Whenever a desperate new mother asks me about weight loss, my heart goes out to her. Whenever I see a celebrity mother bounce back and flaunt her body on Instagram, my heart goes out to her too. Why do I feel bad for the celeb, you ask? Because I am sure, she went to hell and back to turn her postpartum body into an Instagram-worthy body. The scrutiny and pressure she was under, with the media commenting on extra inches, probably had her taking extreme measures to lose the baby weight.
In pregnancy, the weight we put on has a specific purpose; it is nature's way of storing fat to nourish the growing baby. Also, fat stores help ensure that the body and the baby are well- sustained after delivery. Unfortunately, I don't think enough people realise that the fat in the body is a valuable resource and not something to hate. Our bodies evolved this ability to survive fatigue, famine, fire and floods.
The weight we pile on during pregnancy is for the baby. And if we just respected our bodies' instincts and fed it after delivery the way it deserves to, our body will thank us and, in return, shed off all those extra pounds. So just give it some time. Your body does not hate you. But, sadly, you are made to hate your body because of societal standards.
If you type "lose weight after delivery" on google, the search engine will autofill the word "fast" at the end of the search. That's how much women search this phrase! So yes, it is important to lose pregnancy weight, but it need not be immediate. Starving yourself or crash dieting after delivery is not going to help you lose weight fast and is going to have so many unintended consequences than you bargained for:
The body needs its carbs, fats and proteins after delivery and portion control or cutting back at this time can put undue pressure on your thyroid gland. Pregnancy in itself has put an extra workload on the thyroid gland. Many women develop hypothyroidism after pregnancy because of rapid weight loss by crash diets.
Eating well after delivery and eating the special rich foods your mother/mother-in-law will make you eat after delivery fulfil your bodies' energy demands, replenish your brain, and protect you from postpartum depression. Unfortunately, one of the contributory causes of PPD is a poor diet (junk foods/processed foods) after delivery and crash dieting.
In pregnancy, our joints are more relaxed due to the influence of the hormone relaxin. This helps facilitate the opening up of the pelvis for accommodating the growing baby. Relaxin also supports the growth of the uterus during delivery. After delivery, this hormone level drops and the joints gradually return to the pre-pregnancy state. Eating a low-fat diet or skipping out on excellent fats like ghee will cause joint stiffness, bone pains and long term vague aches and pains throughout the body. Nourish your joints by eating your good fats in the form of ghee and laddoos.
Even if you manage to lose weight by crash dieting after delivery, you might not be able to breastfeed. Breastfeeding requires a high calorie and protein-rich diet. A breastfeeding mother, especially in the first few months, is so starving all the time. Many mothers, unfortunately, resort to this due to unrealistic pressure to bounce back after delivery and give breastfeeding a skip. Even if the woman manages to achieve the body of her dreams by crash dieting, the lost inches are not equal to great health. The fat we store around the abdominal organs is called visceral fat. It is important because it protects our internal organs when the uterus is growing during pregnancy. Now, this particular organ fat is the one that is the leading cause of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, collectively known as metabolic syndrome, all over the world. Crash dieting or excessive gymming won't target this fat. Research has shown that even seven years post-delivery, mothers who had lost their pregnancy weight had not lost the deeper abdominal fat as opposed to the mothers who breastfed their babies. This is because the more you breastfeed, the more the deep layers of fat are utilised. This stubborn fat stored during pregnancy belongs to the baby, and skipping breastfeeding and hitting the gym is not an option here.
Skipping breastfeeding has been linked to a higher risk of breast cancer. This is because the excessive hormonal changes and a reversing immune system cause a lot of breast cells to go rogue (they are anyway adapting super-fast to support breastfeeding). A good diet will ensure that the baby is fed and the immune system is supported well by good nutrition.
Dr Farah Adam Mukadam is a Bengaluru-based family physician and author of the book Newborns and New Moms. She vlogs on Instagram and YouTube as Dr Farah_Momstein