There is nothing quite like pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding to give you a whole new insight into your body and what it is capable of! The 9 months of pregnancy followed by the postpartum period see your body go through enormous change. I remember being absolutely stunned not just by the appearance of my belly after my first child was born but at the texture of the skin (‘It kind of feels like a deflated balloon,’ I remember telling my husband). And while we are often in awe of the life we’ve created and continue to sustain through breastfeeding, many mums may feel a little conflicted about their body after bub. Whether it’s a change in shape, weight gain or just not quite recognising yourself in the mirror, postpartum body image is a super important topic and one which we are diving into here.
The postpartum weight loss myth
We can thank ‘bounce back’ culture for the pervasive myth of instant weight loss post baby. While the world has gotten better at reporting on bodies after baby, there is still plenty of chatter, especially on social media, about weight loss after pregnancy and birth. According to the Royal Women’s Hospital, for women who enter into pregnancy at a healthy weight, the average amount of weight they can expect to gain is between 11.5-16kg. It’s important to note that this is very much an average and not the reality for plenty of women. Some may gain more, some less. Some women may enter pregnancy under or over their ideal body weight. Weight gain during pregnancy is best discussed with your care team who can advise based on your individual circumstances. If the postpartum weight loss myth is to be believed, that weight, should pretty much disappear after birth. And yes, some will. The weight of your baby, placenta and fluid will see an automatic dip on the scales but the rest will likely still be part of your body as you recover from birth and establish breastfeeding and that is totally normal and ok! In fact, your body often holds on to some of that weight to help as you begin producing milk! It’s also likely that, in the early days and weeks after birth, you’ll be adjusting to new motherhood and not paying a huge amount of attention to anything else. Focusing on ensuring you are nourishing yourself is the most important thing, everything else can wait!
‘I’m hungry all the time!’ Breastfeeding hunger and hormones
There is nothing quite like the hunger (and thirst) that comes from breastfeeding. And it’s not really surprising. It is estimated that breastfeeding mothers burn, on average, an extra 500-700 calories per day just from feeding! Your body is working hard to produce milk and an increase in hunger is often a side effect. The best way to manage hunger? Ensuring that you’re eating a range of nutritious foods and staying hydrated. It sounds obvious but in the early stages with a newborn, the days tend to blur into one, sleep patterns are irregular and eating meals becomes a bit of a side thought. You might find yourself snacking a lot but not actually eating anything overly nutrient dense. Ditto hydration. You might get stuck feeding sans water bottle and realise a few hours later that you haven’t had a sip of anything resembling water since earlier in the day. Keeping a stash of nutritious snacks (bonus points for things you can eat with one hand) in the cupboard and in your breastfeeding station and a couple of water bottles throughout the house can help ensure you stay full, even when things get a little crazy.
Will breastfeeding help me lose weight?
The sixty four million dollar question! Breastfeeding and weight loss has been studied quite extensively but there hasn’t been a conclusive verdict. While we know that breastfeeding does burn calories, research is unclear as to whether breastfeeding alone can assist directly in weight loss. According to the Australian Breastfeeding Association however, “if you exclusively breastfeed your baby (they have no other food or drink) to around 6 months and keep breastfeeding for close to 12 months or more, it may help your weight loss a little.”
‘I would like to lose weight, but I feel guilty,’ navigating postpartum weight loss.
There may come a time in your postpartum journey when you feel like you’d like to lose weight or perhaps start building back the strength and muscle you may have lost during pregnancy. There is absolutely no shame in this! Being a strong, healthy mum is the best gift you can give your bub. It is important however to approach weight loss in a safe, sustainable and achievable way. The first step may be to speak with your caregiver about your plans and ensure that you are given the all clear to return to exercise. The second step is considering what realistic weight loss and/or health goals look like. It IS safe to lose weight while breastfeeding with The Australian Breastfeeding Association recommending breastfeeding mums not lose more than around 500g per week to minimise impact on your milk supply. To further ensure your supply is not impacted, dramatically reducing calories is often not advised. Instead taking a more holistic approach and focusing on dietary changes like adding in more nutritious foods, ensuring that you’re eating all the food groups and perhaps reducing some food choices can be helpful.
Adding some exercise into your routine can also be helpful not just for weight loss but for your mental health and wellbeing. Gentle exercise like walking has been shown to help with healing, restoring pelvic floor health and general overall wellbeing. For higher impact exercise, it is always best to check in with a women’s health physio for a full assessment to make sure your body is ready for the challenge.