Getting back in shape

I RECENTLY received a mail from a young mother about her struggle with losing pregnancy weight. Now a mother to an eight-month-old child, Remya D. recounted her first visit to her newborn’s paediatrician. Remya had chosen to wear a pre-pregnancy dress for the appointment and, to her delight, had fit into it comfortably. It was a moment of huge relief and elation since Remya, according to her own admission, had always been on the plump side.

But then she didn’t come out of the doctor’s room in similar spirits. Her baby was rapidly losing weight, and she was asked to switch to a high fat, supplement-heavy diet. By the next appointment, her baby had gained weight, but so had she! It wasn’t the road she had hoped to go down post delivery. Within weeks, as she gained more weight, she began to lose her self-esteem, despite strong family support.

Scores of mothers gain weight after delivery, as opposed to losing it à la Kareena Kapoor Khan. Why does this happen? Why do new mothers gain weight post birthing a child as opposed to losing it?

Everyone’s metabolism is different, and the average Indian mother is saddled with enough chores to never really be able to carve out time for herself and her body. But doctors feel the practice of stuffing the mother with great amount of food (very common in the south) for her strength as well as the baby’s growth is an important reason for postpartum obesity, subsequent joint pain and inability to lose the weight gained during pregnancy.

An average healthy woman requires 2,000 calories a day. Nursing mothers can enjoy a good supply of milk when they consume anywhere between 1,800-2,200 calories a day. Some women do well with the lower end of this range (1,800) and some don’t even with the higher end of the range (2,200). Most dieticians, therefore, recommend an extra 200-500 calories. There is really no need to stuff oneself with rice and ghee to “get back strength” or to produce fatty milk for the baby.

Tonnes of research have shown that a mother on the most impoverished diet can still go on to produce nutritious (quality) and satisfying (good quantity) milk for her baby, although experiencing depletion of nutrients in her body that could lead to complications such as osteoporosis in the future.

Unless serious hormonal or other health issues have been identified, a mother's milk (even across the animal kingdom) is capable of satisfying her baby's nutritional requirements. Making healthy choices in terms of diet, exercise and rest will help mothers stay fit and not gain weight unnecessarily.


◆ In the northern and central parts of India, new mothers are often put on a spartan diet (no carbs, fruits or dairy) for six days (until the ‘chatti puja’) after the delivery of the child. Apart from mood swings, fatigue and constipation, such an unbalanced diet causes opening of sutures owing to the pressure exerted during bowel movement.

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