No Quick Fix: How To Lose Weight After the Baby Arrives
If you’ve just welcomed a bundle of baby joy into your world, chances are that you’re probably heavier than you’ve ever been in your life. You may be agonizing over all of the kilos that found their way to your hips in nine months. You may not even fully believe how your body has transformed in that time. But don’t despair – we’re here to decode cutting edge research on postpartum weight loss to help you understand how your body works after baby. While those washboard abs may not magically reappear, you can surely get your body back with some time and effort.
Here’s what you need to know.
Breastfeeding isn’t the best time to lose weight.
While breastfeeding offers plenty of nutritional benefits for your newborn and emotional benefits for you, it isn’t the best time for you to embark on weight loss. Experts advise waiting until you have finished breastfeeding, which for most women means holding off anywhere from four months to a year.
“The [caloric] needs of the mother during lactation are the highest as compared to any stage of her life,” says Rohini Saran, a nutritional consultant at the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD), New Delhi. “A lot of energy is spent during lactation. Any restriction on nutrition, such as going on severely restrictive diets, affects the quantity and the quality of the milk.”
Reducing at this point also negatively affects the mother’s health, Saran adds.
“To fulfil the requirements of the infant, the mother’s nutritional reserves are often raided by the body and used to supplement the baby’s nourishment,” she says.
In other words, skipping meals and dieting at this stage is a no-no, because you actually need to increase your caloric intake to keep up with the energy demands of breastfeeding. But breastfeeding itself isn’t the magic “how to lose weight” bullet it may seem. A study published by the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine found that short periods of breastfeeding and mixed feeding (i.e., feeding with formula as well as breast milk) did not contribute significantly to postpartum weight loss. However, the study concluded, exclusive and prolonged breastfeeding may afford some weight loss benefits.
So, what can you do while breastfeeding? You can work out—but make sure your routine isn’t too vigorous. Research suggests that high-intensity physical activity can cause a lactic acid build-up in breast milk, giving it a sour taste that your baby may not like.
Eating healthfully is the best way to lose weight …
The basic rules of weight loss – tweaking your diet while upping your exercise – apply to new mothers, too. Begin by building a healthy eating plan.
“First, eliminate all the packaged items from your diet, including packaged snacks and tetra juices,” says Neelanjana Singh, Chief Clinical Nutritionist at PSRI Hospital, New Delhi. “Never choose foods from just one food group or you could end up with severe nutritional deficiencies.”
Fresh foods are always best, she says. And while there’s no need to count calories obsessively, a 1200-1400 plan would work well, advises Saran, the government nutritionist.
“Never follow fad diets that ask you to severely restrict calories,” she says. “Cut back on fats that have no nutritional value, but not on carbohydrates. Fill up with low-calorie fruits and vegetables that can offer satiety. Drink plenty of water and be sure to take a vitamin supplements.”
Finally, Singh says, pay particular attention to increasing your dairy, protein, and fibre intake.
“The best source of vegetarian protein is milk, eggs, dhal, soya, mushroom and lentils,” she says. “Plan fibre-rich snacks of not more than 200 calories between meals. These could be a handful of nuts (30g of almonds/pistachios/cashews), a fruit, or a yoghurt smoothie.”
(For more ideas, see our article on healthy post-pregnancy eating.)
… as long as you’re exercising well, too.
Your exercise routine can begin four to six weeks after natural delivery, or three months after a Caesarean delivery. While few are able to carve out this leisure time, there’s good news for you busy, sleep-deprived moms: Recent medical research supports short, intense bursts of cardio workouts called HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) as more effective than longer, traditional workouts.
HIIT involves a series of structured high- and low-intensity exercises: After an initial warm-up, you perform one aerobic exercise intensely for 1-3 minutes. This is often followed by a minute of rest or low-intensity exercise like jogging or walking in place, which allows you to catch your breath. This cycle repeats roughly 10-15 times, meaning you only need a half hour from your day. It’s a quick, results-oriented routine ideal for losing post-pregnancy weight.
“If you’ve been sedentary for a while, it’s best to do one to two months of low- or moderate-intensity walking before starting a HIIT routine,” advises Dr. Alok Kumar Singh, interventional cardiologist at Heritage Hospitals in Varanasi and editor-in-chief of Heart India Journal.
But once you get going, the results are quick: One study, conducted in 2012 and published in the Journal of Obesity reported that just 12 weeks of HIIT (roughly 36-48 sessions), significantly reduced fat from all over the body, especially in the abdomen, trunk, thighs and most notably, visceral fat (i.e. fat buried deep under the skin over the vital organs, the most difficult kind of fat to lose). This is good news for new mamas, since most pregnancy weight gain is visceral fat in the belly.
Ultimately, like most parts of motherhood, it’s a matter of patience—the weight isn’t going to disappear overnight, no matter how healthy your diet and devotion to HIIT.
“It took you over nine months to gain that weight,” says Singh, the hospital nutritionist, “so you shouldn’t be looking for a quick fix to lose it.”