Bridget Swinney is a registered dietitian with a Master’s Degree in Nutrition. She has spent most of her 20-year career communicating with moms and families about health and nutrition; either through one-on-one counseling or through her writing, speaking, and media work. She is a frequent media guest and has appeared on Good Morning America and the Food Network.
After the initial rush of excitement when a baby is born, many moms are busy worrying about their new child. But when do they start to worry about themselves?
According to the Mayo Clinic, regular exercise after giving birth can restore muscle strength and even prevent and promote recovery from postpartum depression. If a mother exercised during pregnancy and had a normal delivery, exercise can start almost immediately.
There are many misconceptions about losing weight postpartum. To eliminate confusion, Bridget Swinney, MS, RD, author of “Eating Expectantly: Practical Advice for Healthy Eating Before, During and After Pregnancy,” answered a few questions about maintaining a healthy lifestyle after giving birth.
Bundoo: What are some of the biggest misconceptions about postpartum diets?
Bridget Swinney: There are a few. First, that you shouldn’t breastfeed unless you have a perfect diet. This is absolutely not true! However, if a mom’s diet isn’t adequate, her stored nutrients will be used, which puts her at risk for problems later like osteoporosis.
Second, that you will lose all your baby fat regardless of what you eat. Not true! It’s still the energy balance equation of calories in, calories out, which determines weight loss.
Is it safe to try to lose weight while breastfeeding?
Here’s the cool thing about breastfeeding: you don’t actually have to try to lose weight. Making breast milk uses energy stored as “baby fat.” Breastfeeding moms who eat the same amount of calories they did in the second trimester will gradually lose weight—usually ½-1 pound a week after the first month.
Will breastfeeding make new moms lose baby weight?
It depends on many factors, including how much weight a mom gained. It’s all about what kind of foods you eat and how active you are.
Sometimes the “eating for two” mentality can get moms in trouble. When breastfeeding, a typical mom will need about 300 more calories than she did before she was pregnant. This translates to an extra 1-2 ounces of protein, an extra serving of dairy, and an extra serving of fruits and vegetables.
Even for moms who lose weight consistently while breastfeeding will hold onto the last 5 pounds until they stop breastfeeding. Of course I’ve known other moms that had to start eating even more because they were going below their goal weight.
Can dietary choices have an influence on postpartum depression?
Many nutrients play a role in mental health, including vitamin B1, B6, B12, folic acid, vitamin D, iodine, selenium, zinc, and omega 3 fatty acids. If mom wasn’t getting enough of some of those nutrients during pregnancy, it could increase her risk of postpartum depression. Iron deficiency is linked to postpartum depression, and common during pregnancy, so it’s a good idea to check for anemia in the postpartum period.
Should moms keep taking vitamins after the baby is born?
Continuing to take prenatal vitamins is a good idea if iron deficiency anemia was a problem during pregnancy. However, if anemia wasn’t a problem, regular multiple vitamin-mineral supplements and possibly a DHA supplement is fine. Look for one containing iodine and lutein—important for baby’s brain and eyes. A vitamin D supplement may also be needed, depending on blood levels of vitamin D. The extra iron in prenatal vitamins can be constipating, which can be a problem immediately postpartum.
What advice can you give new moms who want to get their pre-pregnancy body back in a healthy manner?
Be patient. New moms will need to wear your maternity clothes a bit longer than they might have thought. It took 10 months to gain the weight, and it’s not going to come off in a month!
Being active is crucial for getting the before-baby body back, but this is often challenging for new moms, who sometimes don’t find the time to take a shower! Just a 15-minute walk a day will help get stamina back, reduce stress, and build muscle strength. However, an hour of physical activity daily will be best for getting back into shape. So put baby in the stroller for a walk outside or at the mall or get moving to an exercise DVD. Every little bit helps!