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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.