Most women are advised to gain between 25 and 35lbs during pregnancy. Women who are underweight may be encouraged to gain slightly more weight, and those who are overweight may be advised to keep their weight gain to a minimum, but some weight gain is to be expected as a part of a healthy pregnancy.1
A lot of that weight will be lost when you give birth. The average baby weighs between five and 10 pounds, and the amniotic fluid and placenta can be fairly heavy too, so most women will lose around 12-13 pounds as a part of the delivery process.2 That still leaves at least another 10lbs, if not more, for a woman who is looking to get back to her pre-pregnancy weight.
Losing Weight Takes Time
Losing weight takes time, and it is often hard for women to adjust to their previous eating habits after they had gotten into the habit of eating slightly more while their baby was growing. This is made doubly challenging by the fact that having a baby means disturbed sleep and more ‘things to do’ to look after the child. Making healthy food choices and getting regular exercise can be a struggle for many women during this time.
It is a good idea to wait until six weeks after you give birth before you start actively trying to lose weight. Your body needs some time to recover, and you will most likely find that you will lose a small amount of weight during that time period just through the recovery process.3 If you are breastfeeding, you should wait until two months after giving birth before you start reducing your calorie intake. You need to have a stable and steady supply of breast milk to keep the baby healthy.
Breastfeeding Burns Calories
Women who are breastfeeding need an additional 450 to 500 calories per day to produce a healthy amount of milk.4 The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that the average adult woman consume 1,800 calories per day if they are sedentary, and 2,000 calories per day if they are moderately active.5 Those guidelines are general, and a petite woman would need fewer calories while a very tall woman would need more. There are free TDEE calculator tools6 that will help you to calculate your average daily energy expenditure based on your age, height, weight and average activity level.
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If you are not actively trying to lose weight, then you should add 450 calories to your TDEE while you are breastfeeding, to ensure that you are getting all of the nutrients that you need.
Safe and Sustainable Weight Loss
If you want to lose weight, then you should discuss your plans with your health care provider before you start restricting calories. If you are following a special diet, you should seek advice as you may need to take some multivitamins to ensure that your breast milk contains all of the nutrients that the baby needs.7
To lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories than your body burns over a given period of time. A pound of fat loss equates to a deficit of 3,500 calories. A reasonable rate of fat loss for most people would be 1lb or 1.5lbs a week, so a deficit of between 500 and 750 calories per day. If you find that your appetite is very high, or you are very sedentary, then you may want to lose weight more slowly. A deficit of 250 calories a day would work out to a rate of weight loss of 0.5lbs a week or 2lbs a month. That means if you have 12lbs to lose you would be back to your pre-pregnancy weight six months after you started your diet.
You can create a calorie deficit by eating less, or by exercising more. The exercise does not have to be vigorous. Taking your child to the park every day will get you moving and will offer some health benefits while also offering you the opportunity to meet other mums, and for your baby to meet other kids. Walking for 30 minutes per day has been proven to have numerous health benefits8 and is a form of exercise that everyone can enjoy. Try to involve your baby in your exercise, going to mum and baby yoga classes or swimming sessions if they are available in your area, and generally moving around as much as possible. It’s great for bonding!
It is normal for people to experience a plateau in their weight loss even if they haven’t been pregnant. You don’t have to resign yourself to hold on to an extra five to ten pounds after having a baby. Some women do accept that, especially if they are still at a healthy BMI with those extra pounds. However, if you want to lose them, you can do so.
Remember that your daily calorie burn will fall as your weight falls because it costs less energy to move around when you are carrying less weight. This means that it’s worth recalculating your TDEE as you lose weight and adjust your calorie intake accordingly. Be patient while you are losing weight, and accept that you might not see constant, steady movement on the scale. As you lose fat, those fat cells will fill up with water for a short time so you may not see a corresponding change in your weight.9 Eventually, those fat cells will release the water as urine and you will find that you ‘suddenly’ lose a lot of weight. The effect of water retention is more noticeable for women, and it is not uncommon for them to hold on to water to differing degrees at various points in their menstrual cycle.10
To avoid frustration, try to weigh yourself once or twice a week, at the same time of day for each weigh-in. This will help to buffer you from weight fluctuations as a result of water retention and hormones and give you a clearer trend. If you are not seeing changes in your weight after 2-3 weeks, then revisit your habits and adjust your calorie intake or increase your exercise accordingly.
Keep Track of What You Eat
While some women are able to lose weight simply by “making an effort to eat healthily”, others need to count calories. This is usually true for smaller women who have a much lower daily calorie allowance to play with. If you find that you aren’t losing weight by making small lifestyle changes such as cutting out sugary drinks and eating more vegetables, it may be time to start counting calories for a while. Buy a food scale and weigh and measure the food that you are eating so that you get a good idea of portion sizes. Log everything you eat and drink (yes, liquid calories count as well) either in a notepad or in a fitness app such as MyFitnessPal. Once you get into the habit of doing so, you will find that it takes just a minute or two per day, and it really can open your eyes to how much you are eating.
One common mistake is not realizing that some of the popular drinks in chain coffee shops contain more than 300 calories, so if you have a flavored coffee and a snack with it you could be consuming 1/3rd or more of your calorie allowance for the day in that one snack. Another common mistake is misreading the label and thinking that a ‘serving’ of pre-packaged food is the whole packet when really the packet contains two servings or some counter-intuitive amount such as 1.5 servings. Once you get past those common pitfalls it becomes easier to track your calories and to make good choices.
Set A Good Example
If you are improving your lifestyle, then why not set a good example for the rest of your family so that your kids grow up with a healthy attitude to food as well? Studies show that children who grow up in families where a parent is overweight are more likely to be overweight themselves because they learn ‘disinhibited eating’ from their parents.11 Having a positive attitude to food and teaching your children that healthy foods can be enjoyable is an important part of bringing up children that will go on to live a healthy lifestyle themselves. Instead of putting yourself on a diet and having the rest of the family eat in a different way, have everyone make a lifestyle change that will set them on the path to good health and form long term positive habits when it comes to food and exercise.
Remember that weight loss is a gradual process and to consult your healthcare provider before reducing calories in your diet. Staying active and keeping a food log are a just a few ways to help meet your goals. MONQ’s Active personal essential oil diffuser has a mix of bitter orange, black pepper, and sage to give you that extra motivation to kick start your way towards weight loss. Always conduct proper research before using essential oils, as some should be avoided by pregnant or nursing women and consult a healthcare provider if needed.
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