It’s tempting to rush into a crash diet after birth, but losing the extra weight slowly and sensibly will mean it's more likely to stay off and you won’t end up exhausted.
While you were happy to loan out your body to your growing baby for nine months, now you’ve given birth its normal to want it back the way it was again. When I had my first daughter I was so impatient to get back into my pre-pregnancy jeans that I’d try them on every few days, which only made me feel worse. In the end, my midwife’s advice was correct: with breastfeeding, eating healthily, and walking my baby in her pram every day I lost the weight gradually, but permanently, in about six months.
Or the other option is to buy yourself a new pair of jeans!
Dr Carrie Ruxton, a dietician at the Health Supplements Information Service (www.hsis.org) says:
Allow up to 12 months to lose all the pregnancy weight, though this may happen faster if you’re breastfeeding and slower if bottle feeding. It will also depend on whether you had a natural birth (faster) or a C-section (slower) and of course how much exercise you take.
When is it safe to start dieting?
“It is important not to crash diet to try to lose the baby weight too quickly. Having a new baby can be physically and emotionally tiring and new mums should ensure they eat well, while being as healthy and fit as possible,” advises nutritionist Ayela Spiro at the British Nutrition Foundation (www.nutrition.org.uk).
Talk with your doctor about your diet and when is a good time for you to start an exercise program.
In general if you’re bottle feeding, an ideal time to start reducing calories and doing regular exercise is after your six-week postnatal check-up (though you may need to wait longer to start exercising if you had a C-section). “If you’re breastfeeding, allow the extra calories burnt by producing breast milk to be your weight loss method as well as sticking to a healthy diet and taking regular exercise,” says Dr Ruxton. If you haven’t lost your pregnancy weight by the time you stop breastfeeding, then start to reduce your calorie intake. “While most mums lose all their pregnancy weight while breastfeeding, mine didn’t drop off until three months after I stopped as feeding made me so hungry,” remembers personal trainer Sarah Maxwell (www.sarahmaxwell.com).
Sensible weight loss
Women need on average 2,000 kcal per day to maintain healthy body weight. To lose weight gradually, you need to reduce your calorie intake until you reach your desired weight. Don’t be too hard on yourself if your exercise plans go awry – you’ll get more time to yourself as your baby settles into a predictable routine.
However, if you’re breastfeeding, you will need around 400-500 extra calories a day to produce sufficient breast milk. Ayela Spiro advises:
Your body will use up about 500 kcal a day producing breast milk, so it’s a great easy way to lose the weight you gained.
You can lose any additional weight by eating healthily and regular exercise.
Make time to eat breakfast every morning. According to the British Dietetic Association, research has shown that people who eat breakfast have more balanced diets, are less likely to be overweight and lose weight more successfully than those who skip it. It also helps boost your energy levels (useful after a tiring night with baby) and improves mood.
Make healthy choices
- Eat vegetables, at least five servings per day.
- Eat fruit, at least two servings per day.
- Grill, steam, bake or casserole lean meat, fish and poultry.
- Choose low fat dairy products, such as cheese, milk and yoghurt.
- Reduce sugary foods and drinks. And watch out for hidden sugar in yoghurt and other snack foods.
- Watch the portion sizes of your meals and snacks.
- By incorporating small amounts of light exercise into your day will improve your overall health and wellbeing.
Healthy breastfeeding snacks
The quality of your breast milk is influenced by your diet and there’s evidence to suggest that the foods you eat now can influence your baby’s taste preferences, so eating a good variety of healthy food can increase your baby’s acceptance of them later on.
“Try low fat cheese spread on oatcakes, muesli or cereal, banana on wholegrain bread, dried fruit, carrot sticks with hummus, Brazil nuts or walnuts,” suggests Dr Ruxton.
Chunks of melon, papaya or pineapple, grapes, strawberries, apple or pear and segments of orange all make quick and healthy snacks to grab while you’re feeding your baby.
Try a handful of pumpkin and sunflower seeds, celery sticks filled with low-fat cheese, a yoghurt or fromage frais, dried apricots, prunes or figs.
Take your time
You may feel you’ve barely five minutes to yourself, but it’s important not to rush your food or skip meals. You may find that eating five or six small meals works better for you than three large meals.
Eat slowly – if you chew your food carefully, you’re less likely to overeat and you’ll notice when you’re full more easily than if you bolt food down quickly.
Drink frequently, preferably before you feel thirsty, and drink more water if your urine appears dark yellow. Have a glass of water or bottle of water nearby when you breast-feed your baby.
Build exercise into your day
It is advisable to check with your doctor about when it is a good time for you to start an exercise program and what type of exercise suits you.
“If you had a natural delivery, it’s safe to start exercising again from about six weeks; if you had a C-section, wait 10-12 weeks,” advises postnatal fitness instructor Claire Mockridge (www.clairemockridge.com).
Now isn’t the time to start a high-intensity exercise regime. Start slowly and gradually build up your strength and stamina.
Definitely avoid running and high-impact fitness classes initially. Your pelvic floor muscles weaken during pregnancy and won’t be ready for this yet. Also avoid classes like Zumba, with lots of sudden twisting and turning movements as you’re more prone to injury in the early weeks.
To help you lose the extra weight safely, try:
- Getting out for a daily walk with your baby in the stroller or front carrier. Start with 10-20 minutes, then work up to 30 minutes at least five days a week. Once you can do this, build up your walking speed and distance to burn fat and imrove your stamina.
- Join a postnatal exercise class such as Pilates or yoga to build core muscle strength and stretch muscles safely.
- Got a spare five minutes? Put on your favourite music and dance.
- Invest in a postnatal exercise DVD so you can do a quick workout when your baby naps.
- In case of any doubts or concerns, reach out to your doctor for advice.