BY ANUPY SINGLA
Meera Sanghani Jorgensen is the mother of a happy, healthy, and adorable 14-month-old daughter. She's grateful for everything she has, but says one thing continues to bug her about her pregnancy -- her weight.
The 36-year-old says she went from being considered underweight at 120 pounds on her 5-foot-6-inch frame before her pregnancy to now carrying around an extra 20 pounds that she just can't manage to shake off, after gaining 42 pounds with the baby.
"Hollywood glamorizes the postpartum body," said Jasmine Jafferali (balancing Luke).
"This is daunting," says Jorgensen, "because I've never had to lose 20 pounds before."
Weight gain and how to lose it can be a major cause of postpartum stress, experts say, especially when images from Hollywood showcase bikini-clad new moms looking fit and trim mere weeks after delivery. In a recent issue of FitPregnancy magazine, two cover stories deal with losing weight: one about how much to gain while pregnant and the other on how to shape up your abs after the baby is born.
"A lot of Hollywood glamorizes the postpartum body," says Jasmine Jafferali, a woman's health and wellness consultant and personal trainer. "It's misleading to the public and us everyday moms."
Jafferali, herself a mother to two, an 11-week-old and 3-year-old, says the thing to remember about those stars is that most are fit going into their nine months and are extremely careful to eat a well-balanced diet during their pregnancy -- a key to taking the baby fat off postpartum.
"Getting back in shape after pregnancy depends on what you did during the pregnancy: eating a nutritious well-balanced diet, getting a good amount of sleep, exercising every day, and keeping the stress down," says Jafferali, who writes a column on family and pregnancy health for online newspaper Examiner.com. "Even in the articles you read you'll see those actresses did all the right things."
Healthcare providers are taking note.
In May 2009, an Institute of Medicine (IOM) committee of doctors, nutrition experts and public health researchers issued new guidelines on how much weight women should gain while pregnant. It was the first time they changed their recommendations since 1990.
While much of the report stayed the same, recommending a 25- to 35-pound weight gain for healthy women at a normal weight for her height, what differed was a reference to women considered obese prior to pregnancy -- limiting their weight gain to between 11 and 20 pounds. The change was a direct reference to the obesity epidemic in the United States and a message that too much weight during the pregnancy can have negative effects on the baby and the mother postpartum.
"If you're at your ideal body weight [going into a pregnancy], we ask you to eat 200 extra calories a day -- that's just a yogurt and a glass of milk," says Dr. Kimberly McMahon, a clinical instructor at Northwestern and an ob/gyn with the Northwestern Specialists for Women in Chicago. She advises patients to be very careful even during pregnancy to watch what they are eating. Eating whatever you want just because you're pregnant is a myth, experts say.
Stick with nutritious, heart-healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads and other complex carbohydrates and lean protein.
"It takes 40 weeks to get this weight on -- it takes time to take it off," says McMahon. Some experts say it can take up to a year postbaby to get your hormones back in sync and your body in shape.
Breast-feeding can burn up to 900 calories a day, but while nursing, some moms plateau with their weight and just can't lose the last 10 pounds, says McMahon.
McMahon tells her patients that after that six-week postpartum checkup, most are able to work out and actually diet -- as long as they are hydrating properly, especially if they are still breast-feeding. Dieting doesn't mean starving yourself. It just means picking healthy food options rather than snacking on sweets and simple carbs, which will leave you feeling hungry and looking for more rather than fulfilled.
Jafferali tells clients to just start moving -- weather and health permitting. "The best thing someone can do after they've had their baby is to just go ahead and take their baby for a walk." Not a leisurely stroll -- a power walk where you're up against the weight of your baby and that 15-20 pound stroller for a full 30 minutes every day. But, don't expect miracles.
Reality TV star Kourtney Kardashian is a high-profile example of how not to lose the weight. In an episode aired last month, she collapsed running on the beach while filming her show "Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami." The 31-year-old, who gave birth in December to her first child, admitted she hadn't eaten before taking on a vigorous workout in a quest to prepare for an upcoming shoot for Life & Style Magazine.
"The weight loss should not be dramatic, but consistent," says McMahon. "It's really restricting your caloric intake and accounting for everything that you are putting in your mouth. And it's hard work."
Jafferali believes in eating every three to four hours and getting in a protein and good fat at every meal, with limited simple carbohydrates. She starts her mornings off with a green smoothie packed with Omega-3 fatty acids from flaxseed oil, iron from spinach and antioxidants from berries.
She recommends thinking of weight loss as 60 percent nutrition, 20 percent exercise, and 20 percent sleep. The last one is what often undermines even the best-laid diet and exercise plans by new moms.
Jorgensen, a yoga instructor and vegetarian, says she's still working on getting her daughter to sleep through the night. "I'm just not getting a full solid seven to eight hours of sleep -- I sleep four hours and then wake up and sleep another three to four hours."
Experts say it may be unrealistic for new moms to expect to lose all the weight before their little ones actually do sleep through the night. Lack of sleep can raise cortisol, a stress hormone, which in turn can prevent your body from losing those extra pounds.
Jorgensen, who is contemplating a second child, says things will be different the second time around. "I'll be more conservative with my diet when I'm pregnant again so I don't have to go through this again."
Anupy Singla is a local free-lance writer.