Need to Lose Weight?
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Losing the ‘baby weight’ is generally the wish of most new mums. It feels like you have been expanding in every direction for the last nine months and now it’s time to reverse that process, fit back into your skinny jeans and to put your maternity clothes into storage for ‘next time’ – Ha!
However, it is important that you lose weight after pregnancy gradually and do not deprive yourself, or your baby (if you are breast feeding), of your nutritional requirements. It is also vital not to launch into your pre-pregnancy exercise regime as if you’ve just had a week off! Before we look at a strategy for getting rid of your pregnancy weight gain, let’s remind ourselves of the huge benefits of regular exercise.
If pregnancy and birth were uncomplicated, then the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (RCOG) support a ‘mild exercise programme consisting of walking, pelvic floor exercises and stretching [that] may begin immediately [after birth].’
However, if there were any complications during the pregnancy or birth, or if the baby was delivered via caesarean section, you should seek medical advice before commencing any form exercise.
Did you exercise before and during your pregnancy? Or is this your first attempt to get fit since attending compulsory PE at school? Start exercising with a level of activity that is comfortable and enjoyable for you. For example if you were house-bound towards the end of your pregnancy, a five minute stroll around the block will be enough to get your circulation going and your muscles working. If, on the other hand, you were swimming and going for 30 minute dog walks prior to giving birth, you may still be comfortable exercising at this pre-birth level. It all depends on your fitness levels prior to giving birth and how your body coped with giving birth. As you build up your strength, balance and confidence you can gradually begin to lengthen your workouts and then intensify them. Listen to your body and don’t try to do too much too soon or risk causing yourself an injury. If in doubt, speak to your health visitor or your doctor.
Your muscles have been stretched to allow for carrying your baby. Therefore it is important to slowly build up your activity levels and not to expect to return to pre pregnancy exercise levels after the birth. Abdominal exercises are outlined below to help your to regain abdominal strength and tone.
In the period following pregnancy there is an increased risk of injury as everything has been jiggled about by the baby. Your balance and coordination will have altered to accommodate your changing centre of gravity. As your body once again gets used to carrying your weight, minus your unborn child, your stability and agility will improve.
During pregnancy the hormone relaxin is secreted by the placenta. Relaxin softens ligaments, cartilage and the cervix in preparation for the birth of your baby. The down side to these physiological changes are loose joints and possible hyper-mobility that increases the risk of injury. The effects of relaxin can continue for up to 6 months after pregnancy. Breast feeding can also further extend the amount of time that relaxin levels are raised in your body.
Advice: Build up your exercise programme slowly over time and avoid the temptation to return to pre-pregnancy work outs. You are the best judge of how your body feels; if an activity causes you discomfort or pain then you need to avoid it for now. Avoid dynamic exercise and explosive movements i.e. jogging, squash and contact sports, until after you have strengthened and stabilised your body with some gentle endurance training. Endurance training involves exercising your body at a constant intensity over a period of time to build up your stamina and strength i.e. walking, swimming and cycling.
Most new mums can’t even contemplate exercise straight after the birth of their baby. Apart from the overall fatigue that you’ll be feeling, you may still be bleeding and generally too uncomfortable to do anything more than take care of you and your baby. However, here are some ideas that you may be able to incorporate into your day if you do have some spare time and energy; some of them will be a part of your routine already.
You can lose weight while breastfeeding but, bear in mind that during the first 3 months of breast feeding a woman needs approximately 500 calories per day in addition to her usual calorific intake. However, this does depend on your activity levels and your body composition. Your body will naturally use your fat stores to supplement your food intake as a source of additional energy. However, you shouldn’t try to accelerate this process by depriving yourself of food. If your body senses that food is scarce, it will slow your metabolism down and use the calories that you are eating at a slower rate. Your body will then start to store more fat to get you through your self-imposed famine! The best way to judge how many calories you need is to listen to body as it will tell you when it is hungry. So when your body tells you to eat…eat.
