Weight Worries Post-Pregnancy
Most women put on weight during pregnancy, more than the baby and placenta, as this is nature's way of making sure there is a good store of energy for making milk. Some do lose the extra weight over the months of breastfeeding. However, in western countries where there is a lot of food around, many women find it hard to get back to their previous weight. It is possible to deliberately lose weight while breastfeeding without affecting the milk supply, but it needs to be gradual. Aim for about ½ kg a week. 1
As a general rule of thumb it's recommended that you wait until you've had your six week check before starting any form of postnatal exercise other than your pelvic floor exercises. Exercise is a great way to get back into shape after your baby is born and also helps you feel good. Walking the baby in the pram does all this and puts the baby to sleep, usually, so is an ideal way to start being active after giving birth.1 As a general rule of thumb it's recommended that you wait until you've had your six week post natal check up before starting any form of exercise other than your pelvic floor exercises.4
The general guidelines below give you a starting point to plan your return to post natal fitness:
0-3 Weeks Post Natal
- Postnatal abdominal bracing.
- Pelvic floor exercises.
- For exercising after a caesarean, please seek advice from your physician on how quickly you can return to exercise.
3-8 Weeks Post Natal
It is recommended that you wait until your 6 week post natal check up, before commencing a group exercise program or getting back into your gym program.
- Swimming (once bleeding stopped).
- Gym programs - maintain posture, light weights, no breath holding.
- Post natal abdominal and pelvic floor exercises.
- Low impact aerobics or post natal class.
- Low intensity water aerobics classes (once bleeding stopped).
8-12 Weeks Post Natal
- As for 3-8 weeks, increasing intensity/weights.
- Progress post natal abdominal bracing and pelvic floor exercises e.g. post natal abdominal bracing with "leg loading". Check with your Fitness Instructor or Physiotherapist for ideas.
12-16 Weeks Post Natal
- Abdominal and pelvic floor muscle testing prior to return to higher impact exercise / running / sport, and commencing regular abdominal exercise programs.
After 16 Weeks Post Natal
- Return to previous activity levels providing that your pelvic floor muscles are back to normal.
- You should not experience any back pain, pelvic or vaginal heaviness or urine loss during or after exercise. If you do, slow down or reduce your intensity level.
- Seek further advice from your Doctor or Physiotherapist if any problems persist. 2
Exercise & Breast Feeding
Moderate exercise does not usually interfere with breastfeeding; however some babies don't like the taste of milk just after vigorous exercise. This is not common but if you find your baby refuses the breast at that stage, make sure you feed just before your work-out, then not again until you've cooled down. Some mothers find vigorous or long exercise does affect their milk supply. You may need some trial and error to find out how much is right for you. It is important that new mums have a balance of exercise and rest, and be sure to drink plenty of fluid, especially if you have been sweating. 1
Eating & Drinking
Although it is hard to find the time, if you can manage to eat well you will feel better and have more energy. Eat at least three times a day, following the guide below to make sure you get all the nutrients you need to recover from the birth and make milk for your baby. Breastfeeding mothers don't need to eat a lot of extra food or any special foods. Your appetite and thirst will be a good guide. Drinking extra fluids will not increase your milk supply, but you do need enough fluids. Try to have a drink yourself each time you feed the baby.
Here is a guide to eating well, whether or not you are breastfeeding.
- Eat a variety of foods each day.
- Eat plenty of breads and cereals (including some whole grains), rice and pasta.
- Eat several different vegetables and fruits each day.
- Eat protein foods every day - meat, fish, chicken, eggs, cheese, legumes (dried peas, beans, lentils).
- Eat foods containing calcium every day (a lot of calcium from your body will go into breast milk). Milk and dairy products (e.g. cheese, yoghurt, and custards) are the easiest way to get calcium. You can also get calcium from soymilk that has had calcium added (check the label), tinned fish with bones such as salmon and sardines, tofu, legumes, almonds, hommos, and smaller amounts from green vegetables.
There are many "old wives tales" about foods you should not eat for fear of upsetting your baby. Some mothers find that if they eat a lot of rich or spicy foods, or particular fruits or vegetables their babies may be upset, but others can eat anything, so it is a matter of trial and error. If you find you need to avoid several foods from one of the groups listed above, check to be sure that you are still getting all the important nutrients. Drugs, tobacco or medicines you take may reach your baby through your milk. Alcohol and nicotine passes freely into the milk. 1
Pre & Post Pregnancy Supplements
Supplements should not be taken by women who are pregnant or lactating, unless part of a balanced diet or as recommended by a medical practitioner, preferably an obstetrician.
Tips to Help You Plan and Stick to Your Exercise Routine
- First and foremost, you will need to be flexible and don’t be hard on yourself if your plans go out the window.
- Try to make 'back up' plans - if you have planned to go for a 30 minute stroller walk and the weather turns bad, have an exercise video/DVD that you could do instead – have a range of video’s/DVD’s with differing programs and lengths so that you can do a quick 10 minute workout if you are pressed for time or a 45 minute to an hour workout if your baby is sleeping.
- Take your baby in the stroller wherever and whenever possible, the more ‘incidental’ exercise you can do, the faster you will see results.
- Don’t rely on the 'breastfeeding for weight loss' theory – unfortunately this does not work for all women and many women actually put weight on during breastfeeding.
- Try to find someone who would be happy to baby-sit for you for an hour or so once a week so that you can to go to the gym, meet with a personal trainer, power walk, etc. It is important to be at home and bond with your baby, but it is also important to allocate some YOU time where you can.
- Try to find a gym, personal training studio or fitness facility that is ‘child friendly’ where you can bring your stroller or baby capsule while you exercise.
- Exercise your tummy and pelvic floor throughout the day – you can do these sitting or standing. 3