Post pregnancy: getting back into shape
Whenever most Hollywood celebrities have a baby, they have an annoying habit of making getting back into shape look effortless. But for every other mums, it’s a different story. If you’re a mum already, you’ll no doubt know that getting your pre-baby body back can take some effort. A survey of 2,000 British mums, carried out by Mother and Baby magazine, found the majority said they hadn’t regained their pre-pregnancy bodies 22 months after giving birth. Ninety-three percent also said they felt under pressure to lose weight quickly after having a baby, thanks to the precedent set by those celebrity mums.
The NHS says the amount of weight a woman will gain during pregnancy depends on her weight before she became pregnant. Most pregnant women put on between 10 - 12.5kg (22 - 26lb), most of which is gained after week 20. Much of this extra weight is caused by the fact your baby is growing. However, you will also be storing fat, ready to make breast milk once your baby is born.
If you gain too much weight, it can affect your health. Your blood pressure may increase, and you may have a higher-than-normal risk of developing complications such as gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia:
Gestational diabetes means your blood sugar levels are too high during pregnancy, which can increase your risk of having a large baby.
Pre-eclampsia can be serious, though most cases are mild and cause no trouble. The first sign of pre-eclampsia can be a change in blood pressure.
It is, however, important not to go on a weight-loss diet while you’re pregnant. Doing so may harm the health of your baby, which is why experts recommend eating healthily.
On the other hand, if you don’t put on enough weight while you’re pregnant, you may have a higher risk of having a premature birth and a baby with a low birth weight. But if you’re naturally slim, you may stay that way when you’re pregnant and still have a healthy baby.
For those who do need to lose some pregnancy pounds, here’s some advice that may be helpful…
Eating for one
If you're breastfeeding, chances are you'll find it impossible to diet – that's because the act of breastfeeding itself requires an extra 500-600 calories per day.
This is great news if you're eating healthily. But if you're snacking on sugary foods and takeaways because you're too tired or too busy looking after baby to cook from scratch, you could end up gaining weight, breastfeeding or not.
Dieting while breastfeeding could be bad for your baby too. There’s a theory that toxins released by weight loss may find their way into breast milk – or even make you produce less milk – neither of which is ideal for you or your baby.
Healthy eating, rather than calorie restriction, is the key for new mums:
Have lots of protein
Fill up on lots of lean meat, fish, pulses and beans along with low-fat dairy products such as yoghurt. However, avoid all the foods you didn’t eat while you were pregnant, such as soft cheeses. uncooked meat or fish, and also limit the amount of deep sea fish you eat, such as tuna. If you don’t like eating fish, you may want to consider taking a good-quality fish oil supplement*, which may also help when you start getting back into exercise as they are thought to be useful for post-exercise recovery.
If you find it’s not easy to get the protein you need, try snacking on protein bars or having a protein drink. Protein bars are an ideal way to fill up – and many provide more than 21g of protein. You can also find diet whey-based protein drinks that also include essential vitamins and minerals while being lower in calories. Easy to make, you simply blend a scoop of protein powder with water in a shaker or blender and mix well.
Eat little and often
Try not to skip meals, which may be easier said than done if you have a newborn. But try to have smaller, more frequent meals to keep your blood sugar levels stable. Don’t forget to have some protein with each small meal or snack, as it will help keep you feeling fuller for longer.
Avoid processed foods
Ready-made foods and meals may sound tempting because all you have to do is put them in the microwave. But they can be high in calories, salt and sugar while low in nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. If you can find time to prepare food from fresh ingredients, cook up a big amount and put some in the freezer, so you have your own healthy ready meal when you need it. Also make sure you eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables to get the nutrients your body needs.
It may also be a good idea to take a high-quality multivitamin and mineral supplement* with good levels of magnesium, iron and B vitamins for energy. While taking a supplement should never be a substitute for healthy eating, a good multi can give you peace of mind, as you can be sure you’ll be getting all the nutrients your body needs.
