Postpartum Nutrition and Exercise Review

The postpartum period is a time of healing and adjustment. Your body will go through immediate and slower (up to six weeks) changes to return to its pre-pregnant state and you have a baby and a new schedule to adjust to as well. During the first two to six weeks it is generally recommended to take things slow and take care of yourself and adapt to your new role as a mother to you first or next child. All deserve a time of adjustment.

Why is postpartum weight loss so important?

  • Women who lost all their pregnancy weight by six months were only 5.3 pounds heavier 10 years later compared to 18.3 pounds in women who retained weight during the immediate postpartum period (Rooney, B. & Schauberger, C., 2002).
  • Exercise – especially strength training – can slow bone loss during lactation, the study found. Women who exercised three days a week during lactation not only had greater bone strength, but also lost more weight and had a greater percentage of lean muscle, even without dietary changes (Lovelady, Bopp, Mackie, & Wideman, 2009).

Exercise

As your postpartum bleeding decreases and your energy returns, simple short walks may be enough effort for some, while others feel ready to resume an exercise routine by two to four weeks. See how you feel, make choices on a day to day basis and soon enough you will settle into a routine. Your midwife may suggest limiting exercise until your vaginal bleeding stops or until your six week postpartum appointment. Discuss earlier exercise with your midwife if interested, there is not golden rule other than to take the time to heal, and get active soon after.

At the six week postpartum visit you will likely be encouraged to begin exercising. Again, refer to the pages above about exercise in pregnancy, the five pieces (cardio, strength, stretching, balance and safety) are still the primary goals. Initially your balance may be different because you no longer have the weight of the baby in front of you, your flexibility may have decreased because the pregnancy hormones are no longer softening your joints, and your stamina may be less than ideal because so much of your allotted energy is going to the baby, but take things slow, give credit where it’s due, and get out there and enjoy!

Nutrition

There is no national association that makes recommendations or suggestion on the perfect postpartum diet, but in many ways you should treat yourself like you did during pregnancy, except that you can now enjoy all foods including raw milk cheeses.  Most used to suggest an extra 500 calories daily when breastfeeding but this thought is mostly an idea of the past. We now suggest that you eat three well rounded meals a day plus nutrient-high snacks. A diet full of whole grains, fruits and veggies and dairy or calcium rich foods will support your need to recover, heal and breastfeed.

 

All sources discourage fad diets for weight loss during the postpartum period. All women will lose a significant amount of weight during the first few weeks or months without much effort, and then healthy lifestyle changes and exercise should make up for the rest of the loss.

  • Prepare meals ahead of time and keep them in the freezer to prepare without much work during the first few weeks.
  • Arrange with family and friends before the birth for meals during the first one to two weeks. Most people want to help where they can during these early weeks, and want to visit, so ask them to bring a meal, perhaps also something to put in the freezer in case you have too much food at any given time.
  • Snacks such as crackers and cheese, apples and peanut butter, fruit (dried or fresh) and pre-cut veggies are easy to sneak in between or during feedings. Think about what you might like and make a list and assign a friend or family member to shop during the early postpartum days.
  • If you were taking iron, calcium or multivitamin supplements during pregnancy, continue taking them until your six week visit and then discuss options with your midwife.

Use a baby carrier for squats, lounges or dancing around the house. Explore with other ways to use the baby as your weights…the options are limitless, and the baby will have fun too. Check out your local yoga studio, they may have mother/baby classes.

The ultimate weight loss rule

Use more than you consume. Calories come in as food and drinks and leave by normal body processes, breast feeding and exercise. Less calories in than out will always result in weight loss. Studies show that both exercise and nutrition changes work better than just dietary lifestyle change. (Albright, et al., 2000)