Why pregnancy weight is so hard to shift
Pre-parenthood I was determined that my future would not be one of elasticised waistbands and cake for breakfast – but deep down I had the fear.
Fear that the kilograms would linger.
As someone who had always verged on an, errr … Rubenesque figure I knew that weight was hard to shift once it had arrived. I had a - perhaps irrational - fear of a future that involved seatbelt extenders and a wallet full of loyalty cards from Wendys and KFC.
Research says those fears were valid …
Now, I don’t mean to depress y’all, but a new study into the maternal health of nearly 800 mothers has found that *gulps* nearly three-quarters of new mothers are heavier 12 months after giving birth, than they were before becoming pregnant. Nearly one-quarter of those new mums gained and retained over 9kg.
Study author Dr Loraine Endres, an assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Chicago, explains the reason for the study:
“We all see the rising number of obese people and the health consequences that come from that, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. I really wanted to see where this is starting for women and to see if there is any way to turn it around.”
“This study, unfortunately, showed that pregnancy itself is leading to obesity or being overweight for a substantial number of women,” she says.
Why is pregnancy the reason for the weight sticking around?
Did you ever get told to go for gold on the snacks table because you were eating for two? That little nugget of maternal advice is a myth.
According to Dr Endres, women should only consume an extra 300 to 400 calories daily when pregnant if expecting a single baby.
“The biggest problem is that a large number of women gain too much during pregnancy,” Dr Endres says. “The more you gain, the harder it is to ever lose that weight. From the moment women conceive, as health care providers we need to start talking with them about appropriate weight gain and remaining active.”
You can do something about it
“You’re not predestined to have this happen,” he says. “Anyone is at risk for excessive pregnancy weight gain if you don’t have a specific plan in place.” He says that postpartum exercise and breastfeeding can help women avoid holding onto those extra pregnancy kilograms.
Did I gain the weight I feared?
I put on a lot of weight after my first child and struggled with weight for several years after that. Then came my son, where during pregnancy – and afterwards – I lost a lot of weight through healthy eating and exercise. I was on my way to being the healthiest and happiest in my own skin I had been in a long time, and when I became pregnant again soon after I was determined to stay healthy. Which I did for about six months … before I returned to work and all of my bad habits came creeping back.
Now 12 months on from my fourth and final child and I’m probably about 15 kilograms heavier than I would like to be *sighs*.
I see friends that bounce back – admittedly, they tend to be the ones that were a healthy weight before pregnancy – and I wonder why it is that I struggle so much? Realistically, I know it might help if I used my gym membership for more than the offer of a shower in peace, I guess.
I asked some our Kidspot community to share their experiences with weight after the kids came along, and it looks like the science is right – I am definitely not alone.
Jo: “I put on a healthy weight with my first two pregnancies, but my third saw me go from 65 kilograms to 96 kilograms. Get this kid OUT! Pelvic instability meant no exercise while pregnant and 12 months of rehabilitation afterwards. It’s now years on and I’m still struggling with weight.”
Shelley: “I have a seriously unhealthy relationship with cake, which I never did before. I think I acquired it during pregnancy, or maybe it’s the trauma of children that makes you seek sweet solace … Who knows? My hips definitely do! Pre-bundles of joy I was always a size six – eight. Post children I am stuck in the land-of-no-return and a straight 12. Do you know what though? I am a hell of a lot happier and the most comfortable I’ve ever felt with my body. Yes, I wish it was toned – but I would rather watch my kids play than slog it out at the gym. They’re nearly teenagers anyway. I’ll get fit when they ditch me.”
Belinda: “I put on my weight in the months after pregnancy rather than during. Exhaustion led me to bad food choices and the inevitable weight gain. Two years later and I’ve lost 14 kilograms so far. I’m on the home stretch but I’m about four kilograms shy of a healthy weight. I’m positive I’ll get there again though.”
Karla-Lea: “My daughter is almost two-years-old, and I’m still struggling with the baby weight. I’ve lost nine kilograms since August, but am struggling to find motivation to start shedding the 15 kilograms more that I need to.”
Rachel: “I lost all my baby weight in the first year. Fast forward four years – I now have a five year old son and weigh what I was at full term pregnancy. I have gained 15 kilograms.”
Nutrition for optimal maternal and early life health
Once upon a time, gaining a few extra kilos and taking it easy were part of the benefit of being ‘up the duff’. Nowadays study after study tells us that when a woman is pregnant, she needs to exercise and watch the weight gain.
Dr Hickman says: “This research speaks to getting in the best possible shape before conceiving and developing a plan to lose the weight afterward.”
According to more recent research he’s right! We should be looking at health and lifestyle before we even get pregnant.
A woman’s diet three months prior to pregnancy is vital to give babies optimal life-long nutrition. Here are the recommendations:
- Pregnant women should continue taking iodine and folic acid supplements and eat oily fish like salmon or tuna several times a week.
- To prevent allergies in their children they are advised not to avoid peanuts or other allergens unless they have an allergy themselves.
- The experts warn high protein diets (over 20 percent of total energy) should be avoided during pregnancy as they may lead to increased birth weight.
- Women should aim for 8.5 serves of breads and cereals each day and have a fat intake of no more than 20-35 percent of their total energy intake.
- Excessive weight gain in the first half of the pregnancy should also be avoided because it leads to babies with higher birth weight and body fat.
- Once their baby is born women are advised to breastfeed for as long as possible and introduce solid foods once their baby is aged 17 weeks to help combat the development of allergies.
- They should feed their toddlers full cream milk only after 12 months of age but offer a wide variety of nutritious foods while limiting sugar sweetened and fruit juice drinks and added salt, sugar and excess saturated fat.
Have you struggled with getting back to your original size post-pregnancy? What have you tried?
This article was originally written by Rebel Wylie for Kidspot AU and adapted for Kidspot NZ