The Postpartum "Bounce Back" Diet


Time to Bounce Back?

You just had your baby and you feel like you are out of the maternity woods, but you can see that the extra body fat gained during pregnancy is still very much “deep in the forest.” Chances are you are in a hurry to bounce back to pre-baby weight and tired of feeling “big.” Plus you’ve heard that breastfeeding can help burn the extra body-fat you gained during pregnancy. But before you start cutting calories while doing lactation aerobics, take heed and consider that your body is still going through many hormonal and metabolic changes that need to be honored for your health and the baby’s food supply. Be prudent! Read on and don’t rush Mother Nature but rather help her along.

Resiliency in Postpartum Weight Loss

The birth process is amazing, and Mother Nature has had a long time to work out the kinks in the process. Some researchers (Butte and Hopkinson, 1998) believe that it really doesn’t matter what the women do in terms of activity and eating post-partum, but rather that the “drive” of the body to return to its pre-pregnancy weight is the primary determinant. In addition, these researchers believe that the weight gained during pregnancy has the biggest influence on postpartum weight and fat mass gain. In their study and in many other studies, there was great variability in the weight gains. These differences in weight changes were likely due to gestational weight gains, cultural practices, physical activity level, and seasonal food availability.


Where does all the fat go?

Fetus 7.5 lbs.
Fat, protein and other nutrients    7 lbs.
Increased blood    4 lbs.
Increased fluid    4 lbs.
Uterus    2 lbs.
Amniotic fluid    2 lbs.
Breast growth    2 lbs.
Placenta 1.5 lbs.
Total   30 lbs.

Weight Loss and Breastfeeding

Does weight loss effect the quality of your milk? According to studies (Butte and Hopkinson, 1998) only in the extremes were negative changes seen in lactation. Women who consumed less than 1500 calories per day had 15 percent reduced milk volume during the following week. It seems that women who gain weight above the recommended guidelines during and after pregnancy can also have decreased milk production. However, women who had only a 500-calorie deficit for a 10-week period (which would equal a 10 1/2 pound weight loss) had no measurable changes in milk production. In addition, women who were in an exercise and diet group were able to lose 2 pounds per week and had no changes in the production or quality of milk compared to controls. Many other studies support the claim that weight loss is a normal process during the postpartum period.

Hormonal Revelations Prolactin, the master hormone responsible for lactation can affect a large number of systems throughout the body. A withdrawal of estrogen and progesterone is essential for prolactin production and release. It stimulates the production and secretion of milk, depresses fat production in the liver and stimulates the delivery of glucose and lactate to the mammary gland for enhanced fat production. There seems to also be a suppression of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which is responsible for the release of the stress hormones. This may dampen the responses to exercise in terms of having increased energy and fat burning.

So as an overall scheme, prolactin facilitates delivery of nutrients to the mammary gland and breakdown of fat throughout the body. Many women will experience a slight lowering of their basal metabolic rate (the calories you burn at rest), and a water and weight retention maintenance.

Weight Loss during breastfeeding requires you to eat 500 more nutrient dense calories a day. Another way of looking at it is to add an additional 200 calories to the perfect pregnancy diet guidelines. Suggested increases in protein, magnesium, zinc, calcium, and several vitamins are also greater during lactation than during pregnancy. This increase translates into adding one serving of dairy products, 1 serving of grain, 1 serving of fruit, and 1 serving of green leafy vegetables per day to meet this increased caloric and nutrient need.

According to the National Academy of Science, one should never go below 1800 calories during lactation because it will decrease the nutrient base of the milk.

How long before you attain your pre-pregnancy weight? If you didn’t gain more than the recommended pregnancy weight of 22 to 30 pounds, then with lifestyle modifications, count on your fat loss to take about eight months to a year to return to your pre-pregnancy weight. The Academy’s “Nutrition During Lactation” report cautions against “rapid weight loss,” as defined as more than 4 pounds per month, after delivery.