So, I have a confession to make: by the time I gave birth on May 20, I weighed 183 pounds.

Huge! Just days before delivery at my hubby's graduation from seminary.

Huge! Just days before delivery at my hubby’s graduation from seminary.

I am 5’4″; I weighed 138 pounds pre-pregnancy. That’s a total pregnancy gain of 45 pounds!

By the time I left the hospital just two days after giving birth, I weighed 17 pounds less, thankfully! Baby, placenta, blood, uterine shrinkage, and a lot of water weight played a role in that weight loss, I’m sure. But at 166 pounds, I still had a long road to haul when I came home.

I waited until my 6-week postpartum checkup this past week before really thinking too much about the weight issue. I was glad to see I’m now down 9 more pounds (157 lbs) seemingly without trying. I’ve been very focused on my baby and making sure he grows and gains, so it’s been easy to ignore my own chub, for the most part, while passively donating my fat store’s calories to my breast milk.

But pictures like the ones below from Zeke’s dedication ceremony at church definitely remind me that, while my body did great work making a beautiful baby, it’s also become a whole new shape, complete with wobbly arms and thighs, Buddha belly, and muffin top!

At Zeke's church dedication. The baby chub is only cute on the baby.

At Zeke’s church dedication. The baby chub is only cute on the baby.

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Pregnancy really changes the body: it tilts the pelvis (creating a swayback that throws the belly forward and allows the buttocks to get flat and flabby), causes shoulders to curve inward as the body curls and slightly collapses in around that huge belly, opens and temporarily widens the lower ribcage, loosens all ligaments in the body and pelvis, leaves flabby, loose skin on the belly, adds stretch marks in some places, creates huge stores of water in the body’s cells, builds up 50% more blood in circulation, and separates the rectus abdominus muscles on the sides of the abdomen to make room for a watermelon-sized uterus. Let’s not even discuss how the thoracic organs get shoved around to make room as a part of that process.

After you give birth, it takes around 6 weeks for the uterus to go through involution and shrink back to pear-size, for your organs to slide back into some places near their old locales, and for the ligaments to firm back up as pregnancy hormones recede and excess water leaves the cells of the body. At the same time, new hormones flood your bloodstream and bond you to your baby while also turning on the milk production process in your breasts, which become very engorged, enlarged, and soft. During all of this transition, your body still has to deal with the fat stores you gained during pregnancy on your hips, thighs, tummy and breasts, putting some of it to use (300-500 calories a day!) by enriching breast milk and retaining the rest as a source of backup-reserve. Overall, your body becomes a soft, squishy landscape that resembles less of an hourglass and more of a pudgy cylinder with boobs!

Beyond breastfeeding’s gift of calorie use, dropping that extra retained baby weight is a tricky game with a baby to care for. Drop weight too quickly and your body freaks out and stops making breast milk–as a way to keep from expending calories that your body seems to need, while simultaneously starving your poor baby!

My doctor is convinced that the only healthy way to go about it is nice and slowly, using exercise to re-tone the body and to burn just a few calories at a time, while remembering that the body uses 300-500 or so calories daily just to make breast milk for the baby. Crash diets don’t fit in this scenario, although good nutrition certainly does–for mom and baby both.

To that end, I’ve started some clean eating goals and recently started jogging again for the first time in over 7 months. The first jog last week was pretty pathetic–about nine-tenths of a mile before I felt winded (yeah, my lungs are still relearning how to expand to full capacity again) and my faster-twitch muscle fibers really burned. I came back inside and did a set of abdominal exercises designed to help close separated ab muscles (as I recently felt the two sides of the rectus abdominus close two Tuesdays ago; it took that long!) and called it a night. I’m still following this pattern on days that aren’t pouring rain and when Boaz can watch the baby.

It’s slow going so far. I recognize that my body’s done an incredible thing and that it had to radically transform to do it. I have to be patient.

I also know that while it’s possible to get back to my pre-baby weight, it may not be realistically possible to get back to my old shape. As Mammy famously pointed out rather plainly to Scarlett in Gone With the Wind, my figure will never be the same after the structural remodeling that happened during pregnancy that shifted muscles, organs, ligaments, and even ribcage and pelvic bones:

But even if it can’t be as small as it was, my body can be strong and toned in its own way again. To that end, I’ll share my goals here as a way to stay accountable while I try to tighten up my soft mommy-body, which at the moment resembles a kangaroo:

  • Shrink back my post-baby 32″-waist measurement to 28.5″ (a full inch larger than my pre-pregnancy best)
  • Trim my 41″-hip measurement back to 39″ (a half-inch larger than pre-pregnancy)
  • Tone up the 24″-circumference of my upper thighs to 22.5″, roughly where it was when I took weight conditioning classes

Right now, this is visually where I am — stretch marks, linea nigra, and all:

Six weeks postpartum after my first run in seven months. Long way to go!

Six weeks postpartum after my first run in seven months. 157 lbs. I have a long way to go!

I’ll be trying lots of methods to see what works, and I promise to share those, too! Hope you’ll stay with me on the journey… and wish me luck as I try to get back to fighting form!

-Ruth

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