Paging Dr. Grunebaum: The Six Week Myth and Getting Back in Shape After Baby
Dr. Grunebaum of BabyMed.com, Director of Obstetrics and Chief of Labor & Delivery at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, is back to discuss something many, many moms spend much time and energy agonizing over: postpartum weight loss. You’ll be surprised to hear his thoughts on the six-week myth, as well as his tips for getting back into shape as quickly and healthily as possible.
Gaining weight during pregnancy is part of a normal pregnancy. For the average woman a weight gain of 25-35 lb is considered normal and healthy, and many women gain well beyond this amount. But once you’ve given birth, the extra weight is no longer needed and it’s important to get back into shape for health and personal reasons.
Most moms hope to get rid of their maternity clothes as soon possible after delivery, and are eager to get back to their pre-pregnancy weight.
But before that can happen, first your body needs to return to pre-pregnancy hormone levels, blood volume levels and water levels. This can take up to 12 weeks and needs to be taken into consideration before restricting calories and exercising to lose weight after baby.
So when can you start losing weight seriously after birth? The big myth is that you have to wait at least 6 weeks after delivery to do anything: sex, exercising, losing weight. Nothing is further from the truth! You should always ask you doctor first if there are any limitations, because each delivery and each pregnancy is different, but in general the six week wait is not mandatory. In fact, as soon as you are ready (and that could be as soon as you get home) you can start making some changes and improvements to make you feel healthier and lose weight:
- Your healthy diet
The very first step is to look at your diet and to eat healthy food. Do not follow a strict diet that limits what you eat or how much you eat, especially if you are breastfeeding. You need the strength and energy that a healthy diet can provide, and your breastfed baby needs these nutrients as well. So instead of restricting yourself, focus more on your eating habits. Eat more fruits and vegetables, add whole grains, eat smaller meals throughout the day and reduce the processed foods you consume. Most important of all, drink plenty of water.
- Physical Activity
As soon as your doctor gives the okay – and many will do so well before 6 weeks – increase your physical activity, starting slowly at first. Listen to your body and try to keep the activity to a level where it feels comfortable. If something hurts, scale back. A good way to add physical activity into your daily routine is by walking with the stroller every day. Gentle strength training, yoga, swimming, jogging and aerobic exercise are all good choices. Also, note that if you are breastfeeding, you will feel most comfortable by feeding before you attempt more strenuous physical activity.
- Get Enough Rest
I cannot emphasize this enough. Rest decreases stress levels, and less stress allows you to focus more on what’s important. It may be a cliché to say “sleep when the baby sleeps” but that’s because it works. Even if you can’t fully fall asleep, take advantage of the time when your baby is sleeping to rest while they do. If you can afford it, have someone help you with childcare or housework so you can rest. And don’t be afraid to rely on your spouse or partner. And, importantly, try not to overdo it. Don’t have unrealistic expectations about postpartum weight loss.
- Your calories and eating
Although typically dieting needs to involve calorie restriction, the post-partum period is different. You should not reduce calories immediately after having a baby. Why is that? First, the extra caloric intake is needed for the body to heal. This is especially true for women who have delivered via C-Section. Second, you cannot healthily restrict calories while breastfeeding. The body needs extra calories to produce the milk needed to feed baby. Reducing the caloric intake too far will reduce the amount of milk available to baby.
What is the essential amount of calories? Mothers who have just given birth need to take in a minimum of 1500 calories each day in order for the body to properly heal and deal with the postpartum changes. If your diet proposes a caloric intake below this amount, adding in an extra snack or two is a healthy way to make up for the discrepancy.
- Weight loss supplements
Weight loss supplements are a bad idea postpartum. There are many ingredients included in weight loss supplements that are not approved for women who are pregnant or nursing. These supplements should not be taken while breastfeeding.
How long will it take for me to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight?
There is no rush. Some women lose weight quickly, other may take some time. There is no “normal”. How fast it will take depends on many factors, first and foremost how much you gained during pregnancy. And remember this: it took 9 months to gain the weight, so don’t expect to lose it in a week or two.
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