There is very little about having a baby that feels "normal" and we often find ourselves wondering if what we are experiencing is "normal". It comes as no surprise that the same is true when it comes to postpartum weight gain. Sheridan Wakefield discovers the answer is never straightforward.
There is very little about having a baby that feels “normal”, especially if it is your first and it’s all completely new territory!
How often do we find ourselves wondering, “Is this normal?”
Should my baby be feeding/waking this much?
Should my breasts feel like this?
Should my baby be doing that?
Should I feel like this?
Or maybe it is something like, “When will my body look or feel like my own again?”
When it comes to postpartum weight gain, it comes as no surprise that we want to know how much is “normal”. Like many of the questions above though, the answer is never straightforward. For the most part, it depends! There are many factors that can influence your weight, postnatal or not. Despite the many messages surrounding us to the contrary, more often than not the things that do influence our weight are largely out of our control and also vary based on an array of individual circumstances.
Postpartum weight gain is perfectly “normal” though for the majority of women and worrying about it, even more so! It is a very valid concern given we live in such a sized focused world where “smaller” always seems to be packaged as better or healthier and weight loss is so readily celebrated.
It doesn’t help when we see celebrities or, in this day and age, “influencers” on the ‘gram having babies and appearing to “bounce back” in what feels like no time at all! It can be easy to forget that their postnatal, carefully curated “highlight” reels popping up in our newsfeed is often all smoke and mirrors. There is a combination of highly considered camera angles, positions and lighting at play not to mention a filter or two or even some digital body or face tuning. Gone are the days where that only happens in magazines!
These are often the same people who despite being neither nutritionists or personal trainers love to share their “day on a plate” or latest workout. Even if they do have some sort of qualification in those fields, they are not in a position to give you tailored advice to meet your individual needs. Never the less we can easily find ourselves starting to formulate a mental checklist of all these things we probably “should” start doing!
Comparison is the thief of joy and whether it’s our circle of mum friends or social media, it so important to remember that no matter what we do, no two postnatal journeys are the same. To use baby’s sleep as an example, we could use the exact same strategies that were successful for someone else to get our precious bundles to sleep but despite our best efforts, we just don’t get the same outcome. The same goes for our postnatal recovery and experience. It will be as unique as you and your baby!
Statistically, 75.5% of pre-pregnancy women express a desire to live in a smaller body and this jumps to 87.4% at the 12-month postnatal mark*. This speaks volumes about the pressure mums feel to look as though they have never had a baby despite the huge physiological changes their body has gone through to bring a new human into the world.
On top of all the demands of caring for a new baby, there is also this unreasonable expectation to “lose the baby weight” or to “get your body back”. If you don’t meet those expectations you can start to feel inadequate or like you aren’t trying hard enough during a time when you are already feeling vulnerable and emotionally stretched. This can have a huge impact on self-esteem or feelings of self-worth and filter into so many aspects of our life. It is little wonder that the temptation to manipulate our weight through diet and exercise is so alluring.
I have written about the pitfalls of intentional weight loss in an earlier article for MumSafe™, but to summarise, the research shows that 95% of intentional weight loss attempts fail! And that’s not due to a lack of willpower either. It is a biological response to restriction. Most people will start to regain weight within the first year and be back to where they started within 2-5 years. Two-thirds of people end up heavier than they were before they began**.
This is how the yo-yo dieting or weight cycling patterns start which can actually be far more harmful to your health than simply living in a larger body. You have seen the “before and after” photos though so obviously some diets work, right?! The reality is, what you are more likely seeing in those photos is the “before” and “during” the weight cycling process. If there were to be a third follow-up photo some months or even years down the track it would most likely paint a very different picture.
What about health though? It’s unhealthy to live in a larger body, isn’t it? Well, diet culture has certainly done a great job of convincing us of that over the years, but once again there is plenty of research that indicates weight has far less influence over our health than we are led to believe.
We can actually benefit from pursuing health-promoting habits irrespective of whether our body size changes or not. Placing the idea of weight loss on the back burner can be the key to creating sustainable change with more meaningful health outcomes in the long term. Weight cycling on the other hand is linked to inflammation, hypertension, insulin resistance and hyperlipidaemia*** on top of what already feels like an all-consuming, never ending stop-start dieting spiral.
This is a topic I could go on about forever but as a mum I know the time you have left to keep reading this is probably quickly running out! So, to finish up, I am going to point you in the direction of some of my favourite books and podcasts around this very subject!
I know from personal experience that it can often take hearing some of the points I have made above a number of times before it really starts to make sense and hit home. Plus there are some amazing experts in this field who know far more than I do! Don’t worry, the podcasts are bite-sized episodes and all the books are available on Audible so you can listen hands-free while being the multitasking Wonder Woman you are!
More than a Body – Your Body Is an Instrument, Not an Ornament
Body Respect – What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight by Lindo Bacon and Lucy Aphramor
Food and Body Freedom Podcast with Nutritionist (BHSc) and Intuitive Eating Counsellor, Nadia Felsch.
Nourishing Nibbles Podcast
* Rallis, Skouteris, Wertheim, & Paxton, 2007. Predictors of body image during the first year postpartum: A prospective study. Women and Health, 45(1), 87-104.
***CDC (2012) Centres for Disease Control and Prevention
Sheridan runs My Fit Mumma in Hobart, Tasmania. To find out more about her and get in touch, click here.
You can also find her on Instagram.