Having a baby is an amazing, life-changing event (whether it’s your first, second, or beyond!), but it also does a number on the body. Even though we can look at the leftover weight, the saggy breasts, and the stretch marks as honorable “battle” scars from bringing a life into the world, it can also feel super important to fit back into those pre-pregnancy jeans. Here are 5 ways that new moms can focus on healthy postpartum weight loss, even while breastfeeding!
1. Stay hydrated. This one probably seems really obvious, but in order for the body to lose weight (as well as produce milk), you’ll need to be hydrated. The rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces of water, although if you’re breastfeeding you may actually need more water than that. Hydration not only promotes weight loss, but it’s also critical for cognitive awareness. Even a deficit of 1-2% body water can impair a person’s cognitive abilities, so it becomes increasingly more clear just how important it is to drink up that water. If you have a hard time remembering to drink enough, carry a water bottle around with you, or line up several glasses in the kitchen, moving them to the sink or a different area when you’ve completed that glass.
2. Balance blood sugar. Did you know that it’s hard for the body to lose weight when blood sugar isn’t stable? When the body is taken out of homeostasis—the state of functioning optimally—shedding weight drops to the bottom of the list. Blood sugar that isn’t stable sends messages to the liver and other organs that energy supplies are low, and thus the body goes into storage mode and the metabolism slows. Having regular intake of protein and fats will help keep that blood sugar stable and will promote healthy weight loss—aim for 5-10 grams of protein for snacks, and 15-30 grams for meals. Don’t skip breakfast either. It really is the most important meal of the day, especially if you’re a new mommy.
3. Get your thyroid checked. Even if you never had thyroid issues before pregnancy, it’s smart to get your thyroid checked in the weeks following birth. This is because the rapid change in hormones that happens just before and after delivery can sometimes cause low thyroid function, which can in turn make it difficult to lose weight. As many as 10% of postpartum women will experience thyroid issues after giving birth, and sometimes this can go undetected if the woman didn’t already have a history of it. Asking your doctor to check your Free T3 and Free T4 could go a long way in dropping those numbers on the scale as well as preventing postpartum depression.
4. Be active. Exercise is always important, and it’s going to be just as beneficial in the weeks and months after birth, too. It doesn’t have to be high intensity or long to produce weight loss benefits. Twenty minutes of yoga or a few miles’ walk while baby-wearing will have great long-term effects if you’re consistent with them. Being active for your health and weight loss can also include having sex regularly (as soon as you’re physically able to, of course). Oxytocin is a hormone that is released during and after sex that can help to promote regulated blood sugar and metabolism. It also induces feelings of happiness, which, in the aftermath of pregnancy and having a newborn, are going to be essential for sanity.
5. Catch some rays. Vitamin D is one of those nutrients that just seems to have a hand in nearly every body process, and weight loss is no exception. By having optimal amounts of vitamin D in your body, you’ll be more likely to lose weight more easily and to sidestep postpartum blues. Vitamin D levels that are higher help to reduce abdominal fat and make it easier to lose weight. Most prenatal vitamins will contain vitamin D, but not in sufficient doses to improve levels. Taking 5,000 IU daily during pregnancy and the months after giving birth can help some women, but in others that won’t be enough to increase levels. Obtaining vitamin D from the sun is the quickest and most effective way since the body will only produce as much as you need in a given day. All you need is 20 minutes in the sun (ideally between 11am and 2pm) with no sunscreen. (Of course, if skin cancer or other sun exposure concerns are present, speak to your doctor first, or choose to supplement instead.)
Remember, if you are breastfeeding, that will often catapult postpartum weight loss by burning an average of 1,000 extra calories a day. If you intend to keep breastfeeding for the long haul, though, you’ll need to eat around 500 calories a day more than before you got pregnant if you want your supply to remain strong.
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