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Pregnancy, the miracle of giving birth to a new life, is an experience in itself and can often be very emotional for both the parents. Apart from the joy of becoming a parent, the mother undergoes a lot of physical changes that can be uncomfortable, and the most concerning factor being the additional weight gained during pregnancy.
Extra weight gain is a natural mechanism mothers undergo to build up fat stores for milk production. The weight also consists of the baby, placenta, amniotic fluid, enlargement in breast tissue and uterus, as well as an increase in the amount of blood in the body.
• High pre-pregnancy weight: It is found that about 45% of women begin their pregnancy being overweight or obese. It was as low as 24% in 1983.
• Pregnancy weight gain: Studies have also shown that about 43% of women gain excess weight during their pregnancy. Excess pregnancy weight gain and high pre-pregnancy weight are the two most crucial cause of post-pregnancy weight retention.
• Excess postpartum weight: is found to be a major contributor to the development of obesity-related diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. A study showed that the females who were unable to shed the excess post-pregnancy weight in time developed diabetes or pre-diabetes in 13% cases and heart diseases, hypertension, or dyslipidaemia in 31% of the cases.
• Breastfeeding and weight loss: Multiple studies showed that the mothers who breastfed for more than 12 weeks and involved themselves in aerobic activities had a lower BMI after 15 years.
• Difficulty in future pregnancy: Obese women are prone to develop diabetes during their pregnancy, which can affect both the mother and the child. Women who develop diabetes during pregnancy have shown increased incidence of cardiovascular diseases, type II diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Whereas, their children were found to have higher obesity rates and a high risk of non-communicable diseases.
• Difficulty in future childbirth: Excess weight gain also disturbs the delivery process, causing complications in birth.
It is found that more than 20% of the women retain more than 5 kg of their original weight after giving birth to a child.
Read More: Postpartum Diet Plan
A lot of the evidence points towards adverse effects of retaining weight after pregnancy, leading to medical conditions even after 15 years of childbirth. As a result, it becomes important for one to lose the excess weight that is gained during pregnancy.
• First six weeks: At least 50% of the weight is lost during the first 6 weeks after delivery.
• Six-weeks check-up: One should wait till the 6-week check-up, before starting any weight loss regime. It takes about 2 months after birth for the milk supply to get normalized, which is important for the baby’s growth, till this time, the weight loss plan is advised to be kept on hold.
• Post 6 weeks: Following six weeks,rest of the 50% of the weight gained is lost in about 6 months to 12 months’ time. You should aim to attain your pre-pregnancy weight during this period to avoid obesity in later years.
The weight loss should be slow and prolonged rather than drastic. To start with, losing 1.5 pounds per week should be aimed at, which doesn’t affect the breastfeeding. This can be gradually increased, aiming for the desired weight in the stipulated time. It is also crucial to keep in mind while cutting down on extra calories that an additional 500 calories is needed to maintain a healthy breast feeding. Try not to drop below the recommended calorie intake for a day.
Since it is a time-consuming process, and it’s natural to lose motivation or crave for unhealthy diet, the aim is to try to be consistent and build a habit. Some of the scientifically proven tips mentioned below can help you to attain a weight loss while staying healthy.
Like every mammal, homo sapien females are capable of feeding the infant with breast milk, which not only helps in weight reduction postpartum but provides the infant with the necessary nutrients it needs to grow.
• Weight reduction: Multiple studies have shown weight reduction in mothers who continued breastfeeding for a period of 6 months. The post pregnancy weight retention was also found low by about 1.38kg, in full breast feeders, and by a 0.85 kg in mixed feeders.
• Other benefits to mothers: Breastfeeding also helps in preventing diabetes, breast and ovarian cancer.
• Benefits to the baby: Breast milk contains white blood cells, whey protein, and other vital contents that helps develop the baby’s immune system It also protects the baby against many major diseases, including asthma, lung infections, diabetes, obesity, leukaemia, and even sudden infant death syndrome(SIDS) in babies.
Fibre maintains the feeling of fullness for a longer period of time and including it in your diet helps to reduce weight. Consuming a healthy diet containing a significant proportion of fibers from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes can help you to lose weight.
• Amount of fiber: Studies suggest consumption of 14g/1000kcal of fiber daily. This helps in expediting the fat loss process and also to reduce the risk of a number of diseases like coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and a number of gastrointestinal diseases.
• Buying healthy food: The major part of eating healthy food includes buying healthy food. Studies conducted related to food stored in the house reveals that the presence of fruit bowls meant people had a lower BMI, while people with unhealthy food tend to have a higher BMI.
• Healthy snack sources: For snacking in between meals you can also opt for snacks rich in fiber.Items such as bell peppers, apples, peanut butter, yogurt, eggs,and nut scan be used as a healthy source.
• How it works: Similar to fibre, consumption of proteins leads to a feeling of fullness and satisfaction for a longer duration.
Moreover, protein consumption, tends to increase the muscle growth, which in turn increases the amount of energy required by the body, which helps to burn the extra calories consumed.
Studies have also shown that higher energy is required to digest protein-rich food, which also increases the utilization of the extra calories. This, in turn, aids the process of weight loss.
• Amount of protein: Regular protein consumption of more than 25-30 grams per meal shows improvement in appetite, weight management, and cardiometabolic risk factors.
• Protein deficiency can lead to muscle loss, reducing the energy levels and the energy consumption of the body, which leads to fat retention in the body. It is, therefore, important that the diet be protein-rich to minimize muscle damage.
How it affects:
The processed food often contains high amount of sugar and sodium which provides excess calories and causes retention of water in the body leading to weight gain and health issues.
