By Rosemary Marchese
Editor, B.A. Applied Sci (Physiotherapist)
Let’s get real. You can do any Google search for ‘weight loss after baby’ and tonnes of ‘take it easy’ approaches will appear. This is so true. You do need to take it easy, get lots of sleep and eat well. You also should try to be physically active if your recovery and doctor allow it. There is no sugar-coating it. Being a new mum is really tough. Fatigue, confusion, anxiety, happiness and more fatigue are just some of the feelings you may have. So, how do you start shifting some of those kilos in a safe and progressive way while still enjoying those precious early moments of your child’s life?
How to get started
When there is so much fatigue and you’re still recovering from childbirth, how do you start the journey to lose your pregnancy weight gain? Well, one thing we do know, as long as you had an uncomplicated delivery and your doctor is okay with it, becoming progressively more physically active can provide so many benefits. Think about how much times have changed. In the past, women used to be hospitalised for up to two weeks after having a baby. Now, you are out of hospital after such a shorter period of time.
The approach to exercise has now changed too. Where there was once a more protective approach to new mums exercising, exercise is now seen as a vital part of recovery. That’s not to say that you are expected to be running a marathon. But including physical activity into your daily routine is not only considered generally safe, it’s also becoming a more common approach. This could include light exercise within days of delivery or when you feel you’re ready. The type of exercise may differ for mums who have had a cesarean or complications during pregnancy and/or birth, so keep in touch with your doctor about safe options.
Tips for getting started:
- Get comfortable. If you’re breastfeeding, feed your baby before you exercise so that you’re not exercising with engorged breasts. Invest in a supportive bra and wear breathable, comfortable clothing.
- Start slowly. Begin with simple exercises that strengthen major muscle groups, especially your abdominal’s and back. Crunches should be avoided, especially if you have a rectus diastasis (abdominal muscle split from pregnancy).
- Include cardiovascular exercise: that is, exercise that gets your heart rate up (you are huffing and puffing a little) and you start sweating.
- Set realistic weight-loss goals. Most women lose more than about 4.5 kg during childbirth alone. During the first week after delivery you will lose some further weight as you shed additional fluid. Unfortunately, the fat you have gained during pregnancy won’t automatically shift. Some of it may shift, as you use up extra calories during breastfeeding. The rest will have to be shifted as a result of healthy eating and regular physical activity.
- If you are struggling to find the time, include the baby in your exercise routine. Take your baby for a daily walk in the stroller or lay your baby next to you while you do floor exercises.
- Join a new mums’ walking group or other exercise group. Get together with new mums, or even friends without a baby, for a walk rather than a coffee.
- Drink plenty of water before, during and after your training sessions. Breastfeeding and exercise can contribute to dehydration. Dehydration will make you feel tired and sluggish.
- Get some sleep when you can. The saying ‘sleep when your baby sleeps’ is very wise! You never know when you will get a full night’s sleep again.
- Wait for your bleeding to stop before doing any heavy exercise.
- Talk to your doctor about the state of your pelvic floor. The strain on the pelvic floor during pregnancy and childbirth will mean that you need to take it easy when returning to exercise.
What exercise should you do?
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, here are some basic ideas to help you get started:
- Walking. Walk at every opportunity, within reason. As you get fitter again try to walk at a pace where you can talk but are sweating a little.
- Include resistance training 1 to 2 times per week to get started. This could be using light weights and/or your own body weight for resistance.
- Water-based exercise classes.
Ideally, sessions should last between 30 to 60 minutes, but you should build up to this duration gradually.
Weight loss plan
Again, there’s no one single solution. The following plan is not a plan for every individual; it’s simply an example of a low to moderate-intensity exercise plan that may be suitable for some new mums aiming to lose weight.
Monday/Wednesday/Friday: 10-minute walk and 20-minute whole-body resistance workout
Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday: 30-45-minute walk.
Hint: Talk to your health care provider about incorporating pelvic floor exercises into your daily routine.
Whole-body resistance workout
A 5-minute walk or an alternative warm-up to get the heart rate up will burn a few calories and, importantly, prepare the mind and body for what’s to follow.
4 x 5-minute circuits (see below).
Perform 10 to 15 repetitions of each exercise and then move to the next exercise.
Repeat this continually for five minutes.
Take a short break between each circuit if you need to:
Circuit 1: Squats, knee push-ups, bridges.
Circuit 2: Wide squats, rowing (use elastic bands or light weights for resistance), rolling knees side-to-side while on your back.
Circuit 3: Step-ups (small steps), triceps dips, squat and press.
Circuit 4: High knees (no jumping), bicep curl and press, clams (both sides).side leg raise (lie on one side and lift the top leg up gently and squeeze your butt. Repeat on both sides).
5 minutes: walking or an alternative to cool down while still burning calories. Add in some time to stretch for 30 minutes, at least twice per week.
Remember that everyone is different and this session may be too hard or too easy for you. Write down your own plan and seek professional advice from a fitness professional or physiotherapist if you need helpin collaboration with your healthcare provider. Writing it down helps you to commit!
Set aside the time each day to commit to physical activity. Sunday can be a rest day but try to keep moving a little then too. It’s not just how much planned exercise you do that will help with weight loss, but also how much other movement you do throughout the day. Here are some additional tips to increase the calories used:
- Squat instead of bending forward from the hips to hang washing. If you hang out 20 items of clothing that’s 20 squats!
- Get up at least every hour and move around for 5 minutes.
- Take your baby for walks in the stroller, if it’s a good option near your home.
Healthy eating for weight loss after delivery
A healthy variety of daily food intake is vital after delivery. This is important for the recovery and weight loss of the mother and also the health of the breastfed child (if that is occurring). Without good nutrition you won’t have the right amount of energy to exercise well and to ensure the weight you lose is fat, rather than muscle and other lean tissue.
Based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines, here is a sample of what a breastfeeding mother should be consuming (remember this is a general guideline only).
|Food group||Recommended serves per day|
|Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives||2 ½|
|Grains and cereals (mostly wholegrain)||9|
|Lean meats, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and legumes/beans||2 ½|
Avoiding alcohol is also considered the safest option during this time.
Additional serves (up to about 2 ½) of food may be required by taller or more active women.
Warning signs to slow down
Make sure you don’t over exert yourself. Some of the warning signs that you may be exercising too hard and need to check in with your doctor include:
- muscle aches and pains
- increased fatigue
- colour changes to lochia (post-partum vaginal flow) to pink or red
- heavier lochia flow
- lochia starts to flow again after stopping.