Postpartum weight loss: How to lose your baby weight effortlessly

Whether you're thinking about becoming pregnant, currently have a bun in the oven or, are already gazing into your new baby's eyes, the topic of postpartum weight loss can instil feelings of anxiety, stress and fear in many (if not all) women.

It's natural and necessary to put on weight during pregnancy. During this magical time, there are a myriad of hormonal changes that happen within your body. You produce human placental lactogen (HPL) which  promotes insulin resistance. This state of insulin resistance does two things, first it helps you increase your blood glucose to feed your growing baby and second, it increases visceral fat stores that will be utilized during breastfeeding. Both totally necessary and vital functions.

I get letters from new mom's frequently who are putting oodles or pressure on themselves to shed the baby pounds within weeks of giving birth. While there is no quick fix, magic pill or underground liposuction network, there are a few things you can do to help the baby weight fall off effortlessly. 

Breastfeed

As demonstrated by Gisele...breastfeeding, the new celebrity weight loss plan....sorry, cheesy but I couldn't resist.

As demonstrated by Gisele...breastfeeding, the new celebrity weight loss plan....sorry, cheesy but I couldn't resist.

By far, the easiest way to lose your baby weight is to breastfeed. Remember that hormone HPL that helps you hang on to weight during pregnancy? When you breastfeed, HPL is replaced by Prolactin. Prolactin's job is to support lactation, reduce estrogen levels (causing freedom from menstrual periods) and mobilize nutrient stores to feed your growing baby. Prolactin produced during breastfeeding is an easy way to essentially 'reset' your postpartum metabolism. 

It's not just about the hormones either, your body requires an additional 500 calories per day to produce milk to feed your baby. It's kind of like natures built in weight loss system. Most weight loss experts recommend a caloric deficit of about 500 calories/day in order to lose a healthy and sustainable pound per week. In essence, breastfeeding is kind of like natures built in weight loss system. That being said, please DON'T starve yourself. Ensure you are getting adequate calories to support your body's recovery and activity levels. If you drop calories too low your milk supply will suffer. 

Balance your hormones

Ensuring your hormonal levels are balanced and stabilizing post baby is a critical part of weight loss.

Thyroid:

One of the most common and under-diagnosed postpartum conditions is postpartum thyroiditis. This form of hypothyroidism (aka not enough thyroid hormone) is often diagnosed between 4-9 months after baby arrives and can cause symptoms that include weight loss plateaus, weight gain, fatigue, constipation, depression and irritability. Since these symptoms are rather general and may be applicable to ALL postpartum women, it's often missed. You're at greatest risk if you've been diagnosed with a thyroid condition before, have suffered from adrenal fatigue, have an autoimmune disorder or are under-eating. A simple blood test is all you need to check your levels. 

Estrogen:

If you have suffered from PCOS in the past, aren't able to breastfeed or you're baby has weened early you may suffer from a condition called estrogen dominance. In hormonally healthy women, estrogen levels should be balanced by progesterone levels in ratios of roughly 1:5 on day 21 of their cycle. Having too much estrogen or too little progesterone can create this state of estrogen dominance which can cause weight gain, fatigue, cravings for sweets, trouble sleeping and thyroid dysfunction. See your functional medicine specialist if you think this may be happening to you. There are a number of supplements and lifestyle changes that can support a healthy estrogen/progesterone balance. 

Even if you don't have a diagnosed condition like thyroiditis, you still do need to take good care to support your natural hormone function to be able to effortlessly lose the baby weight. Here are some other things you can do to help get things back in check:

My fav CARB...the purple potato 

My fav CARB...the purple potato 

  • Eat Carbs: Low carb or ketogenic diets are in vogue right now in the weight loss world. For most women, the childbearing years are not the time to experiment with ultra low carb diets. Limiting carbs in your diet (below 100g/day) can cause a host of issues for postpartum women. It can stress your adrenals, tax your thyroid, decrease your milk supply and cause insomnia or other sleep disturbances.  We'll be sure to dive into the carb-conundrum and get into specific levels in the upcoming Baby Making and Beyond program, but for now, just be sure to add healthy paleo friendly carbs like purple potatoes, yams, squashes and even some rice into your diet.

 

Spend some time enjoying the small things in life.....stress reduction is a key part of a postpartum weight loss plan

Spend some time enjoying the small things in life.....stress reduction is a key part of a postpartum weight loss plan

  • Stress-less: Stress can increase cortisol levels (produced by your adrenal glands) making weight loss very difficult. Support your adrenal glands by following the recommendations in this previous post of mine. Limiting caffeine, practicing regular meditation and SLEEPING will all make the journey so much easier. 


Spending time exercising outdoors is a BONUS. Outdoor movement increases endorphins and dopamine levels helping you stay happy and balanced.

Spending time exercising outdoors is a BONUS. Outdoor movement increases endorphins and dopamine levels helping you stay happy and balanced.

  • Exercise: A little intelligent movement will support muscle growth and help sustain fat loss. Please, don't go crazy and don't start too soon. Start walking around 2-4 wks. After 6 wks, you can introduce some light weight bearing exercise. The best combination of exercise for postpartum women is lots of walking, a little yoga and some form of weight lifting, trx or body weight movement. 

