The post-childbirth body


It’s not editorializing to say that we live in an image conscious society.  This is as much as statement of fact as is that we live in the year 2017 and right now it’s summer in North America.  Lately, here and there, I’ve been reading reviews of Roxane Gay’s new memoir, Hunger, which deals with the author’s morbid obesity.  When I clicked on the Stranger’s review today, a swirl of empathy overtook me on a tangent.  Never someone to loose weight easily, I thought of myself this past year as I struggled to balance nourishing myself while breastfeeding an infant.  How many women fresh into their postpartum life feel pressure to rapidly return to their comparatively slender, pre-pregnancy body?  How many women feel shame if they can’t do this?


The time after giving birth is a complicated period. Hormones are shifting, sleep is scanty, life as you know it has changed completely.  You’ve changed from being responsible only for you to being someone’s mother, and if you’re breastfeeding, your body is providing the sole nutritional source for your baby for the first 4 to 6 months.  That on it’s own is enough, but unless you live in a different culture or are one of those rare women who feel completely at home and happy in their body no matter their size, nagging there at the back of your mind might be a little bug that is putting the pressure on to look like you did before you were pregnant ASAP.  Maybe you didn’t put on any excess weight, if you did, those pre-pregnancy clothes can loom in your closet like a denim clad bogeyman.

I can’t change our society’s obsession with weight and appearances.  But I can tell anyone who will listen that it’s ok if your body changed, it’s ok if you’re not skinny and fit a month or twelve after giving birth. Dieting while you’re breastfeeding may deprive you and your infant of the healthy fats and carbs needed to recover and thrive.  In addition, it feeds the very female tendency to strive for perfection.  New moms are trying to be the best mother they can be on a tremendously steep learning curve, and often worry about doing the wrong thing.  This is enough to deal with, yet often new mothers will also have to quickly learn how to balance work and being a parent in less than three months after giving birth.  In the mix as well is finding time to reconnect with your partner.  To add weight loss onto that already incredible demand on a person’s psyche doesn’t seem right to me.

If you gained enough weight that you are worried about your health, there will be time to work on that.  Slowly, as you recover from childbirth, then move onto weaning your baby, there will be time to figure out a routine to maintain optimal health for your body.   In the meanwhile, take time to appreciate all that your body has done to bring new life into the world.  Feel proud that you are nurturing this little being into childhood.  Give yourself kudos for doing the best you can in this difficult job of being a mother.   Your body is amazing, and deserves all the love and patience you can give it.


Your bones and breastfeeding


Breaking my foot as my daughter closed in on her 12th month of life started me wondering about how breastfeeding might affect my bones.  It made sense to me that as my baby gained nutrients from me, I might be at a loss.  Though I eat a varied diet and take supplements, it seems natural that that might not be enough.  My daughter is in the 70th percentile for height, and where there’s length, there’s growing bones that need calcium to nourish themselves.

An article on the National Institute of Health’s website proved this logic.  The article mentions that there have been studies that show that women loose 3-5 percent of their bone mass while breastfeeding.  Estrogen, a hormone that protects the bones, is also produced less during breastfeeding.  The good news is that it is rapidly recovered when the baby is weaned.

Breastfeeding is often the best option to give babies the best start to life.  Knowing that prolonged breastfeeding can affect a woman’s bones shouldn’t deter you from breastfeeding your baby.  Instead, preventive measures should be taken.

Along with a calcium intake of 1,000 mg daily, exercise is one of the best ways to maintain strong and healthy bones.  The more your chance your bones get to carry you around, the more they fortify themselves to do so.  If postpartum fatigue prevents you from being as active as you’d like to be, make sure to seek help from a healthcare provider.  Recovering the energy you need to take care of yourself and your baby is a high priority!

If you’re not taking a supplement, calcium can be found in a number of foods, from the usual suspects such as dairy products, to dark leafy greens such as kale and broccoli, as well as tofu and almonds.  Having a varied diet that includes components of all these different food groups is the best way to make sure you’re getting the nutrients you need to support your body as well as your baby’s.

The WHO recommends, as well as the natural health community here in the US, two years as the optimal amount of time to breastfeed your baby.  Keep in mind that these are just guidelines, and contain flexibility.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends only one year of breastfeeding.  While this is dramatically shorter than two years, if you’re making sure to feed your baby a varied diet full of healthy fats, proteins, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, your baby will do fine!  If you’re worried about your bone density, or if you break a bone like I did, don’t be hard on yourself and fret about prolonging your nursing to two years.  A healthy mama is what your baby needs above all.