Monday 8 January 2018

Shedding the excess pregnancy and postpartum weight

Pregnancy and the postpartum period are associated with increased weight gain often as a result of the reduced physical activity and increased food consumption associated with those periods in a woman's life. When one adds the hustles and bustles of life in the Nigerian society to the equation, one would most likely find a woman working round-the-clock to attend to the increasing demands for her time and attention with little attention to weight issues. Mothers in Nigeria understand that the struggle to shed pregnancy and postpartum weight is real. Many mothers find themselves losing hope of getting fit and trim again; they just relax and watch themselves climb up the body weight ladder.

The topic of healthy weight gain/loss is important given the increased prevalence of overweight and obesity in the Nigerian society and a reported rise in health conditions linked to them. There are no wrong reasons for wanting to shed excess body weight, but health-related reasons trump fashion and confidence in ranking. Evidence-based research links being overweight/obese to an increased risk of several health issues like diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular diseases. A mother, therefore, needs to understand the need for her to keep fit and trim. Recognising why she needs to shed the excess weight is often linked to a woman's ability to sustain a weight loss program.

Sometimes, keeping gestational weight gain in check makes it easier to keep tabs on postpartum weight gain. Nutrition in pregnancy can make a lot of difference. Physical exercises like walking are usually recommended for pregnant women who need to keep weight gain in check. The intensity at which an individual walks determines the person's caloric expenditure. As such, brisk walking at about 12 minutes per kilometer is often recommended for healthy, pregnant woman to achieve moderate caloric expenditure.  Before a pregnant woman gets involved in more intense physical exercises, she needs to consult her healthcare provider to determine which ones are safe for her.
Pregnancy and postpartum periods are not times to indulge in some quick-fix weight regimens as they could lead to increased risk to mother and baby. Weight loss supplements are also discouraged during these periods. Healthy behaviors are rather encouraged.

The postpartum period with its attendant demands increases a woman's risk of being overweight. However, it also provides a window of opportunity to initiate lifestyle modifications such as increased physical activity and nutritious eating, that encourage healthy behaviors.  There is said to be an inverse correlation between obesity during the postpartum period and breastfeeding as well as obesity during pregnancy and exercise. Postpartum obese women require targeted programs that use evidence-based interventions for weight loss. Gradual weight loss of about 0.5kg per week (that is 2kg per month) is reported safe for postpartum women. Quick-fix or rapid weight-loss regimens are usually not recommended during this period as they can have negative outcomes. Moderate exercise during postpartum periods have been shown to have no adverse effect on breastmilk, infant weight gain or maternal prolactin level (which help sustain breastmilk supply). Interventions that combine exercise and dietary changes and monitoring, result in great postpartum weight loss.

Recommended steps towards shedding the excess pregnancy and postpartum weight

  1. Keep gestational weight in check during pregnancy. A pregnant woman needs to take note of her weight gain at each antenatal check-up. A healthy goal for total pregnancy weight gain for women of normal weight ( based on Body Mass Index((BMI) 18.6 to 24.9) averages about 11.5kg to 16kg ). Women carrying more than one baby gain between 15kg to 23kg. Keeping tabs on your diet during pregnancy as well as moderate physical exercise helps you keep tabs on gestational weight gain. Women who maintain healthy weights during pregnancy stand better chances of maintaining healthy weights during postpartum periods. 
  2. Keep postpartum weight gain in check. It is completely normal to not lose any weight or even gain some during the first 3 months after birth in breastfeeding mothers. Due to hormonal changes in her body, a new mother may have a bigger appetite and be more prone to holding on to body fat. Restricting calories too much, especially during the first few months of breastfeeding, may decrease both a mother's milk supply and her much-needed energy level. However, after 3 months, the new mum may get involved in targeted weight-loss programs that involve moderate exercises and dietary adjustments.

The recommendations are easy to adapt to if a woman
  • Knows her Body Mass Index (BMI)
  • Determines how much weight she needs to lose
  • Gets involved in targeted weight loss programs. There are several free apps available that help towards achieving your target weight. Many involve dietary recommendations and exercises you can do in the comfort of your home for about 5 to 10 minutes every day. Weight loss need not be so difficult, all it needs is a conscious and consistent effort. One small step every day can result in a giant leap. Research suggests that technology-based weight loss programs are very effective in shedding excess weight. Like our Facebook page and send us a message or an email for recommended apps with targeted weight-loss programs to suit your lifestyle. 

Credit to Millicent Onyinyechi, A graduate of Human Nutrition. 

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