Article Written by: Brenda Peralta, Dietary Sciences Advisor, M.O.O.
The arrival of a baby is one of the most beautiful things. However, once we have the baby, the pressure arises for us to lose some weight. We are constantly bombarded with photographs of those celebrity moms that lose their baby fat in a couple of weeks. Although there is nothing wrong with it, it puts unnecessary pressure on women to get back to their "original" bodies.
While gaining weight over nine months is encouraged, why do we put unnecessary pressure to lose that same weight we accumulated in nine months in less than a couple of weeks? There should be no rush to get back to a weight that we feel comfortable with. This article explores the downsides of dieting and how to manage a healthy weight loss after childbirth.
What does society say?
Why do we put so much emphasis on weight loss after childbirth? Women's most common answer is societal pressure (especially from celebrities).
A celebrity is pregnant, she has the baby, and just in a couple of weeks, she is back to having that "beach body." This is often referred to as "Snap Back Culture." It is when celebrates those women whose bodies return to prebaby weight once they’ve given birth. I'd like to mention this culture and how it has put extra pressure on moms (and people surrounding moms) to influence not only weight loss but a specific body type after having the baby. A culture highly encouraged by the plastic surgery community.
Other typical pressures arise from the mother-in-law or the husband, who might comment about the weight that is not coming off.
Studies show that 80% of the women take more than three months to get back to their pre-baby weight, while only 20% can lose it in the first three months (1). This means that weight loss takes time.
The downside of dieting
We often search or do restrictive diets when looking to lose some weight. They are unhealthy for the mother, and they are also harmful to the baby. Reducing your calories significantly can create nutritional deficiencies. This will affect the mom since it puts her at risk of health problems (like anemia), but it also affects the baby since the quality of the breast milk is not the same (2).
What is a good weight loss?
The amount of weight you need to lose depends significantly on how much you gain during pregnancy. A good weight loss goal is losing 0.5-1% of your weight per week. This can be an average of one pound per week. This amount shouldn't affect your milk production, and if you see that it is. Stop immediately and start ingesting more calories. At this weight loss speed, you might get back to your pre-baby weight in 6-12 months (3).
In the long term, most fad diets don't work. They don't create long-lasting habits that not only are going to help get rid of that extra weight but help you keep it off. If the mindset is not changed, most people who opt for a restrictive diet regain their weight back in a couple of months.
Embracing non-dieting approaches like intuitive eating are an excellent tool for those moms looking to create long-lasting changes to their bodies. This philosophy focuses on listening to the body and paying attention to its needs without feeling guilty or restricted.
Additionally, it seems that women who follow an intuitive eating approach have higher self-esteem, phycological wellbeing, and self-love in their bodies (4).
Tips for weight loss
If you are considering losing weight after pregnancy. Here are some tips to help you start a healthy weight loss journey.
1. Social Media Detox
Do a social media detox. If social media accounts put unnecessary pressure on you, then let them go. They are not creating a positive environment for you. Now, there is a fine line between motivation and pressure. A social media account motivates you to exercise, eat healthier, and stay hydrated. Then keep it! On the other hand, if it creates an unfavorable environment for you to lose weight and feel pressure on a certain physical aspect, it is time to let it go.
2. Love yourself
Before losing weight, make sure that you love yourself in anybody that you are in. Remember that you have gone through a challenging process and just created life. Question yourself on the motivation for your weight loss. Is it for health reasons or physical and social issues?
If you are constantly worrying about your body image, there is no shame in having professional health dealing with postpartum weight image. It's common for new moms to struggle with their weight and image. There should be no shame in talking about it and seeking professional help.
3. Set your own pace
One of the most important things about weight loss is setting it at your own pace. Avoid listening to other people's views or journeys. Keep in mind that each body is different, and while some might lose it faster than others, this doesn't mean it's better.
Make sure to always listen to your body and what it needs.
Remember to stay active. It doesn't have to be an intense training exercise, but having a light walk every day for 30 minutes can bring you as many benefits as a training session. Always make sure to ask your doctor before you get involved in physical activity and do it slowly.
5. Avoid restrictive dieting
Most importantly, avoid restrictive dieting. This can be harmful to your body and the baby. Make sure to seek professional help, like a Registered Dietitian, to help you determine your total calories or help you have a more intuitive eating approach.
The bottom line
Each woman’s weight loss journey after pregnancy is different. Remember that you just had a baby and should be taking a weight loss approach slow and steady to avoid affecting the lactation process.
Society has often put unnecessary pressure on moms to return immediately to their pre-baby bodies, but this can have harmful effects on their mental health. Always make sure that you are looking to lose weight for the right reasons and seek professional help to achieve that weight loss in a healthy way.
McKinley, M., Allen-Walker, V., McGirr, C., Rooney, C., & Woodside, J. (2018). Weight loss after pregnancy: Challenges and opportunities. Nutrition Research Reviews, 31(2), 225-238. doi:10.1017/S0954422418000070
Kathryn G. Dewey, Effects of Maternal Caloric Restriction and Exercise during Lactation, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 128, Issue 2, February 1998, Pages 386S–389S, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/128.2.386S
Labor and delivery, postpartum care. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/labor-and-delivery/in-depth/weight-loss-after-pregnancy/art-20047813
Lee, Megan & Williams, Susan & Burke, Karena. (2019). Striving for the thin ideal post-pregnancy: cross-sectional study of intuitive eating in postpartum women. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology. 38. 10.1080/02646838.2019.1607968.