Let’s start off by defining “bouncing back.” Bouncing back is more than returning to your pre-baby weight, but more importantly, bouncing back to healthy habits as a whole.  How fast you can bounce back depends on individual factors like weight gain during pregnancy, whether you breastfeed or formula feed, your delivery experience, and available mental and physical energy.

I’ll admit that I have had a harder time getting back to my pre-baby health with Henry compared to my other two.  At an older age the lack of sleep has hit harder; taking care of two other little ones can be exhausting; breastfeeding leads to round the clock hunger; and I simply have less time in my day. That being said, I do have MORE patience with myself this time. I recognize that any diet or exercise attempt to return to “me” must be nourishing.

As I strive to strike the balance of nourishing myself while simultaneously attempting to return to my pre-Henry health and body, I have found the following 5 strategies to be vital:

1.  Focus on food, not calories.  I often teach my weight-loss clients to journal their foods. While this is a helpful practice, it does take a lot of energy, and it’s energy I don’t have right now. I would rather focus on eating the foods I inherently know are healthy and avoid eating empty calories. Focusing on diet quality and avoiding the “junk” keeps my higher calorie breastfeeding needs in check. My plate is always filled with ½ fruits and vegetables, 2-4 oz. of a lean protein, a serving of whole-grains, and at least 100 calories of a healthy fat. For example, today’s lunch was a whole-grain wrap filled with baby kale, low-fat Swiss cheese, baked tofu and lemon hummus with an apple and dark chocolate on the side.

2. Eat often and eat a substantive early afternoon snack. Breastfeeding hanger is real, and when you are sleep-deprived, it hits you over the head even harder. To combat a breastfeeding binge, I need to eat at least every 3 hours, and I also eat a large afternoon snack.  A strategic 3 pm snack gives me the nourishment I need when natural circadian rhythms drop, It also equips me with afterschool pickup and dinner prep. Plus, it keeps me from overeating at dinner and later in the evening.

3. Focus on the fullness factor of foods.  Before I make a food choice, I always ask myself which option is most sustaining (aka fullness factor). The ideal marriage is a combo of high-fiber, protein-rich foods. The snack examples below demonstrate my current favorite combos:

1. Whole-wheat raisin toast + cottage cheese + cinnamon

2. Apple + salt & pepper pistachios

3. Whole-wheat wrap + baby kale + lemon hummus

4. Move. My current DESIRED movement regimen includes a 30-60 minute run/walk combo 5-6 days a week; strength training 2 days a week, core work almost daily, and yoga once a week. While many workouts get missed due to time or lack of energy, I have found it particularly important to seek a balance of mental exercise (getting outside), muscle maintenance (strength training) and stretching (yoga).  This varied and more gentle approach keeps me interested, doesn’t compromise breast milk supply, and is do-able even when I am tired.

5. Ban the negative talk.  Why should we say things to ourselves we wouldn’t dare say to anyone else? Negative self-talk is not only fruitless, it but is also damaging to progress and change. I believe that self-awareness enables self-compassion, which in turn, enables self-care. When self-care is the ultimate goal, returning to your pre-baby health AND body can be an enjoyable and do-able process.

Jennifer McDaniel

Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.