant mommies glow to parties over, “wrap things up, tuck away the evidence, and apologize for the mess” as was so well put by Kate Baer.
And this is absurd. Of course you will eventually want to “bounce back” – key word being EVENTUALLY. Focusing on weight loss immediately after giving birth is not advantageous. You will be in the process of healing from delivery, exhausted, and possibly breastfeeding. Adding weight loss to your plate is a recipe for heightened stress, decrease in breast milk production, and even higher risk of postpartum depression—i.e. totally counterproductive. Yes, we have all seen the Hollywood actresses and rock stars that drop crazy amounts of weight seemingly overnight—but God only knows what kind of a toll it’s taking on them in other areas.
So my first piece of advice is to give yourself a year, post birth, to slowly return to your postpartum weight and level of fitness.
Our primary goals in this 4th trimester time period should be as follows:
- Nourish your body in a way that facilitates your healing.
- Keep your energy levels up.
- Maintain your milk supply (if you’re breastfeeding), so you can make sure you pass the optimal amount of nutrients on to your little one.
Side note: I use words like “healing” because it is true, in so many ways. Healing encapsulates the physical, emotional, mental, even spiritual changes you’re faced with right now. The word isn’t meant to scare you. It’s meant to validate anything you may be dealing with postpartum—from postpartum depression to recovering from c sections or episiotomies to feeling resentful to a decrease in libido—and assure you that it’s all normal and all will be OK. But there is simply no need to put extra pressure on yourself to “bounce back” quickly. And trying to do so could compromise all of the above.
Now, that we’ve gotten that out of the way…The how-to of bouncing back is actually pretty straightforward: baby weight is the same as any weight you want to lose from a physiological perspective. Meaning stored fat (no matter how or why you gained it) can only be burned off one way: eating less and moving more. So, exactly how much less should you be eating and how often and intensely should you be moving at what stages post delivery?
While you must create a calorie deficit to lose weight (roughly 3,500 calories to lose a pound / 500 calories a day for 1lb of weight loss in a week), you shouldn’t go for fast and dramatic weight loss at this time in your life. Even if you aren’t breastfeeding, you will still need enough calories and nutrients to fend off fatigue, mitigate postpartum depression, and aid in recovery from pregnancy and delivery. So, if you aren’t breast feeding, 1600 calories a day with unlimited green vegetables is as low as I would recommend you take your calories for at least 3 months postpartum, then if cleared by your doctor you can go to 1400 after that provided you have over 10-15 lbs to lose.
If you are breastfeeding things get a bit more complicated. Are you are looking to shed excess pounds that were gained, or simply maintain your weight? When I say excess, I mean over 10 to 15lbs. Remember that your body needed to add roughly 10lbs of fat for breastfeeding purposes. So, if you have gained 20 or more pounds of excess fat, then, yes, you are going to want to lose it… safely, in a reasonable time frame that doesn’t compromise your health and sanity or your baby’s milk supply. If you are breastfeeding you will want to eat no less than 1800 calories and you will want to lose no more than 2 lbs a week. In helping many women get back in shape after baby, I have found, pretty unilaterally, that when more than 2 lbs a week is dropped the milk supply can be compromised.
If you are only 10 to 15 pounds or so away from your pre-baby weight, this should come off naturally as you continue to breastfeed and exercise over the next three months, without reducing your calorie intake much at all. You could eat anywhere from 2000 to 2300, going toward the higher end when on days you exercise.
Now, in order to determine what you should be doing for exercise, how many times a week, and for how long per session, we need to first establish what your delivery was like. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says it's okay to slowly resume exercising as soon as you feel up to it. As a general rule though, it’s strongly recommended that no matter what the manner of your baby’s birth, 6 weeks off any strenuous training is a must. The body needs time to heal.
If you were fit during pregnancy and had a complication-free vaginal delivery, most doctors will allow/recommend light cardio activity (biking, incline walking, swimming (after all bleeding has stopped), stretching, resistance training with light weights or modified bodyweight exercises during the first 6 weeks. (Again: Only if you had a complication free delivery and had a decent level of fitness prior to and during pregnancy.)
Now, once those 6 weeks have passed, you should start to acclimate a bit, and anyone can begin to steadily push the up button on your regimen with light resistance training in addition to a moderate cardio regimen.
If, you had a diastasis-recti, episiotomy, C section etc. you must speak with your doctor about what is safe for you to do at what stage post giving birth.
Once you have hit the 3-month postpartum mark, you are generally in the clear to exercise in any way you choose-- provided you have had no healing complications and have been diligent about your steady return to fitness.
Keep in mind that many women are not feeling 100% until around 6 months post delivery. So during this time period, as you think about returning to more aggressive types of fitness (Olympic lifting, HIIT Training, Circuit training and so on), keep your intensity level at about 70% of what it was pre-pregnancy. If you were running sprints at 10mph for 1 minute, try them now at 7.5 mph for 1 minute. If you were back squatting 75lbs for 12 reps, try it now with around 55lbs for 10 to 12 reps.
Final note, be gentle, kind, and patient with yourself. Follow the above guidelines if cleared by your doctor and take a year to slowly acclimate to life’s changes while returning your body to pre baby state!