When I was pregnant I put on about 19kg. About 10kg of that was lost at the birth and in the following couple of weeks. I assumed that the weight would fall off fairly easily with the breastfeeding, but this hasn't happened. In fact I've actually put on 2 kg. Weirdly, I can't see it when I look in the mirror, but I definitely notice it when I see myself in photos.
What I look like:
What I looked like before I got pregnant and would prefer to look like again one day (minus the wedding dress, of course):
People say, 'Don't worry about it, you've just had a baby.' While this is true and I appreciate the moral support, I know it doesn't have to be this way - I am eating rubbish and doing very little exercise, and I am 10kg above my healthy weight range. Also, I am a bridesmaid for my sister's wedding in January and am acutely conscious that she has chosen shape-hugging cocktail dresses for us to wear.
After I had the baby, I went on a bit of an eating splurge, enjoying all those foods I'd restricted while I was pregnant, such as ham, camembert, alfalfa, bacon, leftovers... (I suspect the alfalfa has not contributed particularly to the weight gain, but it's so bizarre that alfalfa is restricted during pregnancy, I can't resist mentioning it). Then, because I'd just had a baby and I deserved some kind of stress relief, I also ate mint choc chip ice cream whenever I felt like it. And after I had to take my little girl for her first needles I ate a whole packet of chocolate mint slice biscuits, which made me feel slightly better. Yes, I have a thing for mint choc chip – it was my favourite flavour when I was six, and for me it is still the ultimate in emotional eating.
At about 3 months post-partum, I thought I better get my act into gear and clean up my diet. I worked out something based on calorie intake (add 300-500 calories for breastfeeding, or about 2000kj).
That lasted about 3 days. Because I had been eating whatever I liked, what I hadn't realised is that breastfeeding makes you hungry all the time. What I also hadn't realised was that I was really relying on those sugar hits to get me through the day, given I was existing on 4-6 hours sleep a night and I had to limit caffeine to about 1 cup of tea a day (again because of the breastfeeding). Argh!
As for exercise, that was a disaster too. I had had dreams of taking my baby for long walks around the city and the nearby botanic gardens, but I had not factored in that my baby would not like this. After all, it's either raining or blisteringly sunny in Darwin and I am forced to cover up the pram so she can't see out. So she is bored and uncomfortably trapped in a little black sweat box and she certainly lets me know about it. The best way to take her for walks is round Darwin's only air-conditioned shopping centre, Casuarina, but you can't really get up speed without ramming into people. So, I do go walking round Casuarina, but fairly slowly, and I spend more time stopping for decaf cappucinos.
Back to the drawing board.
Part of the problem here is, admittedly, motivation. The truth is that I have a lot of trouble motivating myself to prepare healthy food and doing regular exercise at the best of times. When I am sleep-deprived, have a small baby attached to my arms, super-hungry, and my milk-filled boobs (which required a fair bit of support before pregnancy) ache at the slightest bounce – dredging up enough motivation to have a shower is a challenge.
The first thing I had to do, I decided, was sort out my sugar dependency. So I just focused on this one task. Every time I had a sugar craving I ate some fruit. I was grumpy and headachy, but I was able to at least stick to this one idea because fruit was not so horrible, and because I let myself eat whatever else I liked, so long as it was not full of sugar.
Success! I have remained more or less sugar-free, except for cakes at some special occasions. So that's good.
But I am not losing weight.
It doesn't help that you are warned not to diet while breastfeeding as you may jeopardise your milk supply. What can you eat? What is too little? Too much? I must have looked through every Borders in Melbourne for a breastfeeding diet book but there were none, which I thought was astonishing because surely there is a market for this book?! The closest I found was a book that recommended going walking with your pram each day. Not very helpful.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association recommends following the guidelines in the government publication: The Australian Guide to Health Eating. This document gives you the appropriate number of servings from different food groups, and explains serving sizes, but it doesn't tell you how to translate into something practical – like a meal plan and grocery list. The Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing has this more detailed summary for breastfeeding women with a meal plan for one day. And the Queensland Health Department has this handy .pdf on serving sizes that you can print out and stick on your fridge, and also a meal plan for one day.
Essentially, a breastfeeding mum who is sedentary should have:
- 5 serves carbs, 7 serves vegies, 5 serves fruit, 3 serves dairy, 2 serves meat/legumes
A breastfeeding mum who does about 30 min of exercise a day can have:
- 7 serves carbs, 7 serves vegies, 5 serves fruit, 3 serves dairy, 2 serves meat/legumes, 2.5 serves of treats
Both these recommendations assume that you are also using some oil for cooking or margarine/butter for spreading sandwiches etc. However, you might have noticed that the sedentary mum gets no treat foods at all. This, in my view, is unrealistic for most people. While exercise is the goal, we don't all always manage it, and we still sometimes eat cake. But I reckon that if you take a breastfeeding multivitamin you should be able to sometimes skip a serving or two of carbs in order to compensate for having a nutritionally empty treat. The serving recommendations seem to presume you are not taking a multivitamin, and are made to ensure you get all necessary nutrients as well as appropriate kilojoule intake.
To help figure out how to put this advice into practice, I created a spreadsheet which helps you do a weekly meal plan and grocery list and have filled it in with a sample menu for a lightly active mum. (I would like it to automatically generate the shopping list based on your meal plans, but I don't have the time or Excel skills to do it). I tried to work out meals that my husband also knows how to cook and will be happy to eat. You'll need to multiply quantities in your grocery list given the number of people you are cooking for:
What's more, I have found out that to help save time and stick to the plan, you can get groceries delivered to your door for very little cost. Both Woolworths and Coles have online ordering – and I have found that if you pick the right time the delivery from Woolworths is free. Meat seems a bit more expensive this way, but I have found that a really good local butcher (Parap Quality Meats) can also deliver through a service that picks up various produce from local shops and orders of $65 or more are free, so if you have your meals planned in advance you can buy bulk and save the logistical nightmare of grocery trips with children. I think in other places in Australia you can get fresh local produce by ordering online through a service called Aussie Farmers Direct. You can create shopping lists that the websites remember, so once you've done one order, it's quick and easy to order again.
Sticking to this eating plan is my next step towards healthy eating. After that, my next step will be to leave Bethany with my husband (or a babysitter) while I go swimming in the evenings (nice in the heat and for tender boobs), and by the time I'm ready for that she should be partially on solids, so he will have something he can feed her if he needs to while I'm out.
Wish me luck!