Occasionally, celebrities like Amy Adams refuse to jump on the mommyrexia bandwagon, but increasingly, celebs like Miranda Kerr and Victoria Beckham are setting a scary standard of speedy post-baby weight loss. (Underscored yesterday by Jessica Simpson‘s $3 million deal with Weight Watchers). These women are lauded for returning to work and looking great within weeks of giving birth, but what they (and the media) are failing to address are the health risks that their drastic body alternations impose on them and their babies. Drastic post-baby weight loss is unhealthy for the mother and for her baby—especially if she’s breast feeding.
Caloric restriction and over-exercise for rapid weight loss is harmful to the health of mothers and their babies. We spoke to Lora A. Sporny, Ed.D., R.D., a registered dietitian and doctor of nutrition and education at the Program in Nutrition at Columbia University’s Teachers College, who says:
“If not eating sufficient calories and nutrient-rich foods, a pregnant woman will rely more heavily on her fat stores and lean tissues including her skeleton for the needed nutrients and energy. Since environmental toxins such as PCBs, dioxin and lead are stored within fat and bone tissue, more of these will be mobilized with the nutrients and enter her breast milk.”
These contaminants cause neurological damage and antagonize brain development. Therefore, if a women is not providing her body with enough energy, she places her body at risk for malnourishment and her baby at risk for ingesting toxins.
Weight loss after pregnancy should be gradual and, for many women, it occurs naturally as a result of breastfeeding and low to moderate physical activity. A breastfeeding mother burns 20 calories per ounce of breast milk she produces. That means if she’s nursing 34 ounces of milk per day at 85% efficiency for caloric expenditure, she’s expending 800 calories just to feed her baby. Her body is already mobilizing fat stores (about 250 calories worth) per day, so a breastfeeding mother will naturally lose her pregnancy weight gradually. Healthy weight loss would be about half a pound per week for women who gained a normal amount of weight during pregnancy (25-35 pounds).
I’m not discouraging exercise post pregnancy—low to moderate physical activity is encouraged for women after childbirth—however, adequate nutrition to sustain energy needed for the baby and for the mother is essential. Instead of restricting calories, consuming a balanced diet from all food groups (and adequate caloric intake) will not only keep the mother more satisfied, but it will help produce nutritionally sound breast milk—benefiting all parties involved; mother and child.
Moral of the story? Don’t jump on the mommyrexia train. If your beautiful body just experienced the miracle of childbirth, it’s adapting and changing to its new environment by releasing hormones, mobilizing energy, and producing milk to sustain the life of your baby and help him or her to mature and grow in a healthy way. Love and celebrate the changes your body has made to create life, instead of aspiring to yet another dangerous celebrity trend.