How to boost your post-baby body confidence (without a crash diet)
With magazine editors thinking up yet more ways to spin their annual ‘New Year, New You’ theme and gyms battling to entice new recruits with promises of shifting the post-Christmas pile-on, January is the month when everyone gets a taste of what it feels like to be a new mum!
The media’s baby-weight obsession has been putting pressure on new mums for years – whether it’s articles promising to help banish your baby belly and shed your pregnancy pounds in record time, or the latest celebrity mum revealing, “How I dropped 40lbs in 14 days”.
Fern Whittaker, co-founder of Mission Clean & Lean, an online health and fitness programme that offers a post-natal package (Mama), discourages mums from restricting their calorie intake and actively promotes regular snacking:
“The demands of pregnancy and birth can leave you short of nutrients and a balanced diet can help to give you the energy to care for your new baby, particularly if you’re breastfeeding,” says mum of two, Fern.
“But restricting calories is not advised. In fact, regular snacking throughout the day is positively encouraged. We remind mums to be kind to themselves while doing the amazing job of nurturing their little one.”
This backlash against post-pregnancy crash diets and unrealistic fitness regimes has been partly driven by social media.
Think back to July 2013, when OK magazine was forced to apologise after it sparked a Twitter storm for running the headline ‘Kate’s Post-Baby Weight Loss Regime’ just hours after the Duchess emerged from the delivery suite.
Even celebrities weighed in on the debate. TV presenter Katy Hill Tweeted a picture of her beautifully rotund tum with the caption: “New Mums. If the @OK_Magazine #Kate cover has made you feel bad, here’s me 2 months post baby. YOU MADE A HUMAN! X”
More recently, model Lara Stone hit the headlines and news feeds in October last year when she stripped off for an un-retouched magazine photo shoot five months after giving birth. Okay, so her idea of ‘wobbly bits’ might be slightly different to ours but the sentiment was there.
But while nobody has earned their cake more than a woman who has recently given birth, not all new mums want to sit around mainlining sugar and caffeine. And for those who do, it can be a slippery slope.
“It’s easy to use convenience, tiredness and ‘extra breastfeeding calories’ as an excuse to eat biscuits and drink gallons of tea, but at a time when your body confidence may already be at an all-time low it’s easy to get into a downwards spiral,” says Fern.
And while such treats might give you the pick-me-up you need when you’re operating on zero sleep, the benefits won’t last for long.
Whether it’s combating fatigue and mood swings, getting active or making the right nutritional choices for you and your baby while breastfeeding – a healthy outlook isn’t about racing to squeeze back into your skinny jeans, it’s about feeling confident and happy outside and in.
We asked Fern, and her partner at Mission Clean & Lean, fitness expert Jo Ali, to share their best new-mum body confidence tricks, including the secret to good snacking and smart ways to fit health and fitness into a relentless 24-hour parenting schedule.
Feel more energised
Fern suggests the following tips to help to combat fatigue – even when you’re operating on zero sleep:
Eat a protein-rich breakfast: This will fill you up and help keep you energised for the day ahead. Choose ingredients, such as salmon, spinach, eggs, avocado, quinoa porridge
Kick the sugar habit: Refined sugar lowers energy levels and depletes vitamin and mineral stores in the body. Get your sweet fix from raw in-season fruit or good quality honey.
Cut out processed food: In the extreme heating process vitamins, fibre and minerals are lost, while preservatives can slow down metabolism and interfere with fat burning hormones. To save time, batch cook your food and freeze.
Eat good fats: As well as providing sustained energy, nuts, seeds, oils, fish, and avocados help to absorb vitamins and minerals, protect joints and promote healthy skin, hair and nails.
Avoid ‘low fat’ foods: Diet yoghurts, breakfast cereals, muffins and energy drinks are packed with sugar, salt and sweeteners.
Fern’s healthy snack-swap suggestions will help to keep your energy levels topped-up throughout the day – and keep you away from the biscuit tin:
Dried fruit such as apricots or figs are a source of iron and a good source of energy.
Bananas are rich in potassium, which can help reduce water retention.
Sunflower seeds contain zinc, known for its healing properties.
Strips of pepper and cherry tomatoes will boost levels of vitamin C and help fight off any infections.
Find time to be healthy
“When you’re feeling tired your workouts can feel like the last thing you need,” says Fern. “But exercise will make you feel more energetic, help your body recover and relax you.”
To fit in around a demanding schedule, she suggests the following shortcuts:
If 20 minutes of daily activity sounds unachievable, split it into manageable chunks, such as two 10-minutes bursts.
Maximise your walks with the pram by choosing routes with an incline to burn extra calories and help get the blood pumping.
Prepare snacks, such as carrot sticks and hummus, the night before or during nap times, so you can grab them from the fridge when needed.
Eat well… for two
A healthy diet is especially important for breastfeeding mums. To ensure you are getting the necessary levels of nutrients to nourish both you and your baby (and what could be a better reason for loving your body than that?), Fern advises the following:
Drink more water: When breastfeeding, you supply your baby with 0.5 – 0.6 litres of fluid a day, so stay hydrated by drinking between 2 and 2.5 litres a day.
Cut caffeine: Poor sleeping patterns and irritability have been observed in breastfed babies whose mothers consume even moderate levels. (Browse the gallery below for some healthy caffeine-free alternatives).
Eat a healthy, balanced diet: Eating a diet rich in vitamins A, B, C and D, as well as plenty of iron and calcium, is important while breastfeeding. Find iron in lean red meat, fish, wholegrain cereals, spinach, fortified breakfast cereals and pulses, and calcium in dairy products, tofu, almonds, green leafy vegetables.
Rebuild your core muscles
In the rush to lose their round bellies, many new mums make the mistake of plunging straight into an unrealistic fitness programme, causing damage to muscles that are still very fragile following the strain of giving birth.
Jo warns that before embarking on any kind of exercise programme, you should visit your GP to check that the abdominal muscles haven’t separated from being overstretched – a common post-natal condition called diastasis recti.
Jo recommends the following gentle core exercises, but warns: “Don’t try and performing traditional sit-ups or specific core exercises like crunches and planks until you have really strengthened the core through stabilisation work.
1. Draw in your stomach muscles towards your back while breathing normally and not allowing the shoulders to raise up. Squeeze up your pelvic floor at the same time. Picture your hip bones and trying to bring them closer together by drawing in the abdominals.
2. Start with your feet one in front of the other with one big toe touching the other heel. Roll the shoulders back and draw the shoulder blades down the back while sucking in – but don’t squeeze in too tight. Hold this balance for 20 seconds and then change the feet over and repeat.
3. Take the feet hip distance apart and make the connection in the abdominals by squeezing them in towards your back. Sit the bottom back into a squat and then back up. Cross the arms over the chest to keep the chest high and the back long.
Whether you’re breastfeeding or not, relying on caffeine to maintain your energy levels will only lead to greater energy slumps later in the day – as well as affecting the quality of sleep you do get (which probably isn’t much). Try substituting some of your coffee or tea intake with Mission Clean & Lean’s health-boosting caffeine-free alternatives.
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