Post-partum Weight Loss: The critical things we don’t talk about

Pregnancy is a common, however traumatic condition in which a woman becomes the host of a developing fetus that slowly grows into an actual human-being… which occupies the limited space inside of her pelvic cavity for nine months… while shoving all of her major organs straight up into the lungs and ribcage… slowing digestion and spreading chronic inflammation into every system of her body while hormones surge to relax and stretch her muscles, tissues and ligaments… and the skeletal structure shifts and rotates in order to support the fast and caustic changes to her anterior anatomy (#babybump), lengthening and weakening muscle tissues and simultaneously work to balance out the increased pressure on her body’s nerves and joints.  (For nine months) And childbirth? Well… Actual studies have shown that the experience of childbirth is equivalent to a woman having every single bone in her body broken at the same time … and then being set on fire.

^ I want you to refer to that first paragraph many times throughout reading this.  ^

Right now, a simple internet search about losing the baby weight will deliver tens of thousands results all telling you about the same four or five things.  You can also try searching “postpartum weight loss”, “exercising after having a baby”, “why can’t I lose the baby weight”, “how to lose weight after pregnancy”.  I made several search attempts and scrolled through all of results to find something or someone that would promote healthy ideas that are safe, holistic, mindful but logical, and founded by some high-level research to back it up.  I got nada.  But what I did get was a constant repeat of almost the same things on how to lose weight after childbirth:

 

  • cardio (“it burns fat”)
  • breastfeed! (“it burns calories!”)
  • decrease your calories, especially fat (“because fat makes you fat”)
  • increase fiber (“it makes you feel full so you don’t over snack”)
  • join a fitness class for moms (“you’ll make friends and be motivated to workout”).  

I’d argue that at least half of that list wouldn’t even work for the average whoever.  But this is still the same advice we want to give a woman who just experienced 9 months of pregnancy and then childbirth?  Nothing I found could be specifically linked with critical considerations needed (and required) for new Moms.  Let’s start with the fact that I’m obviously not a fan of the popular advice women are given (still, to this day) by their own doctors, and the supposed experts at the gym or writing articles for fitness (and even pregnancy related) magazine publications.  And ps. Fiber is not a nutrient.  All it does is make your poop bigger, and after the trauma of vaginal OR cesarean childbirth, the last thing you want is bigger poop.  Put the processed carbohydrates with “fortified” labels on them away and just eat some real food.  

Example!  This is your average female fitness role model:

On Instagram there is one female fitness “guru” with 25M followers (twenty. five. mill-ion.) who focuses on two things: being a mom, being fit.  What do 25 million followers get in the way of advice?  Well, after weeding through all the “inspirational” selfies that offer no words of wisdom or advice other than to click some link and buy her online training program, I found out that she ‘educates’ (I repeat) twenty-five million women (I assume mostly women) with a consistent set of ideas that promote the following:

  1. meal replacement shakes and bars
  2. low calorie desserts (yum!)
  3. cute workout clothes
  4. self tanners & make up tips
  5. salad
  6. cardio and…
  7. “beauty only comes from the inside”

I’m inspired by all the hashtags nestled underneath photos of processed “protein cookies”, cheap meal replacements and high-layered makeup selfies wearing lululemon outfits and lifting gloves….

#getfit #noexcuses #fitmom #lowcarb #weightloss #gymfashion #eyelashes #burnfat #dropthepounds #beautycomesfromwithin #sexyatanysize #LoveYourself #beachbody #strongissexy #MomBod #healthychoices

 

What do eyelashes have to do with healthy choices, and what do weightlifting gloves have to do with 10# dumb bells?

I’m not going to name this “instagram guru” because I don’t want to further promote the BS… and I’m sure she’s nice and well-intentioned, but this “iconic” representative of women’s health and fitness is telling 25 million of you to literally quit your jobs (you’ll have to in order to fit in the amount of exercise she prescribes), replace food with pills and cake-flavored shakes,  skip meals and eat salads so you can indulge in desserts (or- just replace sugar with aspartame and the dessert “doesn’t even count!”), put nasty chemicals all over your body to sport a fake tan (pale is ugly and shows cellulite… ew), hide your face beneath layers of goop, tinted lip gloss and false eyelashes to hide all evidence of your sleep deprivation (and bloat from all the skinny margaritas… hashtag #mommyhappyhour !!).  And also “look at me!” #selfie, #fitmom, #squatsandlipstick. 

 

Are we still falling for the inspirational memes that declare every size and shape is sexy– while overlooking the fact that the next sentence, article or post is telling you how to cover up your flaws, lose weight, and smooth out cellulite?  Y’all.  For real?  This is the reality-tv-esque crap you want to feed your brain about health, fitness and nutrition?  

The not-so-subliminal messages suggest that “if you want to actually for really be sexy” then you need to get a tan, chew gum instead of food, drop down to 12% body fat and look #strong in a pair of underwear and knee-high socks from Hot Topic, bent over weight bench rowing a 5 lb dumbbell.

