It’s not surprising that many women who compare their pregnancy weight gain and post-baby weight loss with celebrities find themselves lacking, according to researcher Meredith Nash of the University of Melbourne in Australia. She found that women in their mid- to late 20s are more likely to describe themselves as “fat” after delivery than women in their mid- to late 30s. She believes younger women are more exposed to the “culture of the bump”—in magazines and television shows that analyze every step of famous pregnancies—and feel more pressure to be thin. But we are all familiar with the unrealistic expectations set by celebrity pregnancy stories.
The key to shedding extra baby pounds is a healthy diet and. No problem—if you weren’t up four times last night, knee-deep in laundry, and staring at an empty fridge. Here’s a realistic guide to postpartum weight loss when you don’t have a million dollars to help you reach your pre-pregnancy weight.
No personal chef?
Weight loss should not be the priority during breastfeeding, caution the experts. You will need to consume between 2,000 and 2,500 calories per day to ensure adequate breast milk, advises Elizabeth Ward, registered dietitian and author of Expect the Best: Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During & After Pregnancy.
If you aren’t breastfeeding, at your first postnatal checkup—usually six weeks after your baby is born—ask your doctor how many calories you need to get to your normal weight, suggests Ward. (She says it differs for everyone, but an average woman will need from 1,800 to 2,000 calories per day.) When you stop losing, shave off another 100 to 200 calories per day. Try these tips:
• Pair up: Get together with someone from prenatal class or in your neighborhood to cook lunches. Take turns trading off chef duties for child-minding each week.
• Hire a dietitian: Over two sessions, your dietitian will create a meal plan to your liking. A study in the Journal of Women’s Health showed that women who were given structured weight-loss plans in the early days after giving birth lost an average of 16 pounds in one year, compared to those who were given only general advice, who lost just three pounds.
• Purchase portion-controlled meals: Look for low-sodium options. Don’t substitute more than one meal a day, and supplement with a serving of vegetables, a whole-grain roll and fruit, says Ward.
• Invest in a healthy-meal delivery service: The cost is similar to takeout but with much healthier fare.
No posse of trainers?
Women can and do need to be exercising postpartum even if they’re breastfeeding, according to research from the University of Western Ontario Exercise and Pregnancy Laboratory. “There’s no reason why you can’t get out and walk as soon as it feels okay,” says lab director and assistant professor Michelle Mottola. The same goes for women who have had a C-section, though they should be careful not to strain the abdominal area.
You may need a lot of help to stay active postpartum given your new responsibilities. Try these tips:
• Walk with your baby: Pair up with another new mom to go for stroller walks. Or go for walks with your partner and baby. A study in the Journal of Women’s Health found the top enabler for exercise postpartum was partner support.
• Use DVDs tailored for post-pregnancy: At-home workouts are flexible, perfect for new moms who can’t hop off to the gym. Try Fitmom Postnatal Workout or Braganza’s 321 Baby Bulge Be Gone DVDs, a 12-week, three-phase program.
• Join a mom-and-baby fitness class: Mottola says programs structured to include your baby are practical, and a great way to meet other new moms. Check with your local community center to find a pre- or postnatal class nearby.
• Hire support: A telephone-based life coach, who can help you set goals and stick to them. Look one up online who specializes in weight-loss goals.
No full-time nanny?
New parents face many demands. “There’s a lot of stress, including vast sleep deprivation,” says McDonald. Lack of sleep can set back weight loss. A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed that women who get five hours of sleep a night or less have triple the risk of carrying excessive weight a year after giving birth, compared with those who got seven or more hours. Try these tips:
• Aim for solid stretches of seven hours of sleep: Trade off “night watch” with your partner. Dad can bring the baby to you when a feeding is required.
• Call in the grandparents: Ask them to take a night shift once a week.
• Catch naps: Sleep when your baby sleeps, no matter how tempting it is to use the free time on neglected housework.
• Consider a night nanny: Search for an experienced childcare professional for basic overnight tending.
May 2010 issue Best Health magazine