Breast feeding and exercise are both drains on your fluid levels so make sure that you are taking on enough water to stay hydrated. An additional drink at meal times and when you breast feed should be sufficient. Sources of fluid include tea, coffee, fruit juices, milk and the fluid content of your food. However, for the sole purpose of hydration, drinking water is ideal way to keep hydrated as it wont increase your caffeine, sugar or calorie intake. Use the colour of your urine as an indicator of your hydration levels. Dark urine is a sign that your fluid levels are low.
Note: Various studies indicate that exercise may temporarily change the consistency of breast milk for up to 90 minutes after the activity has ceased. It would therefore make sense to feed your baby prior to exercising. This would have the added benefit of reducing the volume of milk that you are carrying, which otherwise may lead to an uncomfortable work out. It is also advisable to keep your workouts at a light to moderate intensity as this is less likely to have an affect on your breast milk.
If you eat a healthy balanced diet your body can process your food and use the nutrients to optimise your health; this includes assisting you to reach a healthy weight. Eating little and often will keep your blood sugar levels balanced and should prevent you from hitting that low that has you reaching out for junk food. Eating regularly also helps to keep your metabolism moving as your body knows that there is no shortage of food and is happy to burn off what you are consuming. As I have already pointed out, avoiding food in the name of weight loss will slow your metabolism down and your body will store extra calories as fat to get you through what it thinks is a famine. For more information on a healthy balanced diet read ‘Healthy Eating Plan Basics’
First and foremost you need enough energy to look after you and your baby. If you are finding your new life physically and mentally challenging (and you’re super human if you’re not) then it may not help to use the energy that you do have to exercise. Sleeping is a legitimate way to help you to lose weight! Sleep deprivation is linked to an increase in appetite that is in excess of our calorific requirements. One study showed that after 6 days of getting 4 hours of sleep, participants had reduced levels of the appetite suppressing hormone leptin and increased levels of the appetite stimulating hormone ghrelin. Without the correct balance of these hormones you will overindulge and put on weight. It is therefore imperative during any attempts to manage your weight that you aim to get a minimum of 8 hours sleep. As a new mum this will mean sleeping when your baby sleeps. Exercising at the expense of sleep could be detrimental to your weight loss efforts.
When you are ready to take a trip out with your baby it is nice to know that you are also improving your health both psychologically and physically. Pushing your buggy is a total body exercise that will improve muscle tone, enhance your cardiovascular fitness and burn calories. Getting out in the fresh air will also help to improve your mental state, improving your overall sense of well being. Meeting up with other new mums to take your baby for a walk will add a social aspect to something that might otherwise seem like a chore.
If you have decided to walk as a form of exercise, make sure that you are wearing comfortable and supportive footwear. Prolonged walks in high-heals or sandals could result in sore feet, fallen arches and muscular imbalances.
After a less than dynamic 9 months, your muscles are probably very tight. Gentle stretching for no more than 10 seconds per muscle group will stretch out the tension in preparation for your increased activity levels. The hormone relaxin is still affecting your connective tissue and increasing the risk of injury from overstretching, so stretch gently.
The pelvic floor muscles support the uterus, bladder, bowels and other pelvic organs. During pregnancy these muscle stretch, which can cause stress incontinence. Stress incontinence is an inability to control the flow of urine from the bladder; this can result in the leakage of urine. According to the RCOG, pelvic floor exercises may reduce the risk of stress incontinence.
Get started with pelvic floor exercises as soon as you can. If you haven’t had your baby yet, strong pelvic floor muscles will assist with turning the baby and pushing him or her out during the birth.
Your pelvic floor muscles are the muscles that you use to stop the flow or urine when you are weeing. Once you have located them, lay down on your back, with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Draw up your pelvic floor muscles and then relax. Repeat 10 times. Make sure that you continue to breathe and ensure that your buttocks, abdominals and thighs stay relaxed. Rest for 30 seconds before completing another 5 more sets of 10 repetitions. Practice this exercise 6 times a day for maximum effect. You may find that an ideal time to practice this is when you are feeding your baby. As you gain more control over your pelvic floor muscles try to hold each contraction for slightly longer. It is important to practice both slow and sustained contractions and short fast ones.
Once you have mastered pelvic floor exercises lying on your back, try the same exercise on all fours. Next, try them sitting and then standing. Soon you will be able to practice in the bus queue, at your desk or walking down the street. If you are practicing in public be aware of any facial expressions that might give you away.
