Pre-baby weight. You hear it about it all the time. Do these sound familiar?
- “I want to get back to my pre-baby weight”
- “I’m still not back to my pre-baby weight”
- “I wish I was back at my pre-baby weight”
- “I should be back at my pre-baby weight”
- “How long should it take to be back at my pre-baby weight?”
- “Did you see how quickly celebrity so-and-so lost her baby weight?”
- “Did you hear that celebrity la-dee-da got back to her pre-baby weight in just 6 weeks” Blah, blah, blah.
And it’s not just pre-baby weight, it’s being back in pre-baby jeans. There are even whole diet programs targeted to ‘help’ women ‘lose baby weight’.
But to my mind, it doesn’t make sense to set getting back to pre-baby weight as a goal or expectation. Because when you have a child, everything else changes. Everything.
Your lifestyle, sleep habits, exercise time, shopping and cooking routines, social life, work life, sex life, mental health, priorities, finances, stress levels, hormones, the list goes on. So why do we hold onto an arbitrary number as if it should stay the same when everything else has changed?
Why has ‘achieving’ pre-baby weight become such a big deal?
‘Pre-baby weight’ is a marketer’s blessing and a new-mum’s burden.
It’s a big deal, because it is big money. Have a look around you at where the messages about ‘getting your body back’ or ‘losing baby weight’ are coming from. It’s not coming, or shouldn’t be coming, from lactation consultants, from dietitians working in the area, from doctors and it’s certainly not coming from psychologists or parenting experts.
It’s coming from the fashion industry who want to sell you clothes, it’s coming subtly implied from photo-shopped pics of celebrities on magazines who have ‘snapped back’ and it’s most blatantly coming from the weight loss industry playing on new mother’s insecurities about the changes in her body to try and sell them weight loss products (that don’t work for long term weight loss anyway, but that’s another issue).
Focusing on weight loss instead of on healthy habits comes at a cost
The weeks and months after having a new baby, especially a first baby, are pretty overwhelming. It’s really new, it’s emotionally and physically draining. It’s beautiful, but it can be really hard. Putting pressure on a new mum to look a certain way, like her weight is important or is in any way a measure of her worthiness as a person and a mother, has a lot of potential to cause real psychological damage. Focussing on weight, rather than on health, opens her up to doing unhealthy things to achieve weight loss. And short-term unhealthy things for weight loss lead to weight gain in 95% of cases…that’s pretty crappy odds and a lose-lose situation.
The pressure many new mums feel to ‘lose baby weight’ is part of a bigger picture of the ‘thin ideal’ and subsequent body dissatisfaction that is very pervasive in our society today. So many messages are coming from social media, magazines, health and fitness or ‘wellness’ blogs. These pages present ‘one body type’, one ‘perfect body’ or at least identifies specific body characteristics as ‘beautiful’. The pressure to conform to this thin, ageless ideal has gotten to the point in parts of South America that mothers are having tummy tucks at the same time as caesareans so that they are immediately back to their ‘pre baby body’. But this is deeming them completely unavailable physically (and probably emotionally) for their children as they recover from this surgery on top of the major surgery that is a caesarean. This can have a catastrophic impact on bonding and attachment.
We would do well to remember what is really, truly, important here. Did you care for your baby today? Are you trying to take care of your own mental and physical health? You’re doing great.
9 months to gain, 9 months to lose?
You’ve probably heard this phrase bandied about a bit. And it probably can help mums to not compare themselves to the celebrity who got their body back in just 6 or 8 weeks – with the aid of photoshop. But it still has this subtle push, that if you haven’t lost it by 9 months, then something is wrong. But it’s just not the case. If you have a healthy diet and lifestyle (and that’s important, I’m not saying forget healthy eating or exercise) but are still a few of kilograms heavier than you were before having a baby, then that’s ok.
If you get back to your pre-baby diet patterns and exercise habits then your weight most likely will return to what it was before you had your baby. But that is whopping big if! Especially for this stage of life where sleep is limited, life is less flexible, little people need you physically and emotionally and little things like shopping are a big hassle. On top of all that, for a lot of women, taking time off work leads to financial pressure and so some things that helped them lead a healthy life pre-babies, are no longer in the budget.
To be clear, I’m not saying just wait until your kids are older or until you can ‘have it all’ before doing anything to improve your diet or lifestyle, not at all. That is an unhelpful mentality that it is easy to fall into at this particularly draining stage of life. What I am saying is to focus on what you can do to be healthy in this stage of life, and not on the scales. Consistently eating well to fuel and nourish your body, being active and developing strong bodies, looking after our mental health by making time for self care, dealing with emotional eating or bingeing are all important and improve our health. Can you go for a walk with a friend? Can you do a pilates video while bub sleeps? Can you roughly plan your meals and shopping so you have healthy options on hand? It is important for mums to make sure they care for themselves, but thinking bigger, with a focus on health, not on a particular number of kilograms or on some body characteristic like a flat tummy.
Let go of the number and live well.
Please don’t let a number on a scale, that happens to be a bit different to another number on a scale, detract from your enjoyment of life right now. Try and change your focus from numbers to habits. Life with little kids is hard and tiring, but also precious and short. My kids are 6, 4 and 18 months and it is getting easier as they get a bit older, but it still takes a huge amount of physical and emotional energy to get through the days. Wasting precious emotional energy being unhappy with your body takes away from the enjoyment of this very short, beautiful stage when our babies and children are little.
If you let go of ‘pre-baby weight’ and focus on what you can do to improve your overall health and wellbeing while juggling to competing demands of caring for a baby, you’re doing great, no matter what the scales say.
First published on Choose Nutrition.
About the writer:
Meg has been a clinical dietitian since 2003 starting her own practice in 2012 to focus on her passion of Women and Children’s health. Meg believes that a confident, healthy mum will have a profound positive impact on the health of her whole family. The overload of information, and misinformation from friends, family, social media and health professionals, coupled with busyness of life can undermine Mums’ confidence and create unnecessary feelings of guilt, judgment and stress which all impact negatively on their physical and mental health. Meg has a real desire to help mothers wade through this information to empower them to be the confident, happy and healthy women that they clearly want to be. Meg is mum to 3 gorgeous busy boys.