 

Remember, it takes 9 months to gain the baby weight and it will take 9-18 months to lose it. Practice gentle loving kindness for yourself and don't sweat the small stuff. In the grand scheme of life, 10 extra pounds is a first world problem, focus on the things that really matter like family, friendships and being an active and informed citizen of your community and planet. 

How many carbs to eat when you're breastfeeding and following a Paleo diet

To carb or not to carb? That is the question....it seems like I'm asked about carb levels all the time and when I received an email from a client about a suddenly low milk supply after starting a Paleo diet, I knew her story would probably resonate with lots of other gals. So, here you have it. 

My former (most wonderful client) is about 4 months postpartum. She started going to Crossfit mom's as a way of connecting with other women and it was the only program in town that made it easy for her to workout with her baby. Since the start of the new year, her Crossfit group decided to start a one month "Paleo Challenge". Of course, I support this kind of awesome nutritional reset ANYTIME, no challenge required, but I was thrilled to hear she was going to give paleo a good ol' college try.

10 days into the challenge, she had lost 6 lbs. She wasn't sleeping and neither was her baby, who previously slept through the night. She also noticed that her milk supply had significantly decreased. What was going wrong? Should she give in to the bread cravings that were taking over her life?

Typical SAD Macro Levels

Typical SAD Macro Levels

I asked her to punch her nutrition into an online app (I usually recommend My Fitness Pal) which as it turns out, she already did (she's so smart). When she told me her macro's, I instantly knew what the problem was. Carbs were only making up about 20-25% of her diet. Not by choice, just by accident. This would explain the insane weight drop, often caused by rapid water loss when switching from a SAD diet where carb levels are anywhere between 50-60%. The most common mistake folks make when going Paleo is going too low carb by accident. While a Paleo diet is typically lower in carbs than the modern SAD, it isn't designed to be a "low carb diet". Going low carb can happen by accident when we replace the grain laden starches with more filling veggies, fats and meats. 

What was going on?

Her body was STRESSED. While going low carb can result in weight loss, it also can result in systemic stress on your body. Cortisol levels will ramp up disturbing your sleep patterns and your body will begin limiting how much energy it spends on "unnecessary" reproductive functions like ovulation, menstruation and, in this case, breastmilk supply. After all, what body wants to sustain another growing life when it's having a hard time sustaining itself?

If this diet was to continue, it may also cause her thyroid hormones to plummet. Low thyroid in a postpartum woman can cause postpartum depression, stall natural weight loss and cause breastmilk to all but disappear. 

This would explain why both she and her baby were not sleeping through the night.  Her body was holding on to extra calories by dropping her milk supply. Some studies have suggested that when a mom is calorie depleted, her milk may also decrease in fat content. This can cause babies to get hungry faster (aka waking up needing to feed more often) and may also cause them to miss out on critical DHA fatty acids they need for brain and neurological development. 

What To Do if this is happening to you? 

Eat Paleo Friendly Starchy Carbs!  Breastfeeding women NEED carbs. Please ladies, eat the sweet potato, eat the white potato....eat all the potatoes.

These are some good macro's for a breastfeeding mama

These are some good macro's for a breastfeeding mama

While 20-25% may be a good level for an active male or to optimize body composition, it isn't enough to support fertility, pregnancy or lactation. I generally recommend 30-40% depending on activity levels and individual needs. Does she need to eat the bread? Well, no, but, at the end of the day if you eat a slice of gluten free bread, will it really be the end of the world? Probably not. Dianne has a great post about starchy carbs found here with a handy chart, which you can downloadable chart to help you on your way. 

 Eat sufficient calories. When starting a Paleo challenge it's not uncommon for women to drop their calories down too low to support healthy womanly functions. When breastfeeding, this can lead to low milk supply and an unhappy baby. Never drop below around 1800 cals/day when breastfeeding, you'll likely need more if you're active. 

 Lose weight slowly. When women lose weight rapidly they are not only at risk for low milk supply (for the reasons stated above) but, it's also been documented that weight loss of more than 1 lbs or 0.45kg/week can increase the toxic load found in your milk. Say what? True story....

Environmental contaminants such as PCBs and pesticides, are stored in body fat. According to Breastfeeding and Human Lactation (3rd Edition, Riordan, pp 440), when a breastfeeding mother loses weight rapidly (>1lbs/wk), these toxins are released into her bloodstream, and the toxin load of her milk can dramatically increase. These toxins are directly offloaded to a growing baby. Not bueno. 

What about Ketones? When a woman goes very low carb (20-50g/day) she may start producing ketones. Ketones are the waste products of fatty acid metabolism, aka when the body burns some of its own fat for fuel. Ketones will pass into the breastmilk and I wondered if these could be damaging to infants. Apparently not. When I asked famous Breastfeeding Physician Dr. Jack Newman about them, he said that they don't pose any dangers for infants. For more info on ketones during pregnancy, check out this post. Your biggest danger when dieting seems to be is low milk quality and overall supply.

Need more help?

Liz and I cover a whole swack more info just like this a LOT bit more in detail including learning how to dial in your macros head over to Baby Making and Beyond to enrol now.

Or if you’d like a bit more 1:1 advice Fill out this handy form and register for a nutritional assessment. Let me help you on your journey towards being a rad nourished mama!