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Losing the Postpartum Weight...

Losing the Postpartum Weight...

By Being Happy with a Sustainable Plan

I was 40 pounds heavier by the time I gave birth to my 6 lb. 10 oz. daughter and I weighed 17 lbs. less the day after. It took me the next 5 years to lose my postpartum weight. 

After two weeks of caring for my newborn, in the dead of winter, and my own vaginal laceration... I had adopted a 24-hour a day flannel nightgown habit. When an elderly and clearly unliberated great aunt came to visit us, she looked me over and said, “You’re still wearing your pajamas? What does your husband have to say about that?” I remember thinking, who cares what my husband has to say about it but I got dressed as soon as she left... dressed in my maternity jumper ‘cause my pre-pregnancy clothes did not fit. Didn’t fit yet; I told myself.

I am breastfeeding; I told myself... the weight would come off.                      

“For women who are reasonably active and gained a reasonable amount of weight during pregnancy, breastfeeding is really quite important, but you can undo it all by overeating," said Kathleen Rasmussen, a professor of maternal and child nutrition at Cornell University. “Studies show that a quarter of women retain 11 or more pounds one year after giving birth, with an average of 2.5 to 5 lbs.” she added.

I was expecting the weight to come off magically. I was not thinking clearly. Exhausted, overburdened and unhappy, I ate to make myself feel better emotionally. And ate and ate and ate.  Back to work after 6 weeks... little help with food shopping or meal preparation... coming home too tired to cook... you know what happens next... poor food choices. I got stuck in a cycle of dieting, losing and gaining. Finding no method sustainable, I continued to gain weight throughout the next year.

Not all of the experts agree, however 12 months seems to be the upper limit for how long it should take for women to lose all of their pregnancy weight. Current research suggests that women who don't lose their weight within this time period are at greater risk of retaining the weight for the long term.

Retaining the weight for the long term...

Your life, after giving birth to your children, is on a new path. Gone are the days of sleeping when you were tired, eating meals when you were hungry and even a private bathroom moment becomes a struggle to schedule into your day. This path, this journey through parenting, needs a travel plan... a roadmap, so to speak. 

Imagine planning a round-the–world journey. You begin by plotting a course; places you want to visit, where to relax and sleep, what to eat. You arrange for a guide to accompany you through unfamiliar territories, showing you the new customs and how to adapt to quickly changing situations. You are on a similar parenting journey now and you need to travel strong and smart. Most importantly, you need to stay happy to be successful.

The Basic Course: 

Raising a healthy child who is accepting, loving and kind to all humans and animals, while taking the time needed for you to be the same. 

The New Customs: 

Living each day with a tiny human bundle that has nearly constant needs. You’re gonna need new travel luggage for the diapers, wipes, changes of clothes... and you’re feeding her with milk made by your breasts! How amazing is that?

Adaptation: 

You have to be able to go with the flow. There are going to be situations that take you by surprise... the diaper blows out in a museum, the appointment missed because of an erratic feeding schedule, the babysitter who cancelled. Accept the things that happen that are out of your control, take a deep breath and tend to them. Don’t get angry; take a step toward the solution.

Resting and Sleeping: 

Be an opportunist. See a comfortable chair? Sit down.  Baby fell asleep in her stroller after a morning walk? Wheel her right into the bedroom and lay yourself down on your bed. Chores can wait when you’re tired. Being a good parent is more important than a business email or the laundry and parenting well requires a great deal of effort... you are entitled to rest and sleep. You don’t need anyone’s permission.

Retaining the weight for the long term... this phrase came back to haunt me year after year. I took my round-the-world journey without the benefit of a lactation consultant “guide” to escort me through those first few months of difficult breastfeeding. I journeyed without a mental health “guide” when I became increasingly unhappy. I chose cookbooks. It turned out to be the wrong choice.

Food Choices: 

Here’s the fact: eat less, move more. Mainly lean protein and many vegetables and fruits of all colors. The more colorful it looks, the more likely you will be to eat it... start with your healthy snacks in a beautiful fruit bowl in plain sight. Don’t purchase foods you can’t quantity control. That’s what I call pretzels, chips, candy, cereals... get a small package, one portion. Don’t prepare starchy main dishes or sides. No pasta dinners, white rice, white potatoes or bread. Use greens under your sauces where the starch would have been.  But you know all that. Moving more? I prefer not to call it exercise but “walking in the woods” or “experimenting with new yoga poses.” I found a movement plan that is pleasing, that makes me happy, which is sustainable.

Call your food and movement choices what you will but they have to be sustainable. If you are not content with your choices, find others. Be reasonable and acknowledge your personal tastes. Gradually move meals toward whole foods rather than processed, frozen or canned and stay out of the supermarket aisles that offer high fat and little nutritional value. The deli counter, bakery and cheese departments become special occasion shopping locations. Give yourself some time to fine-tune your healthy new postpartum lifestyle. (If you plan on having more children you should consider the time frame that you will have to get healthy before becoming pregnant again.)

Allow happiness to lead you to weight loss. This is the part I call “a little bit o’ magic.” When we feel happy, we tend to have higher self-regard and a drive toward self-preservation, as opposed to self-sabotage, making us less likely to choose high fat or high sugar calories. (Thank you serotonin – a neurotransmitter thought to regulate anxiety, happiness, and mood.) With this way of thinking comes a longer-term feeling of wellbeing, helping us to see ourselves as people who make good choices — thus becoming part of our identity.

You are responsible for your own happiness... don’t let it take you five years to learn this. Get out and find your guide to a healthy life. It’s your choice.

Paula Zindler RN IBCLC

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