'I was so worried about losing the baby weight that I almost lost my baby'

May 26, 2016 at 8:00 a.m. ET
Image: Big Cheese Photo/Getty Images

Losing the weight after having a baby is important to most women, no doubt about it. But is it the most important thing? Yes, according to a new UK survey.

Over half of new moms reported that getting their body back was their number one concern. That was followed by concerns about their relationship changing, their career and then their social life. As a mom who has given birth to (and hence had to recover from) five beautiful babies, new moms have all my sympathy, particularly when it comes to their bodies. People can be so incredibly judgmental and even the most well-meaning can say hurtful things. In fact, it was one of those comments that started Amy* down a dark path of body obsession and of self-hate, hurting both herself and her new baby in the process.

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"It was just a few days after my baby had been born and I'd posted a bunch of pictures on Instagram," the 28-year-old mom of two says. "And I saw a comment from a stranger, something about how I'd let myself go for nine months and now 'the real work begins' or something. It was just something about how I still looked fat basically."

Even though Amy knew rationally that it had just been a few days since the birth and that she'd gained a healthy amount of weight according to her doctor, the stranger's comment stuck in her brain. Part of it was the public nature of social media — Amy has a popular fitness Instagram account and even did some fitness modeling on the side when she wasn't pregnant. Suddenly, she says, she realized that her followers were expecting her to "bounce back" the way many other Insta-famous moms, like Aussie fitness guru Chontel Duncan and fitness model Sarah Stage, did.

"I didn't actually think 'OK this is what I have to do, I have to be like them' but I felt the pressure for sure," she says. So, the new mom, not even a week post-partum, went back to the "ultra-clean diet" she used to eat when she cut down for bodybuilding competitions.

And it worked. As the weeks went on, the weight dropped off and her six-pack reappeared — and as the pounds went down, the compliments (and her confidence) soared. Her success and the public adulation made her feel happy and, she says, "It felt like I really accomplished something. I mean, any woman can have a baby but most women can't get back into a size 0 a month afterward."

"It made me feel superior, honestly," she adds. "I started to believe my own hype, and to tell other women that they should be doing this too. I could breastfeed and take care of an infant and a toddler and still make healthy meals and get all my workouts in; so, they could do it too."

Her bubble was burst, however, at her baby's 6-month-old checkup. The infant hadn't gained an ounce in three months and the doctors were becoming extremely concerned, eventually diagnosing the baby with "failure to thrive."

Amy was heartbroken and deeply worried about her child but it didn't really sink in that she might be part of the problem until the doctor started asking her about her diet. "I was still breastfeeding exclusively and was very proud of that," she says. "But when I started telling them what I ate, my doctor just cut me off and was like, 'That's not enough. That's not enough fat or carbs or whatever for your baby'."

At first, Amy says she was resistant to the idea that it was her diet causing her baby's developmental delay and refused to change her diet. But, her doctor insisted on weekly weigh-ins; and when the next two weeks didn't go any better, he lectured her about increasing her calories and fat intake specifically — something Amy says she was absolutely terrified to do.

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"I'd worked so hard to get my body back and now he wanted to take it away again?" she says. "But as soon as I said that, I realized I had a problem because ultimately this wasn't about me, it was about my baby." As her doctor talked about admitting her baby to the hospital, she realized how grave the situation had become.

Yet, she was still unwilling to change her diet. "I started my baby on formula that day," Amy says. "I'm not proud of it but my brain couldn't handle the possibility of gaining weight again and I had to see if it really was the diet that was hurting my baby."

It was. Within one month of eating formula her baby was back on the growth charts and within two months had caught up entirely.

"It was a great day but also a devastating one," Amy says of that last doctor's visit. "My baby was healthy, which was an amazing gift, but at that moment I couldn't deny that I was the one who had done the damage in the first place."

Today, Amy's baby is a healthy, happy toddler and fully thriving in every way. And Amy is still super-fit, getting compliments about her toned abs and strong legs nearly every day. But, she says, she no longer feels superior about it. "I can't even look at the pictures of the first few months of my baