Home Truth No. 1: Meet the Prolactin Hormone
After I gave birth to my daughter, I “shed” around 8kg in the first two weeks. This should sound ridiculous to you because it is. I believe the cause was acute anxiety and severe insomnia. As the acuteness of the anxiety wore off, I took to comfort eating and – surprise! – the weight piled on swiftly. With my second child, I was calm and and after 10 days, I had “lost” my son’s birthweight almost to the gram – nothing more. Knowing that I would be at home alot with my infant and that it would be tempting to reward/ comfort myself with food, I took myself off to Weight Watchers when he was two weeks old. I followed their breastfeeding formula (when you can eat WAY more than a member who is not breastfeeding, but way less than I would otherwise have eaten). Some weeks I was really good about sticking to the programme, other weeks I wasn’t as good for as many days. It didn’t seem to matter. Each week I would step onto the scale and I would be 200g lighter. “It’ll creep off,” the Group Leader would smile encouragingly. Awesome!
At my 6 week check-up with my gynae I relayed my experiences. I found his response utterly liberating. He explained that during the first 12 weeks after birth, your prolactin levels are high and this meant that weight loss would be slow during this time. Obviously, my gynae wasn’t suggesting that I ate whatever I liked during this time, so I carried on trying to stick to Weight Watchers but was no longer disappointed with my weekly 200g loss as I believed this would improve after 12 weeks – which it did. (I have also read that prolactin can stimulate appetite – no doubt because it is connected to milk production and on a basic level it is egging the body on to store up fat reserves in the event of famine which would endanger the baby.)
Home Truth No. 2: Newsflash: Breastfeeding Does Not Cause Weight Loss. Get Over It.
My GP told me this long ago. My dietician told me this after my first child was born. But despite hearing it from trained professionals, it still felt like the whole world was declaring that “breastfeeding causes weight loss”. Even the pamphlet at the hospital where I gave birth to my son listed weight loss as one of the advantages of breastfeeding. Based on some high level research, anecdotal evidence and my own experiences, these are my thoughts on what I believe to mostly be a myth.
Let’s be honest – it is not in the best interests of medical professionals to actively dispel the myth that breastfeeding will make you thin. On a basic nutritional level, experts agree that “breast is best” so if women think of breastfeeding as a calorie quaffer, so much the better.
Here’s why I think that so many women (incorrectly) attribute their post-baby weight loss to breastfeeding:
Experts seem to agree that if you’re breastfeeding, you need to eat about 500 calories (about 2,000kj) more per day than you would otherwise need, to maintain your weight. (This may sound like a lot but if you are stuffing your face with cakes, macaroons and muffins, 500 calories is nothing.) I suspect that there is a significant category of women who continue to eat roughly the same as what they ate before breastfeeding – or maybe just slightly more. They would then automatically create a calorie deficit and therefore lose weight. One study calls such women “restrained eaters”. On the extreme end of “restrained eaters” we have the Heidi Klums and Angelina Jolies of this world. Classic examples of the post hoc fallacy (I knew that Economics course would come in handy): they breastfed and then they lost weight and so they concluded that breastfeeding caused the weight loss. I can’t attest to what these women did or didn’t put in their mouths, but my guess would be that a) they were super skinny before they fell pregnant and gained the minimum amount of weight possible during pregnancy and b) they ate very, very carefully post birth. A simple case of “calories in” versus “calories out” rather than some breastfeeding miracle.
Home Truth No. 3: Comfort Eating Leads to Self-Loathing
I thought I’d start out with some tough love on this topic, because it really is that simple but oh-so hard to put into practice. If you’re prone to comfort eating, try to do it in moderation because when you’re housebound and you have so little time to yourself and you’re up half the night, you could find yourself virtually comfort eating around the clock. Find something that’s realistic and practical to do in its place, like watching a DVD series while you feed – without a bag of chips next to you. For me, walking around my neighbourhood became my refuge. These are things that don’t require pre-planning and that you can fit in at the last minute (essential with small babies) and which you can do more than once a day. And they don’t involve food.
Home Truth No. 4: Walk! (or something)
I fully agree with Scary Mommy who said that she can’t relate to people who claim to have lost weight from “running after their children“. Like Scary Mommy, I only mix running with child-rearing if I hear something like a loud thud signalling imminent danger for my offspring. Child rearing is exhausting but it probably doesn’t burn as many calories as we’d like to think and that’s why if you want to boost weight loss attempts, I believe it’s best to do some dedicated exercise. I don’t really count vacuuming although it certainly can’t hurt, but I don’t think it should replace a brisk walk – or if you’re a Sporty Spice then whatever you do for exercise. I’m advocating walking because you can do it with your kid in a pram and for most of us, there’s really no excuse to open that front door and go for a walk.
So How Do I Shed This Freaking Weight, Then?
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably not a “restrained eater” and you probably find it hard to listen to women who say “just eat normally!” Personally, I need a framework – even if I don’t stick to it entirely. Weight Watchers is great because it’s really flexible in terms of what you eat plus they have a specific breastfeeding programme. I also love the app MyFitnessPal which my friend Megan introduced me to after she had her third child. It takes a little getting used to and some discipline to input everything that goes in your mouth, but after a while you should have an idea of what you need to eat to create a calorie deficit – which, as well all know deep down, is the only way to lose weight.
(PS: My girlfriends and I finally quaffed that “goal weight” champers a couple of months ago)