The initial few weeks and months after having a baby are some of the most intense a woman can experience. You can experience all sorts of emotions from terror to sheer joy, and the surreal experience of trying to make your peace with a totally new body. Don’t forget a severe lack of sleep.
There is obviously an expected transition time of healing, snuggling your newborn and just being there with your baby, but then eventually the pressure of getting back to your “pre-baby body” comes round.
But to put it bluntly, that pre-baby body is gone. You’ve now got a whole new set of physical limitations to deal with, including, a new hormonal profile, and a new set of priorities.
Your pre-baby body was a different body – hormonally and physically.
Dropping a stone or a few clothes sizes is not going to be quite so easy, or at least you will not be able to do it in the same fashion as you used to.
I must be clear though, I am not saying you can never be lean again or you will never drop the baby weight, or that you should just accept a weight or shape that you’re not happy about.
I am saying we need to think about trying to get these results in a smarter way.
What happens for many women, particularly breastfeeding moms, is that their metabolisms change from these significant hormonal shifts. But no-one is there to tell them this, and so have often tried and failed with the old formula and had no idea why.
During pregnancy the female body has very high estrogen and high progesterone levels. After giving birth, both of those hormones will plummet as your body adjusts to the new norm. With breastfeeding, a hormone called prolactin is high which keeps estrogen lower – making fat loss a tough game to win.
As a result, your hormonal profile is more like one of a menopausal woman than your previously youthful self.
Without enough estrogen in our bodies you have a less forgiving metabolism due to lack of control of insulin and cortisol – the combo of high insulin and high cortisol is a recipe for fat storage, particularly around your stomach.
In addition to low estrogen, if you aren’t ovulating (and many breastfeeding mothers aren’t), you also aren’t making much progesterone. Progesterone is important in hindering belly fat storage by limiting cortisol’s effect in these fat cells.
Having low estrogen/low progesterone means you will see greater sensitivity to carbohydrates, plus a much harder time dropping belly fat. Combined with a lack of sleep, and the mummy tummy that so many women hate can be hard to get rid of.
All hope is not lost though, here’s what you can do during this time to get some results:
Your time is limited, so you have to work out smarter.
Start with walking with your baby napping in the pram, or short metabolic circuits at home or your gym for optimal hormonal balancing fat loss.
When it comes to the nutrition side of things, don’t focus on cutting calories, your main job really is to nurture your baby – let’s not lose sight of that as you attempt to lose weight. Instead focus on natural, 1 ingredient foods: vegetables and lean proteins; as well as more activity. Move as much as you can.
Something like 10-20 body weight squats while you’re waiting for your tea water to boil is a good place to start. Dance with your baby. Walk as much as possible instead of driving or park further away (10,000 steps a day is a great goal). Jaunt up and down your staircase quickly and frequently. Play at the park.
Find ways to make it work.
It won’t be perfect, do it anyway.
Consider a high protein, lower carb, higher fat diet.
Having slightly lower carbs will keep your insulin more managed, while the higher fat intake will keep your calories up and keep you satiated. Overall you’ll likely feel more satisfied and won’t risk dropping calories so low your milk supply drops.
Remember, low carb is all relative. So it is important to investigate how much carbs you need to function at your best.
For the breastfeeding mothers out there: trust that it will likely get easier……after you stop nursing.
Prolactin, the hormone responsible for making milk also promotes fat storage through a variety of mechanisms including worsening insulin resistance and lowering the hormone adiponectin. Adiponectin is a hormone secreted by fat cells that helps regulate insulin sensitivity (less adiponectin means you’ll tolerate carbs less well). While your hormonal profile may make fat loss slow during breastfeeding, keep reminding yourself of the incredible benefits to you and baby that nursing provides.
AND, skip the guilt!
So many women feel wracked with guilt that they are complaining about feeling chubby while they are also experiencing the joy of a beautiful baby.
Keep perspective and use the gratitude you feel for having your little bundle fuel you to make better choices for yourself when it comes to food and exercise.
Finally,DO do that hard, hard thing of making time for yourself
If you’re exercising, eating better, and finding a few moments for self-care you will be much better able to care for yourself and your family.
They need you, so you need to be in a good place.