For any pregnant woman, it’s advisable to gain an appropriate amount of weight which is vital for a health pregnancy outcome. However, according to nutritionists, the weight should be in relation to the mother’s pre-conception weight. They also caution that underweight mothers should gain more weight while overweight ones gain less while pregnant.
Need to wait until six months
However, it’s ideal to lose this weight after delivery to avoid gaining more weight which can pose other health risks. According to Erick Matsiko, a nutritionist at University of Rwanda’s College of Medicine and Health Science, mothers should plan to return to their pre-pregnancy weight by six to 12 months after delivery.
“It is critical that lactating women avoid severe energy restriction as this practice can result in decreased milk production, particularly during the exclusive breastfeeding period. Mothers are advised not to diet at least before six months,” he cautions.
However, Matsiko says once the baby is six months, where complimentary foods are introduced, mothers can diet provided this will not comprise breast milk production to maintain the breastfeeding until the child is two years old.
Venuste Muhamyankaka, the president of Rwanda Nutritionist’s Society, says most women lose half of their baby weight by six weeks after childbirth (postpartum). The rest usually comes off over the next several months.
“Breastfeeding can also help with postpartum weight loss,” he says.
Muhamyankaka explains that a mother’s body needs time to recover from childbirth.
“If she loses weight too soon after childbirth, it can take longer for her to recover. She should give herself until her 6-week checkup before trying to slim. If she is breastfeeding, she has to wait until the baby is at least six months old before she tries to lose weight,” he explains.
How to go about it
After pregnancy, Matsiko says losing weight may be challenging because mothers are triggered to eat more foods to ensure enough breast milk production.
He says this also occurs because the mother needs additional energy sufficient enough to support adequate milk production for the baby.
Further, Matsiko explains that at the same time, the remaining energy deficit will assist in the gradual loss of excess body weight gained during pregnancy.
“Most of the time the weight a mother is supposed to lose here is from the deposited body fats during pregnancy. As the lactation progresses, the body fats are used for milk production. Therefore, some weight is reduced this way,” he notes.
Muhamyankaka says engaging in regular physical activity can assist with weight loss. Therefore, mothers should be active even during lactation period.
Private Kamanzi, a nutritionist and dietician at Amazon Complimentary Therapy in Remera, Kigali, says providing a good diet for the baby and mother is essential when one wants to lose weight, but only after six months.
He says although they design a diet for the mother, they make sure it still includes the foods that are able to increase production of milk.
For instance, for the baby aged six month and above, they recommend a mother to give them complimentary foods such as vegetables like spinach, pumpkin with potatoes and bananas, among others.
Kamanzi points out that the mother should still breastfeed the child up to the age of two.
For lactating mothers, he says a well-balanced diet in moderation is ideal.
Why it’s important to lose weight after pregnancy
Uwiragiye says good health is key to good lactation performance.
“Being underweight can be detrimental to their health as being overweight or obese. They need to maintain a healthy body weight, because this will keep them from the risk of becoming obese or getting other related NCDs such as cardiovascular diseases, among others.
Uwiragiye advises that it is essential for such mothers to take at least two cups of millet and soya porridge as well as one type of fruit be it banana, mango, apple or any other in the morning.
He, however, warns that for breakfast, it’s not advisable to take bread.
“Much as bread is a cereal just like millet porridge, it is not in fluid form and does not increase milk production like the porridge does. That’s why porridge is the best option,” Uwiragiye says.
Tea and increasing the vegetable consumption are recommended, he adds.
“At least half of the plate should contain vegetables while the rest can have protein and energy giving foods. But again, mothers should avoid taking two or three different foods of the same category such as rice, potaotoes or posho,” he says.
After about an hour after lunch, Kamanzi advises that taking fresh natural juice is important.
“Snacking between meals is important for any lactating woman who at the same time wants to lose weight,” he says.
At night, Kamanzi says avoiding heavy meals and embanking on light foods as well as some vegetables with one type of fruit is important as far as reducing weight is concerned.
These, he says, will help the woman lose weight at the same time not interfering with the quality of milk they produce. He, however, insists that they should do the same every day without substituting the porridge in the morning with anything else.
Kamanzi says exercises should be done in moderation as the vigorous ones can interfere with the back which is normally still weak after delivery.