About a week after giving birth to Boy Wonder I decided it was time to venture out into the big wide world. I was super excited to take him to the pharmacy and show him off to my colleagues. I rummaged through my wardrobe until I found a dress I could actually fit into, herded Boy Wonder and Mr Wonderful into the car and off we went.
“Hey Ren, great to see you. When’s the baby due?” This was the greeting I received from a regular customer when I arrived at the pharmacy. In my delirious, sleep-deprived state I started to laugh. The customer looked at my belly and said “surely not long to go now”. Needless to say, I was beyond horrified. Wasn’t it obvious I had already delivered my precious bundle? Did I still look pregnant? Are you kidding me?
Now I’ve spent time with many a pregnant woman and new mother alike, sisters, friends, customers. I know that in most cases the human body still looks pregnant after giving birth. I know that it generally takes six weeks for a woman’s uterus to contract back to its original size and position. I know that for many women myself included, it takes a good forty weeks to gain all that baby weight. What I did not know was that when I found myself in this intensely vulnerable position, all of my knowledge would fly out the window. Having been somewhat of a featherweight for most of my life, I was suddenly 25 kilos heavier and incredibly insecure.
I returned home that day feeling utterly demoralised. I jumped online to try and find a quick and easy way to lose my baby weight. What I ended up stumbling upon however was a post on Mia Freedman’s website Mamamia showing photos of rock star Pink and Jamie Oliver’s wife Jools just days after giving birth. And guess what? They still had their bellies! These images reminded me that bodies generally don’t bounce back after giving birth. It takes nine months to grow a baby, so why expect to take just weeks to “bounce back”? The vast majority of women take months or even years to lose the weight they gained during pregnancy. Most healthcare professionals, me included, would recommend that you take your time and follow a healthy approach to your weight loss goals. The time had come to practice what I preached…
Five months have passed since that fateful day in the pharmacy and I am proud to report that I have lost more than half of my baby weight. It hasn’t been an easy slog but I’m getting there. I’m not going to lie – I have certainly had my moments. Just ask Mr Wonderful how many tanties I’ve thrown whilst trying to select an outfit for a night out with the girls or even just dinner with the family. Not pretty!
We recently welcomed in 2012. New Year’s Eve is a great time to look back over the past 12 months and forward to the coming year. It’s a time to reflect on the changes we want to make and goals we wish to achieve and resolve to follow through on them. And so I have come to the realisation that there is a new little man in the world thanks to me and my body, and that I need to be a good role model for him and teach him how to be healthy.
How does one begin to achieve this goal of better health after pregnancy? It’s all about taking baby steps…
Step 1. Consider your eating habits
To help you keep up with the demands of being a new parent as well as speeding your recovery from labour and birth, aim to eat a healthy, nutritious and varied diet. Most women find that if they eat for their hunger and eat a healthy diet, the baby weight comes off pretty naturally. Keep snacks such as carrot sticks, apple slices and rice crackers around the house to keep you from feeling hungry and to provide you with much needed energy throughout the day. Just remember that no matter how badly you want to lose the weight, you mustn’t eat less than 1800 calories a day, especially if you are breastfeeding.
The ChooseMyPlate.gov website is a great resource where you can design a personalised eating plan based on your age, activity level and weight loss goals. There is also a special section for breastfeeding mums.
Step 2. Move it mama!
Aerobic and strength training exercises are important after pregnancy to burn calories and keep your bones and muscles nice and strong. Exercise also provides many other benefits to new mothers by helping to both prevent and treat postnatal depression, regulating sleep and relieving stress.
Gentle exercise such as slow walking, pelvic floor exercises and stretching may be commenced as soon as you feel up to it, however you should wait until you get your doctor’s ok before taking up more strenuous exercise. Taking a brisk walk with your baby in the pram is enough to get your muscles working and your heart pumping. You should be aiming for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise on most days of the week. With a new baby, finding 30 minutes in a row may prove a little difficult so break up the time into 10-minute increments and work your way up. Trust me, you can do it!
While lugging around your growing baby all day is a workout in itself, you still need to add some strength training. Your program should be focused on the re-establishment of good alignment, functional stability, core strength and flexibility. It is often a good idea to enlist the help of a personal trainer or physiotherapist specialising in women’s health. For those of you in Melbourne, I highly recommend the professional, experienced, friendly folk at Be Active Physiotherapy.
Step 3. Get guzzling
There isn’t much point in getting the nutrition and exercise right if you don’t get the hydration right. Why is water so important? If you don’t drink enough water your body goes into a kind of starvation mode and tries to hold on to everything it can. Plus, many vitamins and nutrients are water-soluble, so even if you are eating a healthy diet you may not absorb all the goodness without sufficient water. If you are drinking enough fluids, your urine should be relatively clear and you should be going to the bathroom roughly every three to four hours.
For those of you who aren’t that keen on water (I’m hearing you, I’m not a water fan), try adding slices of lemon or lime to make it a little more appealing.
Step 4. Catch some z’s
I know, I know, impossible right? But being sleep deprived can be detrimental to your health and make it harder for you to shed your baby weight. When you are tired your body produces stress hormones such as cortisol that can cause weight gain. Studies, as well as my own personal experience, show that we don’t feel like taking care of ourselves when we’re tired. People suffering exhaustion are less likely to exercise and less likely to make healthy food choices.
Try and take advantage of offers of help so that you can nap. Let your partner, a family member or friend take the baby for a walk, help with the housework, do some laundry, cook you dinner, whatever. Take that time to rest. You may also have been told to “sleep when your baby sleeps”. This is great advice! Take as many naps as you can during the day and try to go to bed early occasionally. You’ll be amazed what a difference a little shut-eye makes.
Step 5. Take the pressure down
Remember not to be too hard on yourself. Your body has most likely changed after pregnancy and childbirth. It may have matured into a more womanly shape. Your boobs may no longer defy gravity and your pelvic floor may never be the same again, but be proud of your body. It’s done a pretty wonderful job of bringing your baby into the world hasn’t it?
Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2012!