Can you see how these perpetuate the brain-clogging and dumbing-down of our perceptions which reduce our thoughts and actions to sub-optimal levels that keep us insecure and prevent us from making healthy decisions? And this is especially important for new mothers because here we are embarking on the strongest, biggest and most important archetype of our lives and it’s being perpetually minimized to calories and waist size after we pop that sucker out.

 

No one talks about bio individuality and stress, hormones, & inflammation… and how those play a critical and combined role in the function and efficiency of a woman’s endocrine system (and subsequently every other system).  After my first baby,  I didn’t know the cost of slipping on some Spanx to go running eight weeks after an emergency c-section, which – by the way – followed this thing we call pregnancy… and incase you forgot, go re-read the first paragraph!

What do low-carb recipes and knee socks have to do with resolving the pain each time you simply cough or need to take a shit, or the stretched and weak pelvic floor muscles, the torn and separated abdominal muscles, the sleep deprivation or the fact that you are still hemorrhaging afterbirth.  

“…recent studies have shown that women will put up with a lot of discomfort after childbirth because they think that it is normal. The Royal College of Midwives is conducting its own studies to see how they can make sure that discomfort is not the norm.” DailyMail UK

What no one actually tells you:

  • Not every woman loses weight by breastfeeding, in fact nearly half of all new moms tend to hang onto fat while breastfeeding.  Breastfeeding is not a “calorie-burner”.  It’s a biological human function to feed our offspring.  And though it does require energy and uses nutrients from our supply to provide the infant, it’s often the case that some women actually retain fat while breastfeeding as a means to continue their supply. Everyone is different!
  • It takes about one year to fully recover from pregnancy and childbirth.  Six weeks is a scientifically unfounded timeline to determine that your body is ready for exercise. Cardio workouts and/or fitness classes can burn up excess calories and stored fat – for sure.  So if your doctor says you can workout at six weeks post-delivery, please consider the following:  did he/she perform an assessment of your pelvic floor muscles?  Did he/she test your core strength, and stability? Did they check for musculature weakness and imbalances? Or measure left and right side pelvic rotations?  Posterior/Anterior, postural measurements? Or test your basic motor functions?  Did they do any sort of functional movement screening?  No?  Well did he/she even mention that studies PROVE it takes A FULL YEAR for a woman to recover from pregnancy and childbirth???  Oh, your doctor didn’t read that study? Then sit your structurally-imbalanced, physically traumatized, sleep-deprived, aint-got-no-time-to-heal-havin’ ass down.  You’re not ready.
  • Abdominal exercises to “tone” your belly after pregnancy is, in fact, the surest way to destroy the aesthetics of your core permanently. During pregnancy, your abdominal muscles expand, stretch, lengthen, weaken and yes, they tear apart.  So after pregnancy, these muscles don’t magically rejoin and go back to what they were before (obviously), and that’s why women should train the core.  However, you can’t perform sit ups, crunches, planks and go straight into all these yoga and pilates classes without preparing your core for these exercises.  You need to train before you train otherwise, guess what?  Your vision of sexy midsection will never manifest.  You will either worsen the diastasis and create a larger gap in between rectus muscles, which then can only be corrected via surgery (extremely painful surgery… I have a friend who went through this and I’m happy to connect you to her to chat about it. Not pretty), or you will end up over-developing the rectus muscles (which now have a gap in between the left and right side) which will create a dome-shaped protrusion down the middle.  I will share more on this in Pt. II of this article, but simply want to stress that if aesthetics are truly your goal, then you need to sit on a swiss ball and practice regaining equal balance through stability exercises before you go back to training that core.  And one more teaser: your back is part of the core.
  • Reducing fat intake is probably the worst thing you can do to your hormones after delivering a baby.  Your hormones are a complete train wreck at that time, and your body is in overdrive to regulate them, and guess what… cholesterol is responsible for hormone synthesis.  Literally your sex hormones are made out of fat. These hormones are also responsible for the regulation of other hormones which control hunger, metabolism, mood, sleep cycles and cellular recovery.  So I mean…  if that’s a risk you’re willing to take because some skinny bitch who has no education or training in nutrition (but is sponsored by a supplement or clothing company- so she must know what she’s talking about) on instagram told you to eat low fat, well …#freewill 

    I’ll be over here enjoying the egg yolks and healthy hormones.

