Jenni Pretorius lost her pregnancy weight in five months. The 32-year-old East London mother says the first few kilos dropped off thanks to breastfeeding. ‘The remainder was more stubborn,’ she concedes, ‘and took a bit of effort to get rid of.’ But going to gym and doing dance classes helped, as well as frequent pram walks with baby Naomi.
Jenni is one of the fortunate ones. Many women battle to get their pre-pregnancy figure back. You’ve heard the warning: If you don’t lose the weight within a year, it’ll be with you for the rest of your life. So what do you do?
Make sure that you’re following a healthy eating plan. If you’re breastfeeding, it’s not advisable to follow a very low-energy diet. Says Cecily Fuller, a dietician at Cape Town’s Chris Barnaard Memorial Hospital, ‘A deficient diet can reduce the quantity of breast milk and may affect the mother’s health.’ Rather follow a low-fat, high-carbohydrate, high-fibre diet.
And make sure you’re getting enough calcium, advises Fuller. ‘Breastfeeding mums need to eat small, frequent meals that are both energy and nutrient dense,’ she says. This includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy products, oily fish, lean meat, skinless chicken, pulses, nuts and whole grains which will supply your body with all the extra vitamins, minerals, protein and energy it needs.
Be aware of foods that may make your little one niggly: cabbage, beans and broccoli are the chief culprits here. Spicy foods are also to be avoided, advices Johannesburg-based gynaecologist and obstetrician Dr François Lubbe.
A breastfeeding mother produces about 500ml of milk a day in the early months and up to 800ml in later lactation. Bottom line: drink plenty of fluids, preferably water, herbal teas and fat-free or low-fat milk, says Fuller, and limit your intake of fruit juice if you’re watching your weight. Rather dilute it with water. Also avoid alcohol (an occasional glass is fine, but remember that alcohol is loaded with calories) and caffeine.
There’s only so much that breastfeeding and healthy eating can accomplish. If you want your body to look toned again, you’re going to have to break into a sweat. This can be tricky if you’re stuck at home with baby all day. But even if you can’t get to the gym, there are other ways of becoming active again. ‘Buy yourself a skipping rope,’ suggests Yolanda Koffman, a personal trainer at Virgin Active Gardens, ‘or run around the block. Do sit-ups to help firm your tummy and do lunges for your legs and buttocks. You can buy a medicine ball, a stepper and weights and do your own work-out at home.’
Cardiovascular exercise wins hands-down as the best method of burning fat – everything from rowing, skipping and running to cycling and swimming. Women who gave birth by Caesarean section should remember to give their body a one- to two-month break before they start exercising in earnest. But there’s no harm in doing light exercise, says Dr Lubbe. ‘I recommend easy bent leg raises lying flat on the floor already in the second week, starting one leg at a time,’ he says, ‘This you can increase gradually to both legs extended.’
Mind over matter
Your battle against baby flab is not only physical, it’s also emotional and psychological. Says Cape Town-based psychotherapist Mary Ovenstone, ‘Becoming a mother is a natural initiation into womanhood. Women find that suddenly they care for something more than themselves. This can be hugely empowering, but it’s important that you don’t drown in your care for your child. You still need to take your own needs into consideration.’
That’s why losing weight is not being selfish: it’s helping you be more present for your baby. ‘You have to have the right mental attitude,’ says Ovenstone. ‘Don’t tell yourself: “I have to lose this weight. I must get back into shape.” If you do, you’re igniting the parental voices inside yourself. You might comply in the beginning, but eventually you will rebel, which means you won’t meet your goal of losing weight. What you need to do instead is to say to yourself: “I choose to lose this weight to be a better mother and a better human being. I am taking responsibility for this”.’
If you find that you suffer from post-natal depression, this can be a further hindrance to your losing weight. Don’t reprimand yourself: seek professional help. ‘Remember that there is a huge psychological adjustment that takes place every time we go through a life stage transition and it takes a couple of years to get used to it,’ says Ovenstone.