I remember when I was pregnant one of the things I heard most often was that if I was planning to breastfeed I wouldn't have to worry about losing the baby weight. There seems to be this idea floating around that nursing makes the extra pounds magically fall off and that returning to pre-baby condition requires minimal work at best. I have come to realize in the years since I first heard this notion that not only is it completely false, it is also a terribly mean thing to tell women. It makes us feel like we are doing something wrong if we aren't shedding the baby weight faster. We feel disappointed (or worse) when we reach 3 months postpartum and are still not even close to fitting into our old jeans. And at a time in our lives with so many unknowns, when we have absolutely no idea what to expect, it is cruel to be given such blatant misinformation.
So let's get this out of the way now. The weight does NOT just fall off. It took 40 weeks to put all that weight on, it's unfair to think it should all be gone in 12. The first weeks after giving birth are chock full of all kinds of experiences. There are incredible highs and sometimes intense lows as well. Hormones are all out of whack and emotions are all over the place. There are so many things to focus on in those early days - getting enough sleep, getting the hang of nursing, and finding time to connect to a partner are all really important, not to mention the weeks it takes for the body to physically heal and recover. There just isn't time to make losing weight a priority, at least not right away.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that new mothers should eat unhealthy food or spend months not moving from the couch. In fact, it is a good idea for breastfeeding women to eat healthy and well-balanced meals to provide the most nutritious milk for their babies. And sometimes a nice walk around the block can go a long way for a woman's overall well-being. However, eating well may not lead to the rapid loss of weight that many women seem to expect. And sometimes healing takes longer than one might think, making it difficult to jump back into physical activity. Of course it is always a good idea to try and take good care of ourselves but it's important to make sure that our focus is on the right things - and weight loss is not the right thing.
As I say often, so much of what makes this initial postpartum time so difficult is how little people talk about the reality of what goes on. I truly believe that shedding light on some of these less-than-awesome aspects of the experience can help women significantly to manage expectations. We all know a woman or two who seemed to have lost her baby weight immediately after delivery. But to be fair, we also know a woman or two who can eat brownies and ice cream after dinner every night and never gain an ounce. Our bodies all work differently, so to compare our postpartum weight loss to our friends' - and to expect our own to be equally as simple - is a waste of time and can only lead to disappointment. Instead, remind yourself what an amazing process your body has just been through. Nine months of housing and caring for a growing fetus followed by hours of labor and eventual delivery. Your body is an absolute warrior. To thrust upon it a new goal of losing weight right away is borderline abusive.
Nature is a pretty incredible thing. Women's bodies were made to have
babies. They were designed to put on extra weight during pregnancy and
then to lose it when it's no longer needed. What we should be telling women who are expecting their first baby is to
enjoy those first months of motherhood without worrying about what they look like. To think of nothing else other than their baby's needs, adjusting to their new family dynamic, and learning the ins and outs of parenthood. Weight shouldn't be part of the conversation.
I do understand that returning to pre-baby size after delivery is a concern that expecting mothers have, and I don't mean to trivialize it. But understanding that this, like everything else in motherhood, is a process that takes time is crucial. Weight loss will come, but it will take some work and it probably won't happen right away. If more women knew this going in, and weren't being fed some line about breastfeeding being weight loss magic, then they could properly prepare themselves and be less distracted and disappointed when the baby comes, leaving them with more time to focus on the things that really matter.