Most women are longing for their body to return to its normal shape and condition the moment after they deliver. I certainly expected my stomach to magically shrink to a bikini ready state in just a few weeks. Although a select few are blessed with the genetics and metabolism to fit into their skinny jeans postpartum day 2, for the majority of new and repeat mommies this is unfortunately an unrealistic expectation. For those who have had a c-section, this is even more unrealistic due to the exercise and movement limitations recommended for the first six weeks postpartum.
I am a strong advocate for breast-feeding, and I was sure that breast-feeding alone would liposuction my plump frame into something at least resembling my old self. It never occurred to me that losing weight after delivery would be challenging. Although I was nursing every 2-3 hours, the scale was barely budging. I wasn’t allowed to exercise for at least six weeks due to my c-section, and to be honest, I hardly felt like moving the first several weeks. Having battled preeclampsia, my brain and body were still pretty out of sorts. My blood pressure remained elevated for several weeks after delivery and my cardiovascular system wasn’t cooperating. Just walking down the hall made me short of breath. My endurance was negligible, and my frustration was rising. I’m sure that living in the NICU for nine weeks with a preemie had also sent my cortisol levels soaring, hindering my weight loss.
In the midst of having had preeclampsia, a STAT c-section, and a premature baby requiring resuscitation and a NICU stay, you may wonder why I even cared about something as “superficial” as my weight. Well, when everything around me felt like chaos, I wanted something familiar and comfortable. I wanted myself back. After all that I had been through, I wanted to feel normal. I don’t think that is superficial. I think it’s a natural reaction.
So, for those of you who were running marathons a few weeks after delivery, you can skip this blog, but for those of you struggling to lose the first 30 lbs or the last five, I thought I would throw out some tips that helped a very frustrated mommy! Here is my top list of things that worked for me. Take them or leave them, but I do provide a little evidence to say why they may be effective for most women after delivery.
11 TIPs and Health Tricks:
1. Revise Your Goal: Best Shape Ever
Although many of you are fixated on a goal weight (often your pre-pregnancy weight), fixating on this number may mean selling yourself short. Instead, aim to be in the best shape of your life. This shift in perspective from weight to shape can transform your lifestyle and boost your progress. I stopped staring at the scale and instead started to notice how my clothes fit. I started caring more about how strong I was rather than how skinny I was. I reminded myself that muscle weights more than fat but looks a heck of a lot better. (I’ll take toned arms and a tight butt any day over a dip in the scale.) Having the goal of being healthy and in shape is not only more attainable, but it will push you to remain healthy and to continue exercising long after you reach your weight goal.
2. Get Excited and Get Addicted
Although many women struggle with getting excited about exercise, exercising after delivery has major perks. Most mothers feel obligated to hold their infant 24/7. After having that little one physically attached to you for nine months, it seems strange to break that bond in any way. Even so, having a break from that adorable little one who is demanding feedings, diaper changes, and middle of the night cuddles, can make you a better mother. Exercise provides the perfect opportunity (and excuse) for you to focus on yourself for a few moments daily. Letting off steam through physical activity is therapeutic for a tired mom. And, although you may be physically exhausted before you hit the treadmill, the endorphins (feel good hormones) that your body releases during exercise will make you happier, energized, and healthier.
Finding what type of exercise you like and getting addicted to it is another good way to stay in shape longterm. If Zumba is your thing, then swing those hips. If Pilates is more your style, then chatarunga and down dog away. The only way to find out what you might love is to try new things. Last week I gave Pure Barre a shot! This week was YoPI and TRX. Not only can trying new things be fun, it can also help you meet other moms with similar interests and goals.
3. Move to Your Heartbeat
Everyone knows that cardiovascular exercise is an essential part of any weight loss program. In addition to helping you lose weight, exercise is great for keeping the pounds off. Pregnancy changes your cardiovascular system dramatically. Even if you exercised during pregnancy, you may not feel back to your normal endurance level immediately. Give yourself time to build back up. One of the best ways to monitor your efforts is by paying attention to your heart rate. There are specific heart rate zones that are best for losing weight based on your age. The good news is that the target heart rate for weight loss is not all that high (meaning that walking may actually be a better option than running). If you are pushing yourself too hard too soon, your heart rate may be out of your fat burning/weight loss zone and in your calorie burning zone instead. This may limit your results.
There are several ways to monitor your heart rate to ensure that the time you spend working out is quality time (in your fat burning zone). If you are working out at the gym, most of the machines have heart rate monitors built into the handrails. If you are enjoying the great outdoors instead of the gym or want something more accurate than the handrails, you can purchase a heart rate monitor at most sporting goods stores. The best monitors come as a small strap that you connect around your bra line. These monitors include a watch that shows you your heart rate. Some of them are pretty fancy, but you can definitely find basic ones for a limited budget. If you want to go a step further to guarantee that your workout time is all about fat burning, you may be interested in having a simple metabolic test done to let you know your specific fat burning zone. Most gyms offer this exercise test in which you walk on a treadmill wearing a vented mask and heart rate monitor. This test measures your oxygen usage compared to your heart rate and is able to determine your specific ideal heart rate for fat burning. Having this test done greatly altered my workouts. The age based formula was not nearly as accurate as the metabolic test, and I found that I wasn’t working out in my ideal zone most of the time. I was usually either below it or above it. After adjusting my workouts based on my target heart rate, the scale finally started to budge! I wasn’t wasting my breath without results anymore! On a side note, for those of you interested in the metabolic test, make sure that you have it repeated several months down the road because your target fat burning heart rate zone can change as you become more fit and gain endurance.
