Firstly: insert medical disclaimer here. I am not an expert. I am a nutrition and fitness hobbyist who is very careful about her diet, has been physically active for her entire life and has never struggled with her weight. I have never been on a “diet” to lose weight, but I have “cleansed” (white flour, white sugar, no meat, etc.) So that’s where I am coming from.
Secondly: in this age of mommy guilt, ultra thin post-preggy celebs (who actually have trainers and nannies), and mommy judgment, I in no way want to make anybody feel bad about not being able to lose weight post pregnancy when we all know bodies all work differently.
My own story is this and I’m sharing it because it may be helpful for you. I did want to lose my pregnancy weight and it happened so fast my head was spinning. This is more like a post-mortem of ‘why did that happen for me’? If you also lost the weight easily, I would love to know why you think that happened. Maybe like my cousin’s wife you were always a bean pole and a slim and elegant bean pole you stayed!
So – any discussion of this should be bookended by the very personal factors that go into anybody’s approach to her health. In my case, I went from 125 lbs pre-pregnancy (I’m about 5’4″) to 160 lbs at my heaviest (and still looked “small” according to all the unsolicited commentators). I was the most un-neurotic person about eating during pregnancy (or I guess I should say there was no difference in my attention to what I ate before and during my pregnancy). I still ate raw cheese. I ate sushi on occasion from trustworthy sources. And I drank a few glasses of wine (1-2 with dinner) when I was travelling in Italy (shhhh). I am from the “Real Food”/ Weston A. Price school of nutrition. I believe in avoiding industrial processed food at all costs, eating real, organic fats and naturally raised or wild protein sources and copious amounts of fruits and vegetables. I’ll do a post on how to eat soon. Oh yeah, I went on a solo trip to Italy when I was 7 months pregnant. I also ate gelato every day — so don’t worry, I enjoyed life!
I know several women who lost their pregnancy weight quickly and easily. It can be done. Your body may be able to do it. Taking optimal care of yourself in advance of your pregnancy and then throughout it improves your chances of this happening. I was nervous about what would happen with my body – everything I had heard and witnessed was that . Let’s not kid ourselves: a lot of that is genetic. The funny thing is that my mom, who is naturally petite, said she was shocked I lost the weight so quickly – but then, she thought, I was in better shape to begin with.
- Be in superior shape prior to giving birth. I hope when you are reading this you are thinking ABOUT getting pregnant, but you may already be pregnant. Maybe it’s too late for that? If not, do not despair. Just carry on. What does superior shape mean? Well, you should know what that means for you. What it is for you may not be what it is for me. But if you want some guidelines, here are my thoughts: You should be able to hike for 5-6 hours comfortably. You should be able to run pleasantly for 40 minutes. You should be limber. You should be able to climb several flights of stairs without losing your breath. You should be able to play a sport and enjoy it. Do your body a favour and be fit before you subject it to the incredible changes of pregnancy. Personally, I played touch rugby twice a week for about an hour each time. I did several sessions of strenuous yoga per week. I played tennis from time to time. I was rock climbing at a 5.12 level, weekly when I was near a climbing gym. I rode my bike as my primary form of transportation.
- Have a natural birth. I think doing all that you can to have a natural birth is one way to ensure that your body hears the messages and can respond to them the way it has evolutionarily been designed to do. I know that a natural birth is not possible for everyone and it can be completely out of your control. Surgery is a great development in cases where it is needed and I support life-saving medical advances in general. What I do not support and am indeed incredibly worried about is the level to which the C-section is the go-to method of birthing at many hospitals. Educate yourself on this – plan for a natural birth, visualize a natural birth and educate yourself on how you can avoid interventions that lead to the ‘cascade of interventions’ that ultimately result in a C-section. Then visualize yourself having one and what would happen and how that would be ok too. Accept it all. I did all of that. I was shocked by stats about C-sections and the maternal mortality rate in North America. We truly lag behind other countries. That is why I used a midwife and ultimately decided on a homebirth. To me, a homebirth under the circumstances in which it is regulated in Ontario, where I live, is an equally safe and more comfortable environment to give birth – and the stats do bear that out. Homebirth and natural childbirth also deserves a full post, which I will get to. You don’t have to be at home to have a natural birth. You can be in a hospital and simply refuse pain relief and unnecessary interventions, but anecdotal evidence suggests it is more difficult in that environment.
- Breastfeed exclusively for at least 6 months. Apart from the extensive benefits for your baby provided by breastmilk, apart from the beautiful bonding you can experience with your child, breastfeeding helps your uterus to contract to its pre-pregnancy size (which actually hurts quite a bit sometimes, nobody actually tells you that). Breastfeeding made me so hungry I was eating like a horse– much more than I was eating throughout most of my pregnancy, but I never gained a pound, I continued to lose weight until my lowest, 117lbs (my highschool weight!). Since then I have moved back up to about 120lbs, which is still less than my pre-pregnancy weight.