Many of the processed food have a high glycaemic index(GI) where the food is rapidly broken down to release glucose. This type of food increases the sensation of hunger and promote overeating.
Most of the fast food is cheap and ready-to-eat, which often consists of a high amount of calories, sodium, sugar and unhealthy fats which often leads to obesity.
Food high in sugar content increases the risk and early onset of type II diabetes. Fruit juices are also often added with extra sugar, which can contribute to the same.
Sugar-sweetened beverages, also contribute to excess weight and the risk of coronary heart disease.
How to replace it:
Replace the processed and fast food in your diet with food containing whole grains and cereals. It has low glycaemic index due to which they release glucose slowly which is easily utilised by the body over a period of time without storing it in the form of fat.
Replace your sugar craving of sweets, sweetened drinks including fruit juices with fruits which are naturally sweetened and provide a fiber-rich meal.
Hydration is an important process for all human beings as the body loses fluids throughout the day, even more so for women who are breastfeeding. Consumption of water plays a positive role in losing body weight and fat over time.
Increased metabolic rate: Consumption of water also increases the metabolic rate. Consumption of 500 ml of waterincreases the metabolic rateby 30% and causes an increased expenditure of about 100kJ. It is also found that, consuming 2 litres of water every day, burns an extra 400kJ resulting in weight loss.
Hydration in the breastfeeding women: Breast feeding women consumes an increased amount of fluid by 12-16%. This increase should be compensated by water (at least 12 cups a day) or non-sugary drinks in limited quantity instead of beverages loaded with sugar.
Effect of dehydration: Loss of fluids can lead to dehydration which may cause extreme fatigue,headache as well as low blood pressure.
How to do it:
Various applications can serve as a reminder for drinking water regularly. They often divide the total intake for the day and can have a unique setting for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Place water bottles in the baby’s room, to serve as a constant reminder for hydration.
Exercise is the best way to retain muscle while burning away the extra fat in the body. Accompanied with a healthy diet plan, the combination can work wonders.
The body needs enough rest after delivery, especially in cases of C-section. One should not involve in rigorous exercises until the body is ready.
How to do it:
A regular walk to the market, using the stairs instead of the elevator, or involving in the household chores are all simple yet effective ways to start the process of weight loss and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
To increase the difficulty, one can always take a walk with the baby. The additional weight of the baby and the stroller provides good resistance.
After recovery: One can opt for weighted training, or other forms of physical exercises in the gym that are specially formulated for women post-pregnancy, keeping in mind their limitations. Exertion should be avoided at all costs to prevent any injuries.
Other diseases: Physical activity in the long run, can also prevent many diseases, including type II diabetes, heart diseases, weight gain, and obesity. Studies also concluded lesser weight gain in active people compared to inactive people. Active women only gained 5 kg in 15 years, while inactive women gained 13kg in the same duration.
Time taken for weight loss: Weight retention is common postpartum, and one should realize that losing weight is a slow process which might take from 12-18 months. Losing weight quickly and drastically can be harmful for both the mother and the child. One should be realistic about their weight reduction plans.
What to Avoid:
Unwanted diets that reduce weight drastically, often reduce the water weight in the body or cause loss of muscle, while all the fat will come back as soon as normal meal is resumed.
Not following a fad diet will also prevent a lack of nutrients, which can cause disruption in the production of breast milk.
Eat more to breastfeed: After childbirth, mothers are always in need of the extra calories for feeding the baby. An additional 630kcal per day is required for breastfeeding, which can be balanced by eating more and reducing the expenditure.
How to do it:
A combination of exercise and a healthy diet with a moderate weight reduction of not more than 670 grams a week will not affect the lactation process and help maintain a healthy lifestyle.
One should not hurry into trying to fit into the old jeans post-pregnancy. Although it is not impossible, it is certainly something that needs patience.
Even though moderate levels of alcohol do not pose any risk, consumption of alcohol is harmful for the body.
How it affects:
Alcohol provides 7kcal per gram of energy, which lacks in nutrients and only provides empty calories. Heavy drinking is directly related to excessive weight gain and is a major contributing factor for a multitude of diseases, including cancer. Weight loss can be hampered with the consumption of alcohol.
Alcohol consumption for Breast feeding women: Breastfeeding under the influence of alcohol can cause harm to the baby. Infants process alcohol at a lower rate, and alcohol can easily be transferred through breast milk if consumed before feeding. It can also hamper the rate of milk production.
It is not healthy for the baby to consume alcohol at an early age and should be avoided at all costs.
Insufficient sleep is a major concern for new mothers taking care of the infant. It is often challenging to find enough time to sleep when taking care of the baby throughout the night.
For new mothers, asking for help from friends or family is a good option to get enough sleep to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Amount of Sleep: One should try to get at least 7 hours of sleep for an improved physical and mental health to prevent unwanted health effects.
Other diseases: Lack of sleep is also associated with various medical conditions which can turn out to be problematic in the long run.
Not getting the required amount of sleep is directly linked to eating disorders which causes erratic eating behaviour and an increase in weight, leading to obesity.
Lack of sleep is not just related to physical health but also hampers the mental well-being. It was associated with postpartum depression and also caused increased weight retention.
Being a mother comes with the rewarding experiencing of nurturing a new life, but one can often forget to take care of themselves amongst all the stress that comes with a new-born child. Additional weight gain can be a major disappointment for females and can often cause mental discomfort, which encourages one to take harsh steps to lose weight.
Abrupt weight loss can hamper the lactation process and leave one weak in times when a lot more energy is required to keep up with the new-born.
It is important to remember that some of the additional weight is for the benefit of the baby, and the rest needs to be taken off gradually with proper exercise and a healthy diet to avoid retention of excess weight for a prolonged period of time.
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