Pregnancy has typically taken the blame for weight gain.
After all, we put on 9-22 kgs (20-50 lbs) or more per pregnancy. It must add up, right?
Well, new research conducted by associate professor Olga Yakusheva at the University of Michigan School of Nursing, found it’s actually age and lifestyle which are to blame for our weight gain.
Age And Lifestyle Are To Blame For Weight Gain During Pregnancy
Wait, all those late-night cravings during pregnancy aren’t the culprit?
While indulging in cravings can impact our weight gain during and immediately following pregnancy, Yakusheva’s research found it isn’t to blame for our long-term weight gain.
The research found our lifestyle and aging are the reasons for our long-term weight gain during childbearing years.
How Can You Find The Cause Of Long-Term Weight Gain?
It seems to just make sense that pregnancy, especially multiple pregnancies, would contribute to long-term weight gain.
However, when researchers compared women with one to four children and women without children, they found that it wasn’t pregnancy that played a role in weight gain.
Yakusheva and her team of researchers looked at information from approximately 30,000 women.
The women they looked at had given birth one to four times. Few women returned to their pre-pregnancy weight, which is why we have a long-held belief pregnancy is a cause of long-term weight gain and obesity.
However, when they looked at their weight 1-2 years after giving birth and compared it to women who had never given birth, the weight was almost identical to what would be expected even if they never had children.
There was an average annual gain of 1.94 pounds in both groups. This shows that age can play a role in long-term weight gain.
Once their babies entered toddlerhood, mothers averaged an annual gain of a full pound more than their peers without children. This suggests lifestyle, not pregnancy, plays a role in long-term weight gain.
Why Do Mothers Gain More Weight If Pregnancy Isn’t The Cause?
In short, lifestyle. Mothers are busy! We tend to run on little sleep and lots of coffee. We don’t always get in a full breakfast, but we finish up our toddler’s leftovers. And when we do get a full breakfast, well, we still finish their leftovers.
We run from library story time with the baby to preschool pick up for the toddler and grab a burger in between.
We plan to exercise every morning, but we’re exhausted. Choosing between sleep and exercise is a hard decision!
We get back to eating well and exercising, only to have a stomach bug run rampant through the house and get us off track, again.
Motherhood is hard and we tend to put our own health on the back burner. We make sure our children eat healthy and play outside.
But we forget to at least grab a green smoothie when there’s no time for breakfast and we don’t make time for exercise a priority.
Yakusheva explains, “Mothers tend to put the needs of their children first, so they might not be exercising or taking care of themselves. It might also be little things like finishing the food on their child's plate or spending more time sitting with their kids reading or watching a movie.”
What Can Mothers Do To Stay Fit?
Many of us start the initial postnatal period motivated to lose weight and get back to our pre-pregnancy size. We see seasons changing and we try to lose our post baby belly.
Yakusheva believes this study is important in breaking the myth that pregnancy is to blame for long-term weight gain. Holding onto this myth might interfere with women seeking ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
“Many women really crank up their diet and exercise for a short time to get back to their pre-pregnancy weight, and often get discouraged by the results. But it's much better to take a holistic approach focused on a long-term healthy lifestyle before, during and after pregnancy,” she said
We shouldn’t focus on dieting during the postnatal period just to reach a number on the scale. But we also shouldn’t blame pregnancy and assume we’ll be working towards fitness and health in vain.
It’s also important to note that if you’re within a few pounds of your pre-pregnancy weight in the year or two following birth, you’re on the same weight gain pattern as women who have not given birth.
Mothers should remember that their health matters. Make eating healthy a priority. Find time to be active. You don’t always need to carve out time for a serious workout. Even taking time for a stroll around the block while your toddler rides his push car or a bike ride to the park can help us maintain a healthy weight as our babies become toddlers.