  • Replacing real food with shakes, supplements, or low-calorie/low-carb/low-fat pre-packaged foods with zero nutrient density create new moms with horrific, long-term damage that is so difficult to undo that you will wish you had just taken it slow and been patient- that would have been quicker than what it’s going to take to recover once you realize the damage you’ve done. But more importantly: It is a far cry from what you need to be doing post-delivery.  Especially if you are breastfeeding! – the cost of being impatient and cutting calories and not eating real food while your body is trying to supply enough nourishment for you to share with a rapidly growing newborn.  You can try it the insta-guru way, and you may lose weight quickly… but come back in a year and tell me how you’re doing and how many medications you’re on to help you sleep, manage your thyroid, regulate your hormones, reduce pain and inflammation… how much coffee you need to get up and stay up, how much harmony you have in your relationships and what your stress levels are like.  But it’s cool because you lost weight, right?  Listen, I’m not trying to be an absolute twat about this, it’s just that I’ve been there and done that. It’s not pretty.  Do you know what your adrenals are, and what they do?  Starving yourself (especially during a time when your body needs WAY MORE) is going to force the adrenals to work harder until they can no longer keep up with your demands or support the thyroid.  Train your body to UTILIZE MORE efficiently.  When you reduce calories long enough, you’ve ultimately trained your metabolism to function slowly because it is expecting less fuel.  You can’t go 90mph on the highway with your gas on empty and a slow engine. What do you THINK is going to happen?
  • Cardio workouts are not the best way for new moms to shed weight or get back in shape!  Walking and low intensity activities such as hiking, rowing, or riding a bike can be beneficial, and even swimming down the line when you’re ready.  But spin classes, 45+ minutes of running, or any kind of workout that has the name “insanity” or markets themselves with actual threats like “holy shit this is so good we’ll have you puking into buckets and passing out! You might even die! Hahahahahah but you’ll be sooooo sexy!” — those are things you should avoid.  Stop trying to be a hero, okay?  You just had a f—–g baby, that’s enough!  Intense cardio or endurance workouts should be put off until you have fully recovered, and like I said above- six weeks is not enough time to heal your body after nine months of chronic inflammation and 24 hours of physical labor equivalent to breaking every bone in your body at once and then being set on fire.  Think about that.
    Now think about what happens when someone gets surgery for their shoulder or an ACL tear in the knee… what’s the general protocol?  Six weeks of rest while avoiding activities, and then what?  Oh yeah… doctor prescribed physical therapy for another 12-24 weeks before returning to all normal activities, sports, or exercises.  
    Remind me again how much physical therapy new mothers are prescribed to recover from a full-system trauma 1000x greater than an ACL tear?  That’s right… none.  We get nothing. But what we do get instead is society’s subliminal pressure to shed that baby weight and look like you did the night you met your baby-daddy.  Cardio?  Do your research.  Before you start running every morning, think about the state of your posture, your pelvic tilt, weakened muscles of the pelvic floor, inability to fully activate your TVA muscles (which are on the same neurological loop as pelvic floor muscles), improper breathing mechanisms and diaphragmatic activation because you’ve had a human jammed up there for nine months, and oh yeah… hormones.


    Postpartum weight loss ideas that promote chronic cardio conditioning is like listening to any drug commercial on tv.  It may initially help you shed some weight, but listen to that guy speed-talking the fine print: cardio exercise after pregnancy prior to full recovery may lead to chronic low back pain, bulging discs, joint pain and inflammation (especially in the knees), pelvic floor dysfunction, loss of ability your to orgasm, excess adipose fat in the belly, and a lifetime of peeing your pants.  Enjoy.

 

So in conclusion, we need to become collectively aware of what we don’t learn from our doctors, providers, mothers or social media ‘gurus’ during and after pregnancy.  Specifically when it comes to our bodies and the changes we experience, and how to embrace those changes.  And more specifically, how to make more changes ourselves in a healthy way.  We have to do this for ourselves.  Now scroll up to the top and read this again 10 times, or until you get it.  

 

THREE BODY MODEL

(example outline of creating our holistic programs)

 

Mental Body: ARE YOU MENTALLY READY?

  1. Do you have clearly defined goals?
  2. Do you have a realistic plan set in place to achieve these goals?
  3. What are your top five current stress factors?
  4. Do you sleep 6-8 hours a night?
  5. How much time do you have each day or week to work on your goals?
  6. What are your needs? (hint: needs are different from goals- space, time, schedule, sleep, food etc)
  7. Do your plans for achieving your goals allow all of your needs to be met?

 

Emotional Body: ARE YOU EMOTIONALLY READY?

  1. What are your core values?  And what do you believe about these values?
  2. What makes you happy?
  3. What motivates you? (fear or love)
  4. How do you want to feel each day?
  5. Are your thoughts, words and actions all linear?
  6. How do you feel about your body right now?  How do you want to feel?
  7. Are you attached to the perceived outcome of your goals?

 

Physical Body: ARE YOU PHYSICALLY READY?
(this is an incomplete list,
see A-Z Considerations)

  1. Pelvic floor muscles
  2. Pelvic tilt & your posture
  3. Diaphragmatic breathing
  4. Core stability: muscle activation, strength and balance
  5. Current Pain & Discomfort
  6. Nutrition & lifestyle evaluation
    1. Circadian rhythm/ cycles
    2. Stress loads
    3. Caffeine, alcohol, prescription medications
    4. Diet (sugar, processed foods, imbalances or lack of variety? Meal skipping?)
    5. Types of activities and exercise (how often, how long)
  7. Therefore, what is the physiological load?
    1. Structural
    2. Endocrine
    3. Hormone
    4. Limbic

In my first article, Postnatal Rehabilitation, I provided an overview of the “A-Z Considerations” when designing a program.  They are a list of unwavering factors that must be addressed in every single new mom who comes to us for programming.  That A-Z list was created from the Three Body Model, outlined below.  A Three Body Model is the foundation for all programs, and without a good foundation there is inconsistency, compartmentalizing and separation (cracks), and instability.

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