Healthy Lifestyles for Breastfeeding Mothers
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 21 No. 4, July-August 2004, p. 146
"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
My baby is 18 months old, and I still can't fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes. I realize that the weight is not coming off by itself, and it's time for me to take some action. I would like to start exercising, but I'm finding it difficult to make time since my husband works long hours and I have a toddler to care for. How have other mothers found ways to exercise? My friend had success with a low-carbohydrate diet, and I wonder if that would be safe during breastfeeding. Are there other eating plans that would allow me to take weight off while nursing my toddler?
I know how difficult it can be to lose weight and find time to exercise. I started my pregnancy 25 pounds overweight, so I had to be careful about nutrition and exercise . Now, not only have I lost all of the weight I gained during my pregnancy, I am 25 pounds lighter than I was at the start of my pregnancy! Being a mother is a great motivator for getting your life on a healthy path.
Weight Watchers worked wonders for me. They have special programs for breastfeeding mothers, so you know that you are getting the proper nutrition and calories needed to breastfeed your little one. For exercise, I take a yoga class at a nearby studio every Saturday morning. It's a great way for me to get out of the house and relax while my husband gets some important bonding time with our daughter. I've also found that getting on the exercise bike or doing some sit ups after the baby is in bed is a good way to burn some calories. It's better than just sitting and watching TV, and it gives me the energy I need to finish up the dishes at night! I like to take walks and hikes with my daughter in her sling, too.
I would warn against extreme low- carb diets for a nursing mother. The early phases of some of these programs exclude whole-grains, fruits, or some vegetables, which can cause significant fatigue, constipation, water loss, nausea, and headaches. You would need to be very careful to make sure you get the proper amounts of calcium, folate, B vitamins, and other nutrients.
There is very little research about low-carb diets other than to say that people do lose weight on these programs. But the overall effects on the body are uncertain, especially in the long term. You and your baby deserve the best nutrition you can get, so I'd suggest a more balanced approach to weight loss.
Blairstown NJ USA
After my six-month-old son was born, I decided I wanted to lose some weight and get in shape. I also have a three-year-old, so exercise time doesn't come easy in my house. I invested in a double jogging stroller and started walking. Eventually, I combined walking with running. Now I run two to five miles three to four times a week and I never ran before this.
The children love our exercise routine. They keep me on track because it's when my six-month-old takes his morning nap and it's when my three-year-old gets to go by the construction sites and look at the heavy equipment operating. We also stop to play at parks if one is on our route. On the days that the weather doesn't allow us to run, I use a workout tape at home. My three-year-old loves doing it with me and my six-month-old loves to watch us. I know I am a healthier, happier mother because I have an exercise program that also includes my children.
I don't follow a low-carb diet. I eat a well-balanced diet that includes healthy foods. It's important not to leave out the all-important carbs that fuel our body so we can exercise without injuring ourselves.
Colorado Springs CO USA
I can definitely relate to your situation-my "babies" are three and one and I cannot fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes, either! I have never been able to relate to magazine articles and "experts" who claim that mothers should be able to return to "normal" weight within a year of having a baby. Since having two children, though, I can tell you that I have become easier on myself and feel less "guilt" and anxiety that I don't fit into this mold. It has taken time, but my body is slowly returning to "normal" and I feel more comfortable wearing clothes and doing things that I used to do.
There are some things that have helped me and that continue to help me as I try each day on my journey. I adhere to the LLL philosophy of eating whole foods in as natural a state as possible. I drink as much water as I can each day. (This is not something that is always easy for me to do!) I try to walk a couple of miles each day, weather and children permitting. I also go to an exercise program in my area that incorporates pushing my children in their stroller as I exercise. It's a rigorous workout and a challenge to push over 50 pounds around with both of my children, but it has helped me tremendously toward becoming more fit. I especially like it because my children are with me and I don't have to hire a babysitter or leave them in a daycare at the gym. The workout is interactive with the babies because we sing the ABCs and other songs and the children get to get out of the strollers and play while we do floor exercises. It is also nice because we are outside at local parks when the weather is warmer.
