Postpartum Body Image

Postpartum Body Image
By Jennifer McGurk, RDN, CDN, CDE, CEDRD

Photo Credit: Adrian Dreßler via Compfight cc

I had a very easy pregnancy and felt great almost the entire time.  What I didn’t expect was the shock and roller-coaster ride of emotions and body image after giving birth.  Not a lot of people tell you about the intense ups and downs during the postpartum period, especially when it comes to your body.  Everyone says, “Enjoy every minute!!” and “They are only this small once!!”  I remember feeling guilty thinking I wasn’t a fan of the newborn stage and felt so uncomfortable in this new body post-baby.  I would ask myself, “Why do I feel so ‘blah’?”  All I’m supposed to be doing is sitting on the couch and breastfeeding.  The only expectation is to bond with baby Connor, how hard can that be?”

Throughout my pregnancy I told myself I would get back to my normal self as soon as possible.  I didn’t care much about my weight but just wanted to feel good about my body.  I’m a very active person who loves yoga and exercise.  It felt amazing to participate in those activities while I was pregnant.  I also enjoyed gaining weight, knowing that the baby was growing and I was eating to support a healthy pregnancy.  I went back to the doctor a week after giving birth and had lost twenty pounds right away.  “Well that was pretty easy,” I thought to myself as I walked out the door… “I bet I’ll have my ‘normal’ body back in no time.”  So five more weeks pass by, and I walk in for my six-week postpartum checkup.  Those five weeks were probably the hardest weeks of my life, as the initial “high” of giving birth wore off, and life with a newborn started to actually sink in: no sleep, no activity, and increased anxiety.  I get on the scale at my six-week checkup, and the nurse weighs me and says, “Well, we don’t see that too often!  You actually went up!”  I kept on telling myself that weight wasn’t important to me, but in that moment all I could think about was the annoying negative body image voice winning over my healthy self.

Life went on, but something shifted in me around the three-to-four-month mark. I went back to work and felt fulfilled in my career, Connor started sleeping more, and I started to introduce formula and wasn’t exclusively breastfeeding (which honestly took away a lot of stress).  I also asked for help with babysitting so I could get out of the house more often.  I started to not care as much about my postpartum weight loss and started to focus more on doing something each day for myself and self-care for a healthy body.  I felt myself change both mentally and physically as more self-care happened.  I am now feeling so blessed and happy, and my anxiety has decreased.  I am walking more with my mom friends and babies, going to weekly “Mommy and Me” yoga classes, and am training for a five-mile race on Thanksgiving Day.  I am also slowing down each day, cutting back on my “to-do lists,” and just taking it one day at a time with my son with no expectations.  My body feels strong as it has now fully recovered from childbirth, and I feel almost “back to normal.”  But guess what?  I weighed myself the other day out of pure curiosity and wouldn’t you know—my weight was the exact same number it was at my six-week postpartum checkup.  Thanks to a healthier attitude and lots of self-care, I feel incredible both physically and mentally.  I also feel blessed that I can teach my son what it means to love your body no matter what the scale says.

Tips for Eating Well with a Newborn

Tips for Eating Well with a Newborn
By Jennifer McGurk, RDN, CDN, CDE, CEDRD

Going into pregnancy, labor, and delivery I read everything I could get my hands on about “life with a newborn”.  However there really is no way to describe the emotional roller coaster you go through until you experience it yourself.  With that being said, self-care is so important during this time and nutrition is one of the most important self-care aspects (in my dietitian opinion of course).  Whether a mom had a vaginal birth or C-section her body just went through a MARATHON and now needs to recover.  Calories, carbs, protein, fat, and all the vitamins and minerals that food provide help your body heal from labor and delivery.  Here are my top 7 tips for getting in proper nutrition with a newborn.

