For years women have believed that carrying a baby meant carrying extra weight after their bundle of joy was born. However, research published in the journal Women’s Health Issues has found that an expanding waistline or obesity post-delivery may be the result of lifestyle choices and aging as opposed to pregnancy.
Investigators from the University of Michigan School of Nursing analyzed the data of nearly 30,000 women who had given birth between one and four times. Here’s what they discovered: All female subjects gained 1.94 pounds each year, on average, due to age. Yet the statistics divided once the moms had children in the toddler stage, since these women put on at least one more pound each year compared to their childfree peers.
“Mothers tend to put the needs of their children first, so they might not be exercising or taking care of themselves,” lead study author Olga Yakusheva stated in a press release. “It might also be little things like finishing the food on their child’s plate or spending more time sitting with their kids reading or watching a movie.”
She further explained that many women tend to be hyperfocused on diet and exercise after giving birth, but their extreme regimen is usually short-lived. “It’s much better to take a holistic approach focused on a long-term healthy lifestyle before, during, and after pregnancy,” she added.
“As a mom myself who just had her second baby two months ago, I can relate,” Erin Palinski-Wade, who offers nutrition advice for families on MommyhoodBytes.com and is the author of Walking the Weight Off for Dummies, tells Yahoo Beauty. “After having a child, it’s not so much that you can’t lose the weight, but you may have less time to go to the gym, less time to food shop, and less time to prep healthy meals.”
And then there’s the sleep factor. “Sleep deprivation itself can increase food cravings and appetite, which certainly doesn’t help with weight loss,” continues Palinski-Wade. “So you might just be too sleep-deprived to care to exercise or eat well.”
Yakusheva noted that many women feel a sense of anxiety and guilt about putting on baby weight, which is why she believes “understanding the demands of motherhood and age-related weight gain is important for promoting positive expectations of body image after pregnancy.”
Palinski-Wade concurs, while adding that most of this stress comes from within.
“New moms often feel pressured to be able to prove they can do it all — care for a new baby, their family, manage work and home, and get and stay fit,” she explains. “It’s an unrealistic expectation, but many women feel that if they can’t do it all — especially in a short period of time after the baby is born — that they are failing. This is only compounded when celebrities are promoted as being back to their pre-baby body in six weeks or less.”
In order to begin a healthy lifestyle that will benefit your body long-term, Palinski-Wade says the solution starts with putting self-care near the top of your to-do list. “Of course you want to put your baby’s needs first, but you still need to take time to make sure you get rest, eat nutritious foods, and manage stress.”
She suggests finding creative ways to fit small workouts into your mommy routine. “For instance, as my 2-month-old son does tummy time, I do pushups next to him,” says Palinski-Wade. “You can also bond with your baby while wearing him as you go for a short power walk or take out the stroller in nice weather. This way you are increasing your exercise while still spending time with your little one.”
As for your diet, she advises signing up for a grocery delivery service as a way to save time. “Then, plan one to two hours per week to prep your meals for the next seven days,” she continues. “Wash, slice, cut veggies and fruit, marinate the meat and pop it in the fridge. Also, focus on meals that cook themselves, such as crockpot recipes, one-pot meals, as well as cooking in bulk and freezing leftovers.”
Her final tip: “And don’t be afraid to ask for help from your partner, family, friends, or other moms.”