- Don’t give yourself permission to eat substantially more and especially not to eat more junk just because you’re pregnant. Pregnancy is definitely not the time to “reward yourself” with junk–cookies, chips, cake, icecream, pasta, white rice, white bread, etc. It is the time when your body needs to squeeze every last bit of nutrition out of you for your darling. When you are hungry, reach for kale, wild fish, liver, brown rice, pumpkin seeds, fruit smoothies. Hmmmm. All delicious stuff. Listen to and honor your cravings for healthy foods. When I had morning sickness, I loved to eat crackers with pate – lots of protein, good fat and vitamin A. I longed for collard greens and beets, impossible to find in Shanghai. I wanted beets so badly I was itching in my skin – my mom packed some for me and sent them to the airport when I moved back to Toronto at about 12 weeks pregnant. I ate them in my brother’s car on my way home. I actually never perceived having more of an appetite than before I was pregnant. They say the increase in calories you need is equivalent to an additional light meal. You can make that up having healthy snacks such as fruit, cheese and nuts throughout the day. I believe in honouring your appetite and your body, but it’s also worth noting that because I ate like this, I did not gain more than the recommended weight for a woman of my height and pre-pregnancy weight, which was 25-35 lbs (I gained 35lbs in total).
- Prioritize rest and bonding with baby after you give birth. Just put back on that hideous, blood-stained nightgown and stay in bed!! You’re bleeding like crazy, you’re trying to figure out how to get milk from a boob bigger than your baby’s head into her tiny, tiny bird mouth, you’re low on iron, you may not even be able to sit on your bits without groaning and using a donut that looks like this (yeah, that donut is a lifesaver). Birth takes a huge toll on your body. My friend told me in South Korea they have these amazing mommy hospitals where you go to give birth, and someone just takes care of you and the baby at night for two weeks. That sounds dreamy and like something we should start here!
- By now you’ve figured out that 5 things could mean any number of them right? So number 6 is: Maintain a healthy and positive mental state. Because of the circumstances of my pregnancy (single, unexpected) I struggled more with this than anything else but tried not to wallow in anxiety and misery, though I was deeply miserable, incredibly angry and felt very hopeless at times. A lot of parenting manuals/ mothering guides assume you have a partner and reading any reference to that supportive, excited partner was enough to plunge me into depression again as I thought of my own situation and how different it was. But the best thing for you is to focus on your baby, how much you love your baby, how much you will protect and love him or her, and all that you are doing to ensure that his/her birth is wonderful. I named my little fetus before we knew the sex (“Laines”, a combination of the girl’s and boy’s names we had chosen), and I spoke to her regularly, confiding in her when I was sad. I even wrote her a series of letters expressing my grief (and my hopes). Do whatever you need to do to work out and release the wealth of emotions you will feel during your pregnancy.
Notice that I don’t say that you should exercise during your pregnancy? In retrospect, I definitely erred on the side of being sedentary! I had the luxury of working from home during my pregnancy and that allowed me to take a lot of naps and build my schedule in a way that prioritized my rest. I did exercise on occasion up to about the 6th month of pregnancy, and I did an INSANE amount of walking in Florence and Madrid when I was 7 1/2 almost 8 months pregnant (if you go by when I actually had the baby, which was 3 weeks earlier than expected. That walking resulted in very, very swollen legs and a lot of napping.) For day to day exercise, I did a little bit of walking, a little bit of gentle yoga, once or twice I went swimming. I probably could have done more – it wouldn’t have hurt.
In my first trimester, two months of which were spent in China, I spent a lot of time on the sofa and a fair bit of time just feeling nauseous and fatigued. I would come home from the office and go immediately to bed, wake up at 9pm, have a small meal and go back to bed and sleep very deeply. Around that sleeping schedule, I exercised as much as I could (mostly gentle stretching) but gave up touch rugby (because falling with force is very common, and my stamina was just not there…I was extremely fatigued). And twice I went dancing in my second trimester and shook my booty for hours. In total, I don’t think I exercised very much at all. Just carrying around an extra 15, then 20, then 25, then 35 lbs was extremely challenging. It was challenging to walk anywhere because I would become very out of breath. Afterwards of course there was the persistent need to pee. There was no WAY I was going to be hitting the gym. In my second trimester I do remember I went to have a ‘normal’ gym session, and afterwards I slept for 4 hours…it just knocked me right out. So for exercise, you have to gauge your own energy level. I never had any desire to push myself, so I didn’t. In addition, I was told I needed to allow my abdominal muscles (which were extremely firm) to relax, to make space for the baby. So I stopped contracting my stomach and stopped doing sit ups. This had little to no impact on my weight loss post-pregnancy. In contrast, one of my yoga instructors told me for her first pregnancy she remained extremely active. She never stopped exercising and pushed herself even further as the hormone relaxin relaxed her joints, allowing her to move even deeper into postures. In the end she says she believed she had a very difficult birth because she never allowed her core to become soft and welcoming for the baby.
Afterwards, don’t turn to weight loss. Focus on breastfeeding, nourishing food and building muscle again – first in your core, then in the rest of your body as you gain more free time away from your LO. Happy birth and parenting!