The complete resource for NICU families from admission to discharge and beyond

Loose Baby Weight

Society places so much emphasis on a woman’s weight! But when you’re carrying a baby – or have just had one – your priority should be your healthy baby, and not whether you can fit back into those skinny jeans! But everyone wants to look their best, so here’s some tips on how to lose that babyweight without jeopardizing your health, or the health of your baby.

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Nature has this pretty much figured out. If you were of normal weight when you got pregnant, and had a normal pregnancy, you probably gained about 30 – 40 pounds. Of that weight, 10 pounds was baby and placenta, 10 pounds was extra circulating blood volume in your body, and 10 pounds was extra fat. A baby is a parasite – s/he will take from you all of the nutrition needed to develop normally. That extra 10 pounds was needed to be sure that your health wasn’t compromised, and to prepare you for breastfeeding after birth.

After you deliver…there goes 10 pounds… just like that! The next 10 pounds of extra fluid will slowly disappear over the next several weeks, as your body readjusts to the post-pregnant state. And what about that last 10 pounds of fat? That is the energy needed for you to make breastmilk! Would you believe that it takes more energy from you to make breastmilk than it does to grow a baby? Yep! You burn more calories every day making breastmilk for your baby than you did while you were pregnant. And if you are breastfeeding (or supplying breastmilk), you are still “eating for two.” The nutrition in your diet translates directly into the nutrition in your breastmilk. So don’t try to “crash diet” like some Hollywood celebrity. Just take one look at your baby, and realize that you are creating another human being – which is the most amazing feat in the entire world!

But what if you weren’t at “normal weight” during your pregnancy? Women who are underweight have a difficult time getting pregnant, and need to eat high calorie, nutrient dense foods during their pregnancy, and afterward, to provide the necessary nutrients to their babies. Despite the lay press, fat is essential for a growing fetus, so be sure to eat lots of full fat foods. So-called “healthy fats” like avocados and olive oil, nuts, peanut butter, are very important to providing essential calories and fat-soluble vitamins. But don’t forget about animal fats. Animal protein sources also contain important fat, so beef, eggs, pork, poultry, fish – especially fatty fish like salmon and sardines – are especially important.

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If you are supplying breastmilk for your baby, you will burn about 500 calories/day in lactation. If you eat a normal 1800 – 2000 calorie/day diet, those extra 500 calories/day will burn about 1 pound of extra fat per week. If you breastfeed for only 3-4 months (not the 12 months recommended by the AAP), you will burn the remaining 10 pounds that you put on during your pregnancy and be back at your pre-pregnant weight in less than 6 months! And, every time you get let-down, the let-down hormone also causes your uterus to contract, which slows the lochia and shrinks your uterus so you don’t have that “tummy bulge” below your belly button.

If you were overweight at the start of your pregnancy, you may not have gained much weight at all. When you deliver, that’s like an instant diet! There goes 10 pounds – boom! Do what’s best for you and for your baby, and supply breastmilk! Supplying breastmilk is the single most important thing you can do for the post-partum health of both you and your baby.

What to Eat

As in Life, moderation is best when it comes to your post-partum diet. Don’t try to starve yourself to get to some arbitrary number on the scale. Your body is recovering from the most fantastic and amazing adventure ever! It will take weeks, if not months, for your hormones to return to a prepregnant level. During that time, you will be fatigued, your appetite may wax and wane, and your emotions will swing wildly, seemingly for no reason. Listen to your body! If you are craving, for example, cottage cheese with peanut butter on it, there’s probably some nutrient in that concoction that your body is lacking. Drink LOTS of water! Every time you sit down to nurse (or pump), you will get thirsty. Nature planned it that way to be sure that you take in enough water to produce milk. You may have heard the adage “Nursing mothers should drink a quart of beer per day.” Alcohol is not advised while nursing, as it does cross into your breastmilk. The point behind the adage was to encourage generous fluid intake while nursing.

Eat plenty of protein. Meat, fish, eggs are the easiest way to get protein in a contemporary diet. Vegans and vegetarians can take in adequate protein, too…it’s just harder and requires more attention to your diet. Remember your baby is like a little body builder, and protein is essential to make lean muscle and tissue. It also requires more calories to digest a protein meal, so the more you eat, the skinnier you get!

Don’t avoid fats. Fat is essential for your growing baby and the amount of fat in your breastmilk is directly related to the fat in your diet. Essential vitamins A, D, E, K are fat-soluble, which means your body cannot absorb them unless eaten with a fat source. Vitamin A is vital for eyesight and other brain development. Vitamin D is crucial for bone growth and calcium metabolism. Vitamin E is a potent anti-oxidant that protects your cells from injury. Vitamin K is an essential co-factor for blood clotting. These vitamins are present in vegetables and leafy greens, but must be eaten with fat to be absorbed from your stomach.

Carbohydrates are important for short-term energy, but also contribute to water retention. If you are more than 10 pounds overweight, or are not breastfeeding, avoiding carbohydrates is the best way to shed those extra pounds. So-called complex carbohydrates are one of the essential food groups, and include whole grains, starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, and brown rice. Gluten sensitivity is emerging as an important dietary issue, probably related to the lack of diversity in our highly engineered agri-business, and avoiding foods containing gluten (wheat and wheat products) can minimize intestinal complaints. Processed foods, such as white rice, white bread, white flour, white sugar, are low in nutrients and are best minimized or eliminated if trying to lose weight.

Beverages & Snacks. Sugary beverages and convenient snackfoods are probably the biggest contributors to the obesity epidemic, and the easiest to eliminate from your diet. Even foods and drinks sweetened with sugar-substitutes spark an insulin response in your body that promotes fat deposition. And some experts believe that the intake of carbonated beverages upsets the calcium-phosphorus balance leading to osteoporosis and other afflictions. Drink Water. Lots and lots of water. If you want to flavor it, use a fruit slice rather than some artificial flavoring. Coffee and tea are fine. The caffeine that makes it through to the breastmilk is negligible and may actually benefit your baby (see “caffeine” under medications.) If you want to snack, try dark chocolate. It’s full of magnesium and anti-oxidants that may actually be beneficial to both you and your baby!

Exercise, like everything else, in moderation is good for us all. Do not attempt an exercise program until you have been cleared by your obstetrician to do so! This is especially important if you had a c-section.

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If the weather is temperate, try taking your baby for a walk in his/her stroller every day. Getting outside into the fresh air is good for you, and the change in environment can help if you’re experiencing post-partum depression. As an alternative, take your baby to an indoor mall. Try to pick off hours, to avoid crowds. Trying to exercise at home takes much more discipline, as there will be millions of distractors. If you can, however, walking on a treadmill, investing in an exercise DVD, getting an exercise buddy, or forming a small group can all help you reach your goal.

Remember, every journey starts with a small step. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and don’t have unrealistic expectations. After all, you did just create a brand new human being!!!

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