After Childbirth

Look and feel your best afterward!
By Donna Parker, LAc

Having a baby is a wonderful experience, despite the sleep loss and never-ending chores. But it can be hard to fit in self-care. You grab quick meals, don’t have time to exercise, can’t fit into your clothes, and have to-do lists that are three feet long. How do we regain control of our bodies and our lives after childbirth?

Stubborn weight gain is a common complaint of new mothers. Nursing mothers especially wonder how they can lose baby weight and still produce enough nutrient-rich breast milk. Some moms suffer from lethargy and uncontrollable mood swings, making it hard to give quality nurturing to their children. Regardless of whether you are nursing or not, you can lose weight and feel good again.

Weight, mood, energy level, and mental acuity are all affected by food and exercise. This is true for everyone; the suggestions here are for adults and children alike. Neglecting to work out and eating too many refined carbohydrates and chemical-laden processed foods can cause depression, irritability, hyperactivity, and brain fog, as well as energy levels and moods to fluctuate wildly. Exercise and good nutrition can boost energy and wellness so moms and their families can both flourish.

Those of you who are breastfeeding may already know that nursing burns about 500 calories a day. While you don’t need to eat more food to produce enough breast milk for your baby to thrive, you do need to eat nutrient-rich foods to ensure adequate nutrition. It’s normal, and a good thing, to carry about five extra pounds while you are nursing. If that is all the extra weight you are carrying, put off losing it until your baby is weaned. If you are carrying more than that amount, your baby is close to being weaned, or you are not nursing, then the following recommendations will help you reach your target weight.

Regardless of how much extra weight you are carrying right now, be patient with your body and avoid extreme cleanses or skipping meals. This is especially important if you are nursing. Focus instead on eating nutritious foods rather than empty calories. It helps nursing mothers make good food choices if they remember that everything they eat is passed to their babies.

Adopting a low-glycemic lifestyle allows gradual and permanent weight loss as well as provides very high levels of nutrition. Low-glycemic foods are simply foods that are low in carbohydrates—mainly vegetables, lean meat, poultry, and fish. Carbohydrates affect our blood sugar levels, and too many carbohydrates cause those levels to rise rapidly. The result? Insulin releases, those carbs are stored as fat around the belly, blood-sugar levels drop, and we’re hungry again. These swings affect energy levels, emotions, and the ability to think clearly. Low-glycemic foods don’t spike blood sugar, so it remains constant and moods and energy levels stablize. Eating low-glycemic meals allows your body to release stored fat so excess weight drops without “dieting” and feeling hungry and deprived.

We need carbohydrates, but the problem is we eat far too many highly-refined carbohydrates. The worst culprits are baked goods, sweets, fast food, and highly processed food, all of which are tempting to moms because they are fast, easy, and make you feel good in the short term. Simply avoiding these types of foods when you are at the grocery store will take you and your family a long way toward your nutritional and weight-management goals.

Try the following tips to shift your eating habits:

>> Increase the nutritional value of meals by choosing fresh over processed food, frozen over canned, and organic over conventionally-raised. Select lean meat and poultry that are either organic or raised without the use of antibiotics and hormones.

>> Cook at home rather than eating out. Restaurant meals, even those that look healthful, are often loaded with hidden fat, additives, and preservatives.

>> For dinner, serve sensible portions on a 10-inch plate (smaller for young children), with one-half vegetables, one-quarter lean protein, and one-quarter complex carbohydrates (brown rice or quinoa) or starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes.

>> Drink lots of fluids, especially filtered water without ice and fresh vegetable juices (only homemade juice; commercial brands have too much fruit in them). Treat fruit and fruit juices as dessert, even for the kids.

>> Choose healthful fats , such as olive oil and coconut oil, over canola oil or vegetable shortening.

>> Plan and prep dinners for the week on Sunday.

Finally, let’s talk exercise. Exercise is a must! It will tone your body, jump-start your energy levels and keep it vibrant, and give you that healthy glow that is the foundation of all beauty. Like diet, exercise has all sorts of negative connotations for me, so I use the word “energize.” After all, that’s what I’m after!

The only rule for energizing is to keep it simple. If you are like most of us, you have neither the time nor money for a gym membership. Now that research has shown that 30 to 40 minutes of exercise every day is much better for you than 90 minutes of exercise three times a week, you can feel good about creating little windows of opportunity to pamper your body.

Another option is to pick out a DVD, such as Jillian Michaels’ "Thirty-Day Shred." A DVD can liven up your morning while the baby naps or the children have breakfast. I put on my workout clothes when I get up in the morning. While my son eats breakfast, I energize in front of the TV, lift hand-weights, and jump my heart into action. Once you get into a routine, you’ll look forward to energizing, which will boost your mood and keep your energy high throughout the day.

Eating low-glycemic foods and energizing daily will revitalize you physically, emotionally, and mentally. You don’t have to change all your habits at once. Be gentle with yourself! Pick one of the changes suggested in this article and concentrate on that this week. Next week, add one or two more. Before you know it, you’ll feel and look like yourself again—maybe even better.

Donna Parker LAc, is a classical five-element acupuncturist and Wellcoach who supports patients in making healthy lifestyle changes. Donna offers personal lifestyle coaching and customized health recommendations that reflect lifestyle, age, body-type, health issues, and weight-loss goals. Visit her website at bestwaytolosebabyweight.com for more information about her 28-day program.