Part 2: Just Had a Baby? Everything You Should Know About Post-Pregnancy Nutrition and Weight Loss

by Charles Platkin, PhD
Nutrition During Pregnancy

Part 2: Just Had a Baby? Everything You Should Know About Post-Pregnancy Nutrition and Weight Loss

According to Jennifer Wider, M.D., author of The New Mom’s Survival Guide (Random House, 2008), pregnant women should gain 25 to 35 pounds (including weight of baby, placenta, etc.). However, the reality is that expectant moms are lucky if they put on only 30 pounds, says Erin O’Brien, creator of the exercise DVDs Prenatal Fix and Postnatal Rescue. “You’re supposed to consume no more than 300 extra calories per day when pregnant…that’s a banana with peanut butter on it. Unfortunately, a lot of women take pregnancy as an opportunity to jump off their — which makes them gain weight, which makes the baby bigger, which makes the delivery harder and the postnatal weight loss very difficult,” she adds.

How much weight should I have gained?

The 25-35 pounds a woman should ideally gain during pregnancy break down this way: The baby will be about 6-8 pounds of that weight, plus 2-3 pounds each for the placenta, amniotic fluid and extra breast weight, says Lisa Druxman, M.A., the creator of Stroller Strides and author of Lean Mommy (Center Street, 2007). The increase in your uterus will account for anywhere from 2-5 pounds. About 4 pounds is caused by increased blood supply. After that is extra fat, which should be no more than 5-9 pounds.

What seems to be the best way to lose weight after giving birth?

In a recent study by Emily Oken, M.D., M.P.H., at the Harvard School of Public , 902 women reported on their diet, exercise behavior and TV watching six months after giving birth. The researchers found that the women who were most likely to lose those birth pounds walked at least 30 minutes per day, avoided trans fats, and watched less than two hours of TV daily.

How can I “eat healthy” when I have no time to cook? “Your free time is scarce, and you are too sleepy to fuss with gourmet meals, but you can still eat well and lose weight by following these two rules,” suggests Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D., author of Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy (Holt, 2002). “Stock the kitchen with ready-made quick fixes (baby carrots, sliced oranges, tubs of low-fat yogurt, bagged lettuce, etc.) and always take food with you when you leave the house (apple slices, string cheese, etc.). In addition, include two fruits or vegetables at every meal and one at every snack. I’ve had clients lose 30 pounds following that one tip alone. And make every bite count.” Keep in mind that the important nutrients needed postpartum are calcium, folate, iron and protein.

“One widespread problem is that new moms often don’t take in enough calories and wholesome foods to prevent fatigue. Fatigue makes everything more difficult — from breastfeeding to parenting,” adds Eileen Behan, R.D., L.D., author of the best-selling Eat Well, Lose Weight While Breastfeeding and The Baby Food Bible.

How many more calories do I need each day if I’m breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding requires an intake of additional 200 to 300 calories per day.

What about hydration?

“Breastfeeding requires roughly 2 additional quarts of water per day, and exercise increases this need. Avoiding dehydration is very important in breastfeeding women, as it can decrease the volume of milk produced for the baby,” says Druxman. She recommends that breastfeeding moms drink at least 4 ounces of water for every 20 minutes of exercise and grab a big glass of water every time they nurse their baby. Also you should note the color of your urine — the paler, the better.

What are good foods to eat to help your energy level after being up all night with a newborn?

“Not sugar or coffee. I found eggs and whole-wheat toast really picked me up in the morning. I also made sure I ate small meals throughout the day so I could keep up my energy levels,” says O’Brien. Also try nuts; they’re easy and quick to eat and are a good source of protein.

Is there any particular vitamin I may be lacking after pregnancy?

“A 2007 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that vitamin D deficiency was widespread among new mothers, even when they had been taking a prenatal supplement. Lack of vitamin D is associated not only with poor bone health but also with multiple sclerosis and depression. New mothers should ask their doctor about vitamin D testing,” says Behan. Also, once they begin to menstruate again they need to be sure they’re getting enough iron to ensure blood health and prevent iron deficiency anemia, she adds.

I heard giving birth and breastfeeding depletes your calcium.

Both birth and breastfeeding put strains on a woman’s calcium levels. “In fact, if you don’t get enough calcium in your diet during pregnancy, the growing fetus may take what it needs from your bones. Unfortunately, far too many women are not getting enough calcium, whether they’re pregnant or not,” says Wider. To be sure they’re getting enough, women should eat plenty of low-fat, calcium-rich foods such as low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese and foods such as kale, bok choy and broccoli, and/or take a calcium supplement if they need it.

What if I’m planning to become pregnant again very soon?

“The food choices you make before conception are important. Women who plan to conceive need to get all the important nutrients, including calcium and iron. They should make sure they’re getting enough folic acid, which is so important for preventing neural tube defects that the FDA requires its addition to all grain foods, such as bread and flour that are labeled ‘enriched.’ The best food sources are liver, yeast, leafy vegetables and some fruits. They should avoid large doses of vitamin A and keep caffeine intake from coffee down to two cups per day,” recommends Behan.

How do I balance weight loss versus milk-production requirements?

According to Somer the key here is doing it gradually. “Prior to pregnancy the weight-loss goal could be as high as 2 pounds a week. After pregnancy, your weight loss goal should be only 2 pounds per month (for most women who have gained the recommended 25 pounds during pregnancy and who were at their desirable weight prior to pregnancy) and no more than 1 pound a week for overweight nursing mothers who use a combination of diet and exercise to shed pounds (by exercising, the woman doesn’t need to cut calories as severely, so loses weight without jeopardizing her health.). Whatever your weight goal, add 5+ pounds for the extra tissue your body retains while breastfeeding. So, if you ultimately want to lose 20 pounds, aim for no more than 15 pounds for now. The final 5 pounds usually drop off when you stop nursing.”

How many calories do I burn carrying my child around and taking care of him or her?

About 211 calories per hour (if you weigh 155 pounds).

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