Eating For Two: Postpartum Nutrition

If you’ve been to the gym lately (or if you follow me on Snapchat), then you we have several new clients at Marathon Fitness. As in brand new.

Babies!

Whether they’re in a stroller, watching a video on an iPad, or old enough to join in on the workout, I love seeing my clients bring their kiddos to the gym. There’s something awesome about coaching a client through nine months of pregnancy, and then seeing that child grow once they’ve left the womb. But I’ve been around the block enough to know that those pregnancy and postpartum months are a minefield for women—especially when it comes to issues of body image, fitness and nutrition. 

Before you read any further, you have to know that I don’t train people who won’t eat food. I’ve written about the issues of eating less than your body needs, and the fallacy of “calorie-deficit dieting." So I won’t repeat myself. But if you’re convinced that you need to starve your way back to your pre-baby body, then you might as well click on off of this blog now. And of course, if you’re reading this, make sure to consult your own physician or trainer before starting any new fitness or nutrition regimen.

Now that we have that out of the way, let me introduce you to Lindsey. Lindsey is a client that’s been coming to my gym for about five years. She’s a strong, competitive woman with an athletic build. Eighteen months ago, she found out that she was expecting her first child—and, well, I’ll let her tell you what that did to her psyche:

“It’s scary at the beginning of a pregnancy to know your body is about to go through something crazy,” she says. “When I was younger, I would operate by working out really hard and eating far too little. I couldn’t concentrate. I was really unhappy with my body. And when I met Joe, he convinced me that if I wanted to train like an athlete, I needed to eat like an athlete. He asked me to put my trust in him, and proved to me that I could eat more, without gaining weight. That was five years ago. And so, at the beginning of my pregnancy, I said, alright Joe, you’re my trainer. I trust you.”

There were some early complications during Lindsey’s pregnancy—so in those months, my role as a trainer was to keep her accountable to stay off of her feet. But the real work for me I knew was going to come after the baby arrived. As a trainer, I constantly find that I have to work against the culture that tells a woman she has to get her pre-baby-body as fast as possible. Believe me. I could make a fortune telling women that I could get them back in shape within six weeks of having a baby. But that’s not healthy for you, and it’s definitely not healthy for the baby. 

That extra body fat that you build up during pregnancy is essential, especially if you choose to breastfeed. And that’s where this gets interesting.

It’s common knowledge that breastfeeding burns upwards of 800 calories a day. And in my experience, the women that choose to breastfeed do so because it is the most nutritious choice for the development of their child. They also appreciate the silver lining that all those burned calories could help them lose the baby weight. But breastfeeding shouldn’t be a weight loss strategy. If you continue to eat the way that you did before you were pregnant, your body will be running on a huge deficit, and that could put your own health and the health of your baby in jeopardy.

If you’re breastfeeding, you actually are fueling your body for two. Lindsey, for example, has a very high level of activity. Even on “sedentary” days, new moms have a lot strenuous work to do: lifting and holding a new baby, going up and down stairs, doing laundry. All of that burns calories. Add to that a trip to the gym, and breastfeeding, and suddenly, you’re burning calories like an athlete. With her level of activity, I recommended Lindsey eat 2,700 calories. That’s a lot of food. For my clients that are new moms and motivated to get “back” to their pre-baby bodies, that can cause a real inner conflict. How can you lose weight, when you’re solely responsible for helping another human gain weight? Here’s Lindsey again:

“Feeding a baby off your own body is so weird,” she says. “For the first four months, our baby ate nothing but milk. I would look at him and think, ‘he’s made of milk!’ It’s amazing. But if I was going to be his sole source of nutrition, then I knew I needed to take even better care of myself. The priority of losing the baby weight is overstated. It’s more important to have enough calories to make milk and build a little person.”

At one point recently, Lindsey (along with some other clients in the 10:15 bootcamp class) did a nutrition experiment and cut out carbohydrates for three days. The difference in her milk supply was quickly apparent. Just a few days with fewer calories made a dent in her supply. It was an important lesson to learn. If you’re going to train like an athlete, you need to eat like an athlete. And if you’re going to breastfeed—well then, you need to eat like an athlete too.

It’s also important to have people around you that are willing to keep you accountable. Doctors, for all the good they do, won’t help you fight the inner battle of weighing your postpartum fitness goals with the goal of breastfeeding a child. The best personal trainers know how to help you find the right number of calories to consume each day in order to take steps forward and maintain your milk supply. Give yourself time. Give yourself fuel. And you will see results—in your body, and your baby’s.

Posted on August 29, 2016 .