Having a baby is life-changing and wonderful in many ways. But it also can feel like it wrecks your body and leaves you in a state of confusion. As a hormone-specialized nutritionist, I often hear women ask when will their body feel “normal” again? And how can we make that happen as quickly as possible?
Even when we recognize that our bodies are amazing for growing a human from scratch, it’s hard to feel like you don’t fit in your own skin. So many websites and articles suggest that new moms need to go on diets to get their pre-pregnancy body back ASAP. They often promote it as the way to feel like “yourself” again. The only problem is that after birth you won’t ever be quite the same as that former person you were. You’re now the mother of this new human, and whether it’s your first kid or your fifth, adding a brand new human to your life changes things. Permanently.
Waiting for weight
Wanting to drop those extra pounds after giving birth is natural. However, you can’t just approach it the same way you may approach weight loss at other times of your life. First, when you are postpartum, your hormones may have a completely different plan than your desire to drop ten pounds.
When you’re pregnant, your estrogen levels increase dramatically, and high estrogen levels can make weight loss difficult. But those levels don't just drop back down the second you give birth. Your hormone levels can be in an altered state for up to two years after birth, especially if you choose to breastfeed.
This doesn’t mean that you have to give up on losing the pregnancy weight. It just means you have to approach it from a fresh perspective, with your unique postpartum needs in mind.
01. Don’t restrict, redistribute
Most people still gravitate to the idea that calorie restriction is the best way to lose weight. In some cases it is, but not in the postpartum body. Whether you’re breastfeeding or not, the postpartum body just went through a major physical event, and your internal organs need nourishment and support to recover. Caloric restriction also means nutrient restriction, so just don’t do it.
Instead, redistribute some of the calories you are eating into better-for-you swaps. This doesn’t mean you need to divide all food into “cheat foods” and “healthy foods”—foods aren’t inherently good or bad (with a few exceptions: sorry, corn syrup is not “good” for anyone). But do consider your needs, and opt for those foods that nourish you a little more.
02. Think of movement as a mood booster, not mandatory
It’s hard to find time to exercise after having a baby. Even for those who previously loved it, trying to force exercise for the purpose of reclaiming a postpartum figure is often frustrating. Either the results will be far slower than desired, or the motivation to get it done won’t be there at all.
Instead of mandating exercise, try to view it as a mood booster. Most moms suffer from some level of mood change even if it’s not postpartum depression (PPD), so any time you invest in exercise, walks, or other types of movement will first and foremost work to help elevate your mood. As your mood (and hormones) stabilize, everything else becomes easier, including finding motivation to return to previous habits.
03. Remember to hydrate
It’s so easy as a mom to forget to drink water. Maybe you had it down pat during pregnancy, but now that you’re feeding a small human 24/7 and are sleep-deprived, you may struggle to find time to do things that were previously a given (like showering). As a result, hydration can go out the window real quick.
If you’re breastfeeding, staying hydrated is an essential component of being able to have a good milk supply. Even if you are not breastfeeding (I did not), you still need to hydrate your body so that your hormones can normalize and so that your kidneys can properly filter your blood. I tried nearly every method to remember to drink water but the thing that worked best was keeping a water bottle next to the formula. Every time I made baby girl a bottle, I drank water.
04. Get comfortable clothes that fit you now
Part of what can make postpartum women impatient with losing weight is that our old clothes don’t fit, and maternity clothes aren’t quite right either.
In many ways, the postpartum woman is a new woman, a new mother. Celebrate this stage of life. Get yourself some new jeans and other transitional clothes that make you feel good. If you’re hesitant to spend money on a “transition” wardrobe, hit up a secondhand store. You don’t have to spend a fortune to find clothing that will go with you into this new stage, and you definitely should not feel harangued by the clothes from your past life, pre-motherhood.
05. Be gentle with yourself
When you’ve given birth, your baby isn’t the only new life in your world. You’ve been rebirthed too, as a new mother. Even if you’re a second- or third-time mom, you’re still a new version of a mother, now with an extra child. While you want to feel like yourself again and want your body to feel good, too, it’s helpful to rewrite the standards by which you measure yourself.
While people love to talk about the negative aspects of pregnancy and postpartum—like stretch marks and wider hips—your body literally created a new life. Everyone loves to say there’s nothing new in the universe, but the person you just birthed? She or he is new. There is nothing else in the world that is quite as life-altering as motherhood because something physical, mental, and emotional has just transformed you from the person you were before into the mother you are now. (This is true for adoptive mothers too, perhaps with less physical recovery but no less stunning mental and emotional transformations.)
So when your body has just done this miraculous thing, you must be gentle with it, kind to it, and graceful in the way that you expect it to move forward. You will feel good again. You will feel like “yourself” again too, but with an added dimension. Just like it took nine or so months to grow your baby, it’s going to take some time to readjust into your new body and mindset. That’s not only okay—that’s how it should be.
Give your body grace to settle, heal, and adjust. You don’t have to be back into pre-pregnancy jeans by six weeks. In fact, you shouldn’t be, and having that expectation will limit your ability to enjoy the fourth trimester and beyond.