Miles of running couldn’t make the pounds slip away. Hundreds of sit-ups didn’t work either.
When Jennifer Kendall had her daughter in 2005, she was back to her pre-pregnancy weight of 130 pounds in a matter of months. After giving birth to her son four years later, she assumed the same weight loss and return to shape would happen.
But her body conspired against her. Four years passed before Kendall had her baby weight burned off.
“I was older, my metabolism wasn’t working as much as it had been. Pregnancy takes a toll on the body, and things stretch and get pulled in ways you aren’t used to. I went into it thinking it would be the same, so obviously it was not,” she said.
For mothers everywhere, taking off the weight accumulated during pregnancy can be a process that takes months, even years. Biology, age and physical changes can make it seem like no amount of sit-ups or crunches can make their midsections look like it did before childbirth.
Still, the weight will come off with hard work and deliberate planning, both moms and doctors say. The key is picking the appropriate workout plan and sticking with it.
“Start slow. Just do what you’re comfortable doing, but try to move every day. Try to eat healthy,” Greenwood resident Jenny Berry said. “I know it’s hard because you’re tired and you just want something fast, but it really makes a difference.”
On average, women gain about 30 pounds during pregnancy, according to the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences. By six months after giving birth, more than 50 percent of women still need to lose 10 pounds of that, while 25 percent of women have 20 pounds or more to lose to get to their pre-pregnancy weight.
But that’s not necessarily abnormal or even a sign that something is wrong, said Dr. Jim Perry, an obstetrician and gynecologist with Community Hospital South.
“It takes nine months to put the weight on. It’s going to take six to nine months to get that weight off,” he said.
In a surprising number of patients, Perry gets the same question soon after they’ve given birth — how quickly can they start doing sit-ups.
They want to get started on removing that “baby bump.”
Be realistic, safe
The first two months after birth is going to be devoted to recovery for the mother, as well as adjusting to life with a baby. But after that, a realistic weight-loss goal is 1 or 2 pounds lost each week, Perry said.
As frustrating as that lingering weight can be, new mothers need to be careful that they don’t proceed too quickly and hurt themselves, Perry said. The hormones released in the body during pregnancy cause elasticity in the muscles and ligaments, necessary to give birth.
But if a woman starts doing hard-core abdominal exercises aimed at the midsection, they can get hurt and not even know it. They need to wait at least three to six months before crunches, leg lifts and core work.
“Trying to do weight training or significant strength work immediately afterwards is going to put her at an increased risk of injury,” Perry said. “For the first couple of months, avoid that.”
His response is before isolating certain muscle groups, start slowly with aerobic exercise. Start with a walk, then moving up to jogging or an elliptical trainer to condition the body to handle the rigors of exercise.
Biking and swimming a few months after birth is also good, Perry said. Strength training will be important eventually; but at the onset, it will do less to burn the excess fat from the body.
“The first thing they need to do is incorporate aerobic exercise and start slowly,” he said.
When Berry had her son, Mylan, four years ago, she had been out of shape and overweight. She weighed close to 200 pounds. It was a year before she even tried to lose the pounds she had put on.
Starting with a series of at-home videos, Berry stepped up to walking two or three miles every day, then running. Some days, she would do boot camp. Over the course of three years, she lost 65 pounds.
Value of breast-feeding
So when she became pregnant again in August 2012, Berry was determined to make the process go more smoothly.
“I was not going to go down again without a fight, so I had gotten in shape and stayed active during my pregnancy. I kept working out every morning until I was put on bed rest at the end,” she said.
Berry taught a toning and cardio class at the Community Life Center at Mount Pleasant Christian Church and continued to do her own workouts.
During her pregnancy with her daughter, Enzy, she put on about 17 pounds. A month’s worth of workouts took that weight off, and she lost an additional 5 pounds to get to her current weight of 130.
The day Berry got home with her daughter, Enzy, in April, she was able to do a short walk. When she returned to the gym, she could do the elliptical and lifting with light weights.
“I could work out within a week after this one. My doctor said I was fine, that I knew my body well enough,” she said. “I kind of did the same thing, but just modified for a few months.”
One of the easiest ways to shed that pregnancy weight is actually a benefit for the baby’s health as well. Perry always stresses the importance of breast-feeding to lose excess pounds.
Breast-feeding burns between 700 and 1,200 calories each day. By eating sensibly and not overdoing it, women can attack some of the fat that had built up on the hips, thighs and midsection, Perry said.
“If the patient doesn’t immediately replace those calories, that’s going to consume a lot of fat,” he said. “So in addition to all of the nutritional benefits the baby gets, there are material benefits for mom.”
Breast-feeding was the trick that helped Kendall with her first pregnancy. The Greenwood resident had always enjoyed a healthy metabolism and exercised only sporadically. Being 30 at the time, the combination of breast-feeding and some running helped her body quickly worked through that weight.
Age makes a difference
After about nine months, she weighed less than what she had before become pregnant. When she became pregnant again with her son in 2009, she didn’t pay much attention to her weight gain.
“My assumption was things would come off the same way they did four years ago. That wasn’t necessarily the case,” she said.
Despite what the impressions may be, the body does not burn calories differently after being pregnant, Perry said.
But age does make a difference, as a person’s metabolism changes as they get older. A 22-year-old woman will have an easier time taking off excess weight than a 30-year-old, Perry said.
Trainer Tod Esquivel started a business called Indy Fit Moms, which works with mothers ranging in all ages and in all levels of fitness. But much of his work is with women who have recently given birth and want to get back in shape.
He consults with them about the pregnancy, their fitness history and their ability levels. Each program differs.
“They really want to lose the weight in the midsection, but we do full-body workouts, compound exercises that work multiple muscles and body-weight exercises,” Esquivel said.
Kendall found that approach to be the key of her weight loss.
Pounds that in the past came off easily stubbornly stuck around after her son was born in 2009, Kendall said.
She lost some of the weight she had gained but still had about 10 pounds hanging around in her midsection.
‘I wanted to be fit’
At first, she just became comfortable with that. But after three years, she decided to make a change.
“I didn’t like the feeling. I didn’t want to go up in clothes size. I didn’t want to hide my waistline and wear baggy clothes,” she said. “I wanted to be fit.”
She stopped running and hired a personal trainer. More important that what exercises she did was having someone who would make her work out at a level that pushed her body. Eventually, she started doing more spinning classes and aerobics that kept her energy levels high.
Discovering boot camps, which combined calisthenics, body-weight exercises, interval training and strength conditioning, she found the most success. In January, she weighed 146 pounds, and is now down to her pre-child weight of 130.
“For me, it was group fitness, challenge groups, and things that kept me accountable. Multiple types of exercises,” she said. “It took me being accountable, being mentally committed to it, without the mindset that I was only working out so I could eat what I want. I had to think about what I was putting in my body, if I was pushing myself.”