Don’t forget to stay hydrated by drinking lots of fluids. According to the Eatwell Guide, you should drink six to eight glasses of fluids a day. Water, lower-fat milk and sugar-free drinks, including tea, herbal teas and coffee, all count.
Drinking green tea is also a healthy way to keep yourself hydrated and each cup is full of antioxidants called polyphenols. You can also take green tea in supplement form*, with good-quality products providing the equivalent of half a litre of brewed green tea per tablet.
You may also want to consider trying green coffee bean extract (not suitable while breast feeding) – also available as a supplement* – if you’re trying to lose your excess pregnancy weight. Popular with slimmers, green coffee bean extract has been described as ‘promising’ as a weight-loss supplement by researchers reviewing green coffee extract trials (i), and contains high levels of active compounds called chlorogenic acid.
Conjugated linoleic acid – or CLA – is another product that may help you shed unwanted pounds after having a baby. A naturally occurring fatty acid found in meat and dairy products, CLA is available in supplements* (not suitable while breast feeding) that are popular with people who want to lose fat and maintain weight loss.
Most experts agree you should wait at least six weeks before getting back into a proper exercise routine – even longer if you've had a caesarean. But there are some gentle exercises you can do quite soon after the birth that will help flatten and tone up your stomach.
Pelvic floor exercises are ideal to get you started. These help increase blood flow to the pelvic region, which is thought to help speed up the healing process. Plus you should usually be able to do them just after you’ve had a baby (always check with your doctor or midwife beforehand).
Pelvic floor exercises strengthen the muscles around your bladder, vagina and back passage, says the NHS. Imagine trying to stop the flow of urine when you go to the toilet – those are the pelvic floor muscle you’re feeling.
Start by trying to squeeze these muscles 10 - 15 times in a row, and hold them for longer when you start getting used to them, and adding more sets of squeezes (always have a rest between sets). You should notice them starting to work after a few months – then carry on doing them.
Pilates experts also recommend working the transversus muscle while doing your pelvic floor squeezes. To engage your transversus muscle, simply pull your tummy gently back towards your spine – imagine you’re trying to make your stomach hollow.
However, don’t do sit-ups or crunches until your GP or midwife has said it’s safe to do so. This is because your abdominal muscles may have separated during pregnancy, and you shouldn’t exercise them until they have healed.
Meanwhile, to burn fat you need to do aerobic activity. But start slowly. Walking with your buggy is a great exercise in the early days as it uses all the major muscles and helps keep your metabolism ticking over to burn fat stores. After six weeks or so – or when your GP or midwife advises – you may be able to start doing other types of exercise. Swimming, for instance, is great for toning the upper body and working your core (stomach) muscles, while giving you a cardiovascular workout.
When you’re ready to do some more serious body sculpting moves, here are a couple of suggestions that you can do with your baby:
Place your baby in a front-style harness. Stand with your feet slightly wider than hips' distance apart. Turn your toes out and your heels in. Bring your body weight back into your heels as you bend your knees and squat down whilst pushing your bottom out.
Rise and repeat 15 times.
With your baby in the harness, lower yourself into a squatting position with your knees in line with your toes and your bottom sticking back as far as you can. Walk forwards, keeping your core muscles tight as push off through each heel. Take up to 10 steps in one direction, then reverse and walk backward.
Repeat 2 - 3 times.
If you’d like to get out in the fresh air and meet other mums, try an exercise class such as Buggyfit (buggyfit.co.uk). This involves things like jogging behind your buggy and toning exercises you do with your baby. Classes are available nationwide.
* Always check with your GP or midwife before taking any nutritional or herbal supplements after having a baby, especially if you’re breastfeeding.
Onakpoya. I, Terry. R, Ernst. E. The use of Green Coffee Extract as a Weight Loss Supplement: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomised Clinical Trials. Gastroenterol Res Pract. 2011:382852. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2943088/