I already mentioned that muscle weights more than fat, but it looks a lot better! Not only does it look better, muscle can be your best friend when it comes to shedding the pounds. Muscle burns three times more calories than fat, even when you are sitting still. By building muscle, you will increase your metabolism and firm up your shape. Once I started incorporating weight training into my workouts I started to notice that my pre-pregnancy clothes were starting to fit again. The scale wasn’t moving much, but my waistline was shrinking! Women are often intimidated by weight training, but we are also mislead to think that building muscle means pumping large amounts of iron in the weight room surrounded by Hulk like men. Weight training also includes using your own body weight in exercises like Pilates, Yoga and TRX. If weight machines and free weights are your thing, go for it, but many women love the long lean muscles produced from classes that focus on using their own body weight instead.
5. Look Stupid=Look Good (Body over Pride)
Be willing to try new things. Don’t worry if you don’t know what you are doing in an exercise class. Everyone else is caring far more about themselves than they are about how you are performing. You are going for you, not to impress them. If you keep that in the front of your mind you will push yourself to try new things that just might make the difference in helping you reach your fitness goals. So what if you look stupid in the studio. A few months down the road you are going to look pretty hot in your skinny jeans! Besides, you might just find a class you love and in which you will eventually excel. Keep everything in perspective.
6. Don’t Starve Yourself
Many women think that they have to cut out every calorie in order to lose weight. Fact is, YOU CAN EAT and still lose weight! Actually, you have to eat in order to lose fat. By starving yourself, your body simply holds onto the fat and gets rid of your hard-earned muscle. Eating enough food is a must for keeping your metabolism pumping. Try one of the calorie counters like My Fitness Pal that incorporates your exercise into the equation to track and see how many calories you should be consuming in a day.
7. Breast Feed for Yourself
Although breast-feeding wasn’t a miracle weight loss solution for me, for many women it works wonders. So in addition to giving your little one some great nutrients and bonding time, breast-feeding may be a great weight loss solution for you. But remember, it only gives you 500 extra calories a day. You need to eat more, but you aren’t supporting a baby elephant (sorry, was reminding myself of that fact). Don’t diet if you are breast-feeding (it can drop your milk supply), but do be aware of your choices.
8. Stop Sipping Your Calories
One of the simplest ways to cut out calories is to stop drinking them. Limiting the calorie laden beverage can liquidate the pounds quickly. Even the calorie free drinks that use artificial sweeteners are now thought to be adding to the American bulge. If you’re like me, this is going to be a tough one. I love my daily caffeine! Actually, I rely on my daily caffeine! Don’t most moms? Give yourself some cheat days, but at least try to cut back. My motto, “Cutting out a Latte a day helps the skinny me stay.”
Drinking more water is good for your body in more ways than one. Not only does water hydrate us, it also fills us up making us less hungry. Often times when we think that we are hungry, our body is actually just thirsty.So, instead of reaching for a snack, try some water first. If you wait until you feel thirsty to drink, you are most likely already dehydrated. So, keep a water bottle on you at all times, and keep sipping.
10. Stop Comparing Yourself to Other Women and Be Realistic
Remind yourself that your primary goal right now is to care for a tiny little person who demands everything from you. Don’t expect more from yourself than you can realistically give. Remember why you gained all of this weight in the first place. You were growing an amazing little person. It was worth every pound! As women, we come in all different shapes and sizes. Fact: My hips will never be a size zero. If my best friend has the hips of a pencil, great for her! Work with what you’ve got. Frustration from comparing can sabotage your success. Applaud other women and their bodies, and then give yourself a pat on the back for how your body is reshaping.
Set a realistic timetable and attainable goals for yourself. Not only is losing 15 pounds in a week unhealthy, it is CRAZY! Often people reporting this much weight loss are simply losing water weight and lean muscle instead of fat. One to two pounds of weight loss a week is considered healthy. If you are breast-feeding you may lose more than this, and that’s okay. Breast feeding revs up the metabolism in a lot of women and naturally sheds pounds.
11. Doctor’s Orders
If everything you are trying still doesn’t work, consider consulting your physician to get your thyroid checked. Ruling out an underlying medical condition may be necessary if you are putting in the work and not seeing the results.
Final Thoughts for Every Mom!
In an effort to feel more normal in my skin using the above steps, I have also had a revelation about my post pregnancy body. My body isn’t “perfect” since having had a baby. My tummy is not quite as flat, and I wouldn’t call the stretch marks on my upper thighs desirable, but these changes are a reminder of how amazing the human body is. My body was able to create, protect, and nurture another human being. If I look at my few stretch marks and c-section scar with this in mind, they actually start to look a little pretty. Besides, who’s to say that they aren’t. As long as I am healthy and comfortable in my body, I refuse to let our culture with its airbrushed “perfection,” set my standard of beauty. Work hard to be healthy, strong, and fit, but don’t forget to thank your new post baby body (whatever shape it’s in) for giving you the most beautiful gift of all, motherhood!
From The Mom in Me, MD