So, you just had a baby. Congratulations are doled out, friends and family come by and fawn over the little one, wanting to hold, snuggle and inhale all that newborn yumminess.
Unfortunately, we don’t often pay as much attention to you, the amazing mom, as we should.
Worse yet, we place these unrealistic expectations on you about getting back to your pre-pregnancy life, which includes your pre-pregnancy body.
People will ask, often quite openly, if you’ve gotten back to your pre-pregnancy weight, how long that took and what you did to lose the weight. Celebrities advertise jaw dropping transformations just weeks after delivery.
The desire and obsession to “bounce back” is rampant.
And I admit, as a mom of three kids under three and a half, I too often find myself struggling with a changing body. However, as a nutritionist I constantly see women with disordered eating and feelings of inadequacy following the birth of a child so I am desperate to help them reframe what postpartum nutrition can look like and it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) only have to focus on weight loss.
We seem to forget that during childbirth, as one midwife described to me, we literally have the universe coming through us. (Sounds pretty intense to me!)
This process takes its toll on us physically and emotionally and what we really need to focus on in the weeks (and I would even say months) following our baby’s birth is physical recovery—enhancing our mood, optimizing energy levels, and losing weight over time in a steady and sustainable way.
Instead of glamorizing rapid postpartum weight loss here are my top reasons why you shouldn’t be in a rush to lose the baby weight:
It could cause breastfeeding issues
While gradual weight loss will not impact milk supply, a sudden dramatic decrease in calories over several days (such as a crash diet or strict cleanse) can definitely lower milk supply—a concern new moms already face in the early weeks of breastfeeding. These fat stores and reserves are there for a reason and are needed to feed our growing babies.
Diets with calories lower than 1500-1800 calories can affect milk supply, as breastfeeding requires roughly 300-500 extra calories/day.
Rapid weight loss can , which had been stored in our fat, into our bloodstream. These toxins can make their way into our milk supply and can also cause us to have a whole host of other health issues as a result of the toxic build-up in our body. Slow weight loss while simultaneously supporting the detoxification organs nutritionally is your best bet.
You could have skin elasticity issues + lean body mass
This one tends to hit home with a lot of people. Did you know that rapid weight loss can cause skin elasticity issues and sagging? There's a connection between how rapidly one loses weight and the amount of loose skin they end up with.
Also, severely limiting your caloric intake reduces the amount of lean body tissue you have and lowers your basal metabolic rate, thereby actually preventing weight loss.
It affects your overall nutrition + energy
When you cut your calories back in an attempt to lose weight rapidly, you will inevitably be missing out on important nutrients—like fiber, fat, iron, vitamin C and calcium. These are needed to help with physical recovery and keeping your body functioning at a high level, and super important for a postpartum mom.
Also, since your body is still in recovery following childbirth, it has heightened nutritional demands, especially protein and calorically dense fat. Therefore I don’t recommend counting calories, but instead urge women to follow their hunger and satiety cues (eating when hungry and stopping when satisfied). If they are eating a varied diet of nutrient dense foods and stopping before feeling overly full then their calories should be in a good range and weight loss should be healthy and gradual.
And just in case you need another reason to feel completely drained, cutting back on calories can cause fatigue, which obviously doesn’t feel great and may actually decrease your desire to move your body in a healthy way that is safe and feels good to you.
Women want to avoid feeling starved and deprived (no good comes from that feeling!).
Regular movement helps develop more muscle mass, improves mood and may positively impact sleep. Low calorie diets have the opposite effect.
Just to be clear, I am not against weight loss in general and work with women all the time who have goals of weight loss. However this is done in a slow, healthy way, ensuring nutrient density is at the forefront.
I am also working with women who are further along their postpartum journey and physical recovery, who have a better grasp on their new motherhood routine and who have some semblance of a sleep schedule; all things that will make the weight loss process more enjoyable.
It is impossible to say when you may be ready to shift your focus from recovery to weight loss at different points in time. However, in general, I view the first three months postpartum as recovery.
The focus should be on eating for energy and physical and emotional recovery, rather than weight loss
After a few months, once moms are sleeping more regularly and have been cleared for physical activity, then starting a program geared more towards weight loss may be more appropriate. But for now, just relax, fuel yourself right and focus on your beautiful new baby and that amazing body of yours that brought her here.