  1. Don’t think “weight loss” right away:  Thank your body for what it just did, it’s perfect in every way right now no matter what you weigh.  Moms may also need extra calories if breastfeeding (especially from healthy fats).  Make sure you take a multivitamin too.
  2. Try to listen to hunger and satiety:  Are you eating now just because you have 5 minutes or are you truly hungry?  Or are you absolutely starving because you haven’t eaten anything in 6 hours?  Try not to let yourself get too hungry or too full to avoid feeling uncomfortable.
  3. Have snacks and easy to grab foods:  I personally ate with one hand the first few weeks of my son’s life.  My favorite grab and go healthy foods are sandwiches (turkey and cheese or peanut butter and banana and honey), protein bars, trail mix, hard boiled eggs, roasted chicpeas, yogurt, cottage cheese and fruit.  Also packing some of these staples in your diaper bag is a good idea.
  4. Go for EASY meals.  No need to be a gourmet chef in the first few months.  I stocked up on frozen Steamfresh veggies and rice to throw in the microwave as sides for a quick dinner.  Coupled with grilled meat (thanks to my husband) dinner was ready in under 15 minutes.  I also tried to make double recipes anytime I actually did cook to have lots of leftovers and even froze some meals.
  5. Notice how refined sugar affects your mood, and hunger? New moms know cookies are quick and tasty. However, just notice if this helps your body or later causes body feelings and signals to become more difficult to address. If you need your pure sugar fix consider eating it near a meal or with a more substantial food at snack. This will help to moderate blood sugar and get you full.
  6. Get enough sleep:  This really isn’t realistic because your sleep will be interrupted for months but sleep has a lot to do with our hunger and satiety cues and metabolism (and sanity!).  Just know the more you can get the better even if it’s not your usual 8 hours.
  7. Don’t stress about nutrition:  Ironically this is probably the most important tip.  Babies can feel our stress and react to it even if they don’t understand everything that’s going on.  Don’t stress about losing weight, getting in all the nutrients you need- just try to do your best and that’s “good enough” which is mentally better than trying to be “perfect”.
Happy 3 months to Connor!

37 Pounds Of Love

This mom is not dishing on her kid’s food habits today. Instead, I am hoping to relieve moms of the new social mindset that pregnant women should sport a bump—and only a bump—during the most beautiful nine months of their lives.

In recent years, pregnancy has become fashionable—an accessory to flaunt. With all the attention on celebrity pregnancies, of course, weight gain and weight loss post-delivery have surged into the spotlight. At times, it can seem like a competition between who can gain the least amount of weight and lose it quickly afterward. (I believe it was Bethenny Frankel who lost 30 pounds in less than a month and Rachel Zoe who limited her weight gain to between 12 and 15 pounds.)

As I walk through the streets of Manhattan, I see pregnant women strolling around the city sporting their baby bump—so cute. Women looked beautiful with their bumps even before it was a trend—before it was more fashionable than the label on their mom jeans.

And while pregnancy is supposed to give women that inexplicable glow, now, pregnancy is more about how much weight you didn’t gain.

Because of my profession, but also as a woman living in a trend-driven urban center, I see and hear it all the time: women who worry that they’re gaining too much weight and who don’t understand why they gained 20 pounds when their best girlfriend only gained 15. As a RD, CDE, I have a special understanding that what we feed ourselves affects our unborn child. I understand that an increase in blood sugar puts the baby at risk for high blood sugar too.

For these reasons, when we talk about a healthy weight for pregnancy, I encourage pregnant women to focus on self-care—eating a balanced intake of food and reaching for more if and when you are in fact hungry for more.

Pregnancy should be about you and your baby, not about restricting your intake to flaunt the latest vogue, be it crop tops or jeggings below your bump. Because if we aren’t careful, pregnancy could become one of the many factors that trigger an eating disorder, which would be an absolute waste of one of the most magical aspects of being a woman.

As there are risks to restricting your intake, there are equal risks to over-consuming during pregnancy. Just so you know, I was told I had gained too much weight during a few weigh-ins during both pregnancies. (FYI, they don’t weigh pregnant women in Europe).

In my case, I knew I couldn’t eat less. I was active during both pregnancies and practiced Pilates and yoga until right before I delivered. I ate carbs, proteins and fats, gaining about 37 pounds in the process. During each pregnancy, I carried differently, felt differently and gained the weight at different times.

The result? Today, I’m fortunate to have two healthy boys. They weighed about 6.12 pounds each at birth. I lost the weight slowly over a nine-month period for my first boy, while the second pregnancy took longer—about 12 months to lose the weight and another 6 months to get my tummy toned again. You don’t need to eat without regard, but you definitely need to be mindful of how you nourish, honor and work with whatever changes your body endures during and after pregnancy.

Ironically, I bumped into a colleague last week—a physician. She is pregnant with her second child and this time gained 60 pounds and developed gestational diabetes.  So you see, we are all susceptible to certain health conditions during pregnancy.

When people ask me how much I gained during my pregnancies because they feel guilty about having gained more than their friends or certain celebrities, I tell them that they need to recognize that their body and baby is their ultimate responsibility.  Moms: Don’t feel pressured to be a super skinny during your pregnancy. Enjoy this 9 to 10 month period that you will never get back. Feed yourself moderately and love your body. Pregnancy can be one of the most special periods in your life if you embrace it. And if you really don’t enjoy being pregnant, that’s OK as well. Just make sure you feed yourself appropriately throughout.