Angela Z. Leonhardt
Cincinnati OH USA
Even though milk production burns extra calories, some women struggle with weight loss even while breastfeeding. I've had a really healthy diet for many years and feel strongly about eating whole foods, yet my weight wasn't changing even nine months postpartum. I realized that although I was eating healthfully, I wasn't using portion control. Calories are calories no matter what source they come from. If you eat more than you burn, you won't lose weight. I did three things.
I read a book called Eating Well for Optimum Health by Dr. Andrew Weil. It taught me how to read labels and avoid trans-fats (partially hydrogenated oils), artificial flavors/colors, and preservatives/additives. I joined a diet group that has a program for nursing mothers. It was wonderful. There are no food restrictions. It's all about learning to eat the right portion size, which is a challenge in our culture of "super sizing" everything! If your diet isn't so healthy, a program like this will teach you how to make healthier choices. Finally, I joined my local YMCA. They have free babysitting, which my boys love. I go to the gym and work out for an hour four to five times a week. I feel fit, strong, and energized. In a six-month period, I lost 37 pounds. I'm now (for the first time in my adult life) in a normal weight range for my height. I feel great! I also feel as though I am setting a good example for my children. They see that taking care of your body by eating healthy foods and exercise is important to their parents.
If cost prohibits you from doing these things, you can use exercise tapes or walk outside for activity. Exercise tapes can be borrowed for free from the library or bought very inexpensively at thrift stores (I have bought a few for about $1 each). This way you won't get bored doing the same tapes over and over again. When the weather is nice, children are always happy for a stroller ride. Walk briskly and up hills to get a good cardio workout.
Silver Spring MD USA
Although I was blessed to lose my pregnancy weight quickly after the birth of my son, I did have a problem with weight coming on rather unexpectedly and rapidly when my periods resumed around 22 months postpartum. I put on 30 pounds between May and August and by the time my daughter was conceived in January, I had successfully lost almost 20 pounds of that weight. Like you, I was limited in what I could do due to my husband's work hours and my desire to not leave my baby. I also did not have the finances or inclination to join a gym or take aerobics classes. I found the weight slid off slowly, yet easily, when I did three things:
I reduced junk food and carbohydrates in my diet. I reduced how often I ate pasta, cut out having a roll with my meals, and stopped eating toast for breakfast. I increased my consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables by putting them on the middle shelf of the refrigerator so that I could easily reach in and grab them for a quick snack rather than reaching down to sort through a crisper bin.
I purchased a yoga video and exercised at home while my son was napping. It was more challenging to do it when he was awake because he would try to tip me over when I tried very hard to maintain concentration in the more difficult balancing poses. Sometimes Liam tried to do the poses with me (which would make me lose my balance laughing at him). I did manage to do my video about five days a week. I felt weird doing it when my husband was home for some reason, but after time I found it was helpful to do it before he went to work in the afternoon as he could keep Liam out of my way.
Lastly, I walk. I was blessed to have a friend who lived on the outskirts of town in a hilly area. We both have two dogs each so the dogs loved it! We walked about three to four days a week and gradually increased our walk to a full hour of zig-zagging around so that at least 50 percent of our walk was uphill. On days when she couldn't walk with me, I would try to walk around my neighborhood. My stroller weighs 20 pounds empty and my son at the time was about 35 pounds, so I got a good workout pushing a total of 55 pounds uphill. It can be done!
Ridgecrest CA USA
My advice is to focus on feeling good and on reconnecting with an activity that you have enjoyed in the past. I have a 13-month-old son and am at my pre-pregnancy weight. I started losing weight slowly with a workout video. More importantly, it has kept my back in decent shape because the exercises encourage stretching and good alignment.
When my son was an infant, I'd exercise for 25 minutes during his nap and maybe another 25 minutes when his father got home. All it takes is a small space on the floor and a yoga mat. Now my son thinks it's hilarious that his mother is on the floor with him flapping around, and I end up modifying the exercises around his play, having memorized the routine enough so that it's okay if he turns the television off and on.
I lost a lot of the weight by taking taekwondo, which is a great workout. When my son became so noisy that I no longer felt comfortable during class, I asked the instructor if I could come between classes and work out while my son played on the floor. As long as he got to breastfeed when he wanted, I got to exercise in at least two 20-minute spurts. If you are not doing anything now, you will be amazed how much this little bit helps.
Earlton NY USA