Losing The Baby Weight: A Lesson in Grace

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Alison Boden is a registered dietitian and functional nutritionist specializing in women's reproductive health from fertility through postpartum. She has a "food first" nourishing approach to wellness and healing and loves working with women on the transition from pregnancy to motherhood. Today, Alison is here to share tips on supporting healing and good nutrition in the fourth trimester.

"Gisele bounces back to pre-baby weight 6 weeks after welcoming second child"

"Blake's baby weight is coming off FAST! How Ryan's wife is shedding the lbs and keeping them off"

"Try this one weird trick to drop the baby weight in just 3 weeks"

The baby weight. You were probably warned that you'd still need to be in maternity clothes when leaving the hospital, but after that, you may have expected weight to effortlessly melt off by your six-week OB visit. With all the attention paid to celebrities who "bounce back" and "reclaim their bodies," it can seem like that's the norm. But here's the thing: You just grew a human. Six days ago, six weeks ago, six months ago or six years ago, it doesn't matter. Your body and life are forever changed by this momentous event. It's important to give yourself grace for not "bouncing back" (and to remember that those celebrity moms may be struggling in other ways that we don't see). Let's take a look at what goes into "baby weight" and what kind of expectations are healthy surrounding your changing body.

Weight Gain During Pregnancy

The recommended average weight gain for most women is 25 to 35 total pounds. That number may be a little lower if you were heavier to start, or a little more if you were underweight. You probably noticed that you didn't have a 25-pound or 35-pound baby, so what makes up the rest of it?

  • Baby: 6-8 pounds
  • Placenta: 1-2 pounds
  • Amniotic fluid: 2 pounds
  • Uterine enlargement: 2 pounds
  • Extra maternal breast tissue: 1-2 pounds
  • Extra maternal blood volume: 3-4 pounds
  • Extra fluid in maternal tissue: 3-4 pounds
  • Maternal fat: makes up the rest of your weight gain; 7-11 pounds on average

That all adds up to a total of about 25 to 35 pounds, with the baby only representing a small portion of what your body gains to ensure a healthy pregnancy.

What to Expect Postpartum

After delivery, you'll be down the actual weight of the baby plus the placenta, and likely some blood and fluid volume. The average loss when leaving the hospital is about 10 pounds. Some women will experience water retention and puffiness after delivery, causing this number to be lower. Generally, over the next few weeks, much of the extra fluids will come off. (Remember the night sweats? This is part of that process.) Meanwhile, your uterus will go back to almost the original size. Breast tissue will stay enlarged for quite some time if you are nursing, so breastfeeding moms should factor that in.

What About That "Maternal Fat?"

The extra padding that you gain is not just because you indulged in too much ice cream, so don't let others make you feel guilty. The weight you gain serves two purposes: one for mom and one for baby, with the goal of keeping both healthy during pregnancy and the breastfeeding relationship.

For mom, a little extra weight gain serves as a safety net for a time of food scarcity. If mom doesn't get enough calories and nutrients from food, baby will take it from her storage. This may involve ransacking her muscles, storage organs, fat cells and bones for the missing nutrients that baby needs. Having those extra bits of fat is one way to protect mom from getting completely depleted of nutrients if suddenly food isn't available. We're not talking about getting stranded in the wilderness here, but it's easy for any overwhelmed mom of one, two or seven to have trouble feeding herself nutrient-rich foods on a regular schedule.

The second reason for weight gain concerns where the extra is stored. While you gain weight all over, special attention is paid to beefing up your hips and thighs. During lactation, your body goes first to those fat stores because they create more of a special fat called DHA (an omega-3 fat) which is really important for infant brain and eye development. Basically, "maternal fat" is essential for baby's health, so it's important to keep that in mind when you're struggling with body image.

Tips for Weight Balance

With that said, there are some things to consider for encouraging your body to find its weight balance at its own pace.

Time. Don't even consider your weight until at least six months postpartum. This is the point when your hormones have settled down from their postpartum rollercoaster, and likely you have more of a routine down compared to the early days.

Sleep and stress. If you are still waking up several times per night and/or generally getting less than seven hours of sleep per night, your body will hold onto extra weight for longer. The same goes for any new mom who is dealing with chronic stress. Of course, some level of stress and lack of sleep are expecting in the newborn stage, but working on both of these elements will help with your overall wellness-weight included.

Breastfeeding. This isn't always a magic bullet for weight loss. About half of the women I work with will hold onto an extra 10 or so pounds until after they wean. Nursing requires a ton of calories and often this means ravenous hunger. Cutting nutrients (like calories, carbs, fat) will have a negative effect on your overall supply, so don't try to restrict calories while breastfeeding.

Meal timing. Skipping meals is a good way to throw your hormones off and leave you ravenous at the next meal. Eating at regular intervals will keep your hunger and hormones in check.

Don't compare yourself to others. Yes, some women lose weight faster than others. All of the above points play a role in the individual differences in postpartum bodies, but it's important to recognize that a lot of results are highly influenced by genetics. You do you and no one else.

What to Eat

There is usually always room to improve your diet, which may help you find equilibrium in your weight in a gentle and natural way. Focus on including filling and nourishing foods such as:

  • Healthy fats like avocado, coconut, nuts and seeds
  • Filling protein like meat, fish, eggs, full fat yogurt and beans
  • Nourishing fruits and veggies-any and all!
  • Slow digesting starches like sweet potato, root vegetables, winter squashes and whole grains

Filling your plate with these items leaves less room for sugar and processed foods, which will not only help nourish, replete and heal your body and mind, but also gently nudge your body to find its happy weight.

Add in some gentle exercise when you feel ready is great for body and mind as well. Long walks with your Solly, yoga, and other low-impact soothing exercises are wonderful in the fourth trimester.

How amazing is your body?! It's so important to consider all of the wonderful accomplishments your body has just gone through in order to make a new life before wishing your body back to the way it was before. Starting with pregnancy, your body is now playing a pivotal role in nourishing your child, and is different because of that. So please be gentle on your new shape and on your mind, and allow yourself some grace and time to find the new balance that is coming to terms with your new self.

Follow Alison for more nourishing information on food and the fourth trimester on Facebook, Instagram and on her site, Nourishing Radiance. Alison's also sharing some quick and easy lunches to get you started-you can sign up to get the recipes here. And remember, you can't pour from an empty cup, mama. Photography: Jamie Arrigo

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