I have had two babies or been nursing for the last three years. During this time, I have spent a lot of time in pregnancy and post-partum Facebook groups.
Many of the friends I have are also mothers of young children. I have seen a disturbing trend among this group of new mothers. As a Registered Dietitian. I have to say something about it.
Very sadly, with our celebrity and social media influenced world, for some reason new mothers seem to believe that "bouncing back" as quickly as possible after having a baby is THE most important thing. I see women all over, both friends and on social media, doing the Keto diet, Whole 30, or struggling to drastically limit calories. I mean, if Kim K used keto to lose the baby weight in just three months, why can't you? Right?
I am not against any of these diets, but I am against them for women who are less than a year post-partum. Social media would lead us to believe if you are more than a few months out and haven’t lost the baby weight, you aren’t trying hard enough. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Here is a dose of reality for those of you who are anywhere within a YEAR of your baby being born:
- Your hormones are all over the place post-partum. Hormones are a crazy beast that can make you insane, irrational, anxious, depressed, and just overall unstable. You cry one second and laugh the next. It takes about 18 months after your baby is born for your hormones to normalize. This is if you are not breastfeeding. If you are still breastfeeding after 18 months, it may take even longer.
- A recent study came out that said it takes a FULL YEAR to recover from pregnancy and the birth of a new baby. Why would you be able to "bounce back" in just three months? The idea that within 6 weeks, 3 months, or even A YEAR you should be back to normal in any way is completely unrealistic.
- You are extremely nutrient depleted post-partum. You just grew a human. You may be feeding that human with your own body. This is the most critical time for well-balanced nutrition, for you and your baby. You can suffer long-term, debilitating consequences due to nutrient depletion if you restrict too much. It can weaken your bones and make you even more exhausted than you already are.
- Due to these crazy hormones, dieting is literally the WORST thing you can do during this time. Calorie restriction in any form, increases cortisol or stress-hormone levels. It is stressful to count points, say no to the donuts, or restrict food groups. Even too much intense exercise raises cortisol levels. So, not only are your hormones already insane you are going to take active steps to raise the levels of stress hormones even more? How does that make sense?
Not to mention the stress related to adjusting to a new baby, physical healing from delivery or surgery, lack of sleep, marital problems/conflicts that may come up, self-identity issues which can also contribute to stress.
So, here is what I am proposing. Just stop. Stop the keto, the Whole 30, the obsessive calorie counting. Instead take the first year post-partum as a time for nourishing and nurturing yourself and your baby.
Eat healing, healthy foods. Eat enough calories, so you actually feel satisfied. (You need at least 500 more calories per day if you are breastfeeding, eat them!). Get massages regularly. Exercise gently, find a relaxing yoga class to attend.
Tell the voice in your head that says you need to fit into those old jeans to get a life. Live in your yoga or maternity pants or just buy some new pants that fit your body now.
Let go of the expectation that you need to "get back" to some point where you used to be. Instead focus on kindness and self-care. You are forever changed. Your body will be forever changed, you can't expect it to be anything else.
One day, when you are feeling well-rested, rational, and ready, you will be able to lose the weight. Or not.
Personally, after I had my last baby, my only focus was self-care. I put as many feel-good systems in place as possible. I engaged in activities that served and fulfilled me, so I could be a better mother to both my sons. None of it involved crazy diets, exercise plans, or even stepping on the scale. I gave myself a solid year before any of that came into play. My mind and body needed time to adjust.
So, if you are a post-partum mama, if this is your first child or 10th, I urge you to take the first year as a year of nourishment. A year where you do everything to make yourself feel happy and cared for. And let go of the image in your head of what you "should" look like. Replace it instead with a happy and healthy mama, full of energy and love, because you are not putting your weight first, you are putting yourself and your amazing baby first.
Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and freelance writer with 12-years of experience in the field of nutrition and dietetics. Through her writing she demonstrates her passion for helping people achieve ideal health and make transformational changes in their lives. You can find out more about her at www.anareisdorf.com
-- Twitter: @ana_reisdorf