FLAUNTING a pre-baby body soon after giving birth is every woman's dream – though this is often near impossible with the way pregnancy changes the body. And while a decade or two ago women would take their time to recover, now more women, influenced by society but even more so by international celebrities, have become obsessed with snapping back into shape.
And while on the surface there is nothing wrong with this desire, obstetrician-gynaecologist at ICON Medical Centre Dr Keisha Buchanan says this obsession could be very dangerous.
“There seems to be a mounting, a social pressure to get slim fast after having a baby especially with the influence of the media. But it is important that women don't become self-conscious about their bodies and try to accept the weight gain as it is natural and healthy for both themselves and the baby,” Dr Buchanan said.
She pointed out that especially for first time mothers it can be quite depressing, and it is important that their spouses, family and friends are encouraging as this would be the first time in their lives that their bodies would have undergone the great transformation seen in pregnancy.
“Weight gain is a natural, healthy requirement of pregnancy and as such it important to achieve a healthy pre-pregnancy weight – the normal weight gain is 12-18 kg. This is why during the pregnancy weight loss regimens are not recommended because poor weight gain or weight loss can increase the risk of low birth weight babies, premature deliveries, maternal anaemia, osteopenia (mother's bones get low in calcium and more prone to osteoporosis and future fractures),” Dr Buchanan explained.
She underscored that post-delivery, most women will instantly lose approximately 10 pounds and many women will lose up to five pounds during the first week as retained fluid will be lost and breastfeeding commences, and gradually will continue to lose more as much of the weight gained during pregnancy is from fluid retention, increased fat stores, increased blood volume, uterine growth, growth of the baby, placenta and amniotic fluid. She noted that women need not be alarmed because weight gained is not fat.
She said that the misinformation that weight gained is fat is among the reasons women begin to obsess with body image which encourages them to put physical strain on the body too soon after the baby, and in some women this can lead to depression during the pregnancy as well as postpartum.
Another challenge caused by the obsession with a snap back body is that more women are beginning to diet as soon after they give birth, oblivious to the fact that they are depriving their bodies and babies of essential nutrients.
“While breastfeeding, a healthy diet is important rich in fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. The average caloric requirement per day is 2000-2,500 calories per day. Weight loss will be achieved from breastfeeding alone as 300 to 500 calories are used up from breastfeeding. In fact, the longer you breastfeed exclusively the more weight you will lose. So this alone will cause a steady, healthy weight loss,” Dr Buchanan advised.
In addition, the flow of breast milk may also be negatively affected, in some cases a mother may produce little to none if weight loss is rapid and hair will be lost more rapidly that it usually does after pregnancy.
Secondary to dieting, Dr Buchanan says that there is also an increasing number of women who, post-delivery, influenced by their obsession with weight loss, have also triggered eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia.
“In anorexia nervosa, which is an extreme form of eating disorder and also a psychological disorder, this is marked by a rapid weight loss due to a self-imposed deprivation of food. Most patients think they are overweight when in fact they are underweight and deny that they are restricting their diet. With bulimia, the person binge eats then purges themselves with laxatives or induce vomiting to get rid of the food and trigger weight loss. Women who are under pressure to lose weight, eg, due to their jobs like modelling and dancing, are especially at risk of these conditions,” Dr Buchanan shared.
Dieting and poor nutrient intake may also lead to other conditions such as anaemia, weakness, tiredness, fatigue, and a weakened immune system that puts the mother at risk of infections.
In general, Dr Buchanan said that there is nothing wrong with wanting to lose weight, exercise or even diet post-delivery, what is important is how and the time in which it is done.
“Exercise after delivery is important but you want to first speak your obstetrician to find out when it is safe to do so. Exercise elevates mood, assists with weight loss, is important for cardiovascular health, fitness, strengthens bones and helps to restore the tone to the abdomen,” Dr Buchanan advised.
She said that exercising three to four times per week for 40 minutes is beneficial but mothers should pace themselves and pay close attention to bad feelings such as dizziness. Dr Buchanan encourages that women, post-delivery, should commence with low-impact exercises such as walking and using the exercise bicycle.
“Pushing yourself too fast too soon can increase the risk of muscle injury, joint pains, and exhaustion. Excessive exercise can cause a delay In the return of menses and cause exhaustion. Doing warm up exercises and stretches before and after exercise and being well hydrated can decrease muscle injury, joint and tendon injury,” she cautioned.
Also, Dr Buchanan said that the obsession with wanting that snap back body may even lead to the desire for plastic surgery such as tummy tucks (abdominoplasty). She advised against this warning that plastic surgery, like all surgeries, has its associated surgical risks such as wound infection, allergies to medications, and anaesthetic risks. Instead, she proposes the formula – eat right, stay away from fallacies shared in the media, take the best care of yourself and your child, and top this all off with exercise.