Full disclosure: I just downed a giant apple turnover and a few vanilla-cupcake-flavored Goldfish cracker. No, not because I was hungry. I actually just had lunch about an hour ago. I ate them because I am beyond exhausted. My baby is four months old and I don’t think I’ve gotten a solid night’s sleep the entire four months—thanks to breastfeeding and a baby who isn’t sleeping through the night yet.
My body is fighting to keep up—and sugar is the one thing everyone reaches for when they need a quick surge of energy. I’m no different.
And it’s no wonder that the baby weight takes so long to come off: when you don’t get enough sleep, your body produces too much of the hormone ghrelin (the one that tells you to eat) and not enough of the hormone leptin. This is the hormone that makes you realize that you’re full—and tells you to stop eating.
So lest you think your willpower went down the drain the day you gave birth, it’s these hormones (among a few others) that are to blame.
And while everyone hears about breastfeeding burning about 500 extra calories, I really believe this is the body’s way of compensating for the extra calories women eat just to stay awake!
But it doesn’t have to be this way: I’ve put together some strategies that will help you (and me) start dropping the baby weight. These have already started working for me.
1) Be patient. I put this first because it will take you about a year to get back to your pre-baby weight; don’t get discouraged…this is okay. All those celebrities you see dropping the weight within weeks are NOT the norm. As with the children’s storybook, The Tortoise and the Hare, slow and steady definitely wins the race. As long as you’re maintaining or slowly losing, you’re on the right track. If, however, you’re gaining weight, then you need to be more vigilant about what you’re putting into your body (see #3).
2) Don’t be fooled by the fact that breastfeeding demands more calories. It’s easy to be lulled into that thinking that you have some leeway because your body needs about 500 extra calories a day for breastfeeding. You’re naturally hungrier because of this—and those calories don’t go far: an extra helping of pasta, an apple with peanut butter, and some crackers…and you’re already at 500 calories. Eat to hunger, but erase the mindset that you can indulge all your cravings because you’re breastfeeding. That simply isn’t true!
3) Limit the empty carbs and eat more protein. It’s one thing to say this and another thing altogether when the apple turnover is staring you down. But it works. On the days when I have enough protein (you need about 65 to 100 grams of protein per day), I’m less likely to eat sugar—or at the very least, less likely to eat more sugar. Starting the day with protein (eggs, yogurt with granola, a protein shake, peanut butter on a half bagel, oatmeal with almonds) gives your body the jumpstart it needs. That plus a little protein at lunch and you’ll be less likely to reach for that sugar in the afternoon. And this means fewer calories in…and more weight lost over time. Good lean sources of protein include chicken, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy, and beans—as well as protein powders (good for smoothies) and protein bars (which make satisfying snacks on the go).
4) Drink plenty of fluids If you’re dehydrated, your body can mistake thirst for hunger—making you reach for a snack when you don’t really need one. Plus, dehydration can make you even more fatigued…and no mom needs this! So make sure you’re getting at least 8, 8-ounce glasses a day. If you’re breastfeeding, you need even more (the rule of thumb is drink to thirst…and, believe me, you get thirsty!). The good news is, though, you don’t need to drink plain old water. Add natural flavor to it with cucumbers, oranges, or lemons—or try other options: I love potassium-rich coconut water, iced herbal tea (I brew a big pot of Mother’s Milk tea, cool it, put it in a pitcher, and drink it all day.) Even fruit juice diluted in water makes a great option; just don’t drink too much each day as the calories can add up.
5) Get moving at least 4 days a week. There’s no way around it: exercise is the key to dropping the pounds. Keep in mind that this does not mean you have to exercise in a gym. Putting your baby in the stroller and doing a couple of laps around the block is exercising. Doing an exercise video at home is exercising. As long as you’re moving, you’re exercising. I love to walk my older son to and from school every day (even in the drizzling rain) just to force some exercise into my day. And the days that I can add in a little extra walking, I do. I also sneak in some lap swimming when I take my daughter to swim lessons. Sure, I might drop my baby weight (I gained about 60 pounds! with my last pregnancy) a lot sooner if I were at the gym exercising every single day—but from a time standpoint, that’s simply not do-able for most moms (me included)!
And last but not least: DO NOT BE HARD ON YOURSELF! If you have to post this on your fridge as a reminder, do it. You need to give yourself a break; you just grew another human being inside your body for almost 10 months! And now you have an adorable baby to show for it. In a nutshell: moms are amazing, if I have to say so myself. And if that means we have to carry a few extra pounds for a few extra months…well, I would have no other way.
© Valerie Latona LLC 2012