It will take 6-8 weeks to get the full benefit from your pelvic floor exercises. You should practice them daily for the rest of your life. For more information see take a look at the NHS direct article on pelvic floor exercises.
Most new mums would like to tighten their stretched abdominal muscles, and this is an important goal for more than just aesthetic reasons. Strong abdominal muscles are needed to maintain a good posture and to stabilise movements reducing the risk of injury. The exercises below will help you to recondition and tone your tummy muscles.
Note: It is possible for the rectus abdominus (the six pack muscle) to separate during the third trimester. This is called Diastasis Recti. The muscles should begin to re-align and knit together soon after the birth. If your muscles have separated you can still complete the above exercises but avoid any exercises that involve your obliques; these are exercises involving rotating and side bending as this can draw the rectus abdominus further apart.
Your 6 week check up is an ideal time to check with your health visitor or doctor about increasing your activity levels. Once you have the all clear you can move onto the following exercises. However, if by 6 weeks your abdominal muscles are still separated by more than 1 inch continue with the previously outlined abdominal exercises and introduce some modified curl ups, as described in the section below.
Continue with these.
These exercises will continue to tone and tighten your abdominal muscles. If time allows, it would be beneficial to practice these exercises every other day, perhaps before you jump into the shower.
Swimming is a great way to get back into exercise. It is a low impact activity, reducing the chances of injury in these early stages of your exercise programme. Swimming is good for your back muscles; you will need these as you lift and carry in your role as a mum i.e. bathing and changing your bundle of joy; manoeuvring, collapsing and lifting the travel system into and out of your car for the tenth time that day!
Jogging is a great way to exercise and to burn calories; however, it is very challenging on your body. I recommend that you build yourself up to jogging by first increasing the length and speed of your walks. Once you are comfortably walking for 30-40 minutes 3-5 x per week you can introduce some interval training. First warm up by walking for 5 minutes, gradually building up your speed. Then break into a gentle jog for 1 minute followed by walking for 2 minutes. If all feels well continue this pattern until you have jogged for a total of 10 minutes. Now wait and see how you feel tomorrow to find out how challenging this has been on your body. If you feel good repeat this interval exercise 3 x per week, leaving a rest day or having a gentle walk in between each session. When you feel comfortable with this level of exercises, start to reduce the walking periods of your interval training until you are jogging for the full 10 minutes; at this time you can start to lengthen the time you are jogging for. It takes about 4 weeks for your muscles to adapt to a new challenge, so listen to your body and take your time.
As a new mum your time is limited and therefore very precious. It is important that the exercise that you do is convenient. Home exercise equipment is readily accessible which is ideal for a new mum who is prioritising the needs of her baby. I would recommend using an exercise bike, x-trainer, rower or treadmill at a moderate intensity for 15 to 30 minutes every other day. A good time to do your work out is before you shower, so that you don’t mind getting hot and sweaty. If you are using these exercise machines for the first time remember to start of gently and listen to your body.
Exercise DVDs are perfect for working out to without leaving the house. Once you have fed and changed your baby you may find that you have 15 minutes when he or she is content to just lay and kick on their play-mat; this might be an ideal time to try your new exercise DVD. Even if your sessions are a little disjointed and you have to split up a work-out over the entire day, it is all good for you and will help you lose any excess weight.
Find a gym with a good crèche. Some charge as little as £1.50 an hour to look after your little one while you use the facilities. If you join the gym, the crèche is sometimes included in your monthly fee. Make sure that you find out what age your baby has to be to go into the crèche before you commit yourself financially. Also it might be wise to visit the gym at the times that you think you will want to exercise just to make sure that they are not full during these periods.
You have just done an amazing thing. Having a baby will be taking its toll on you, both physically and psychologically. Give yourself time to lose your baby weight; consider it to be a long term goal. It took you 9 months to put the weight on and it is realist to think that it may take that much time to lose it all. That doesn’t mean that you should put your weight loss goals on hold; it is important to get started by eating healthily and slowly increasing your daily activities to pre-pregnancy levels.
Good luck with your weight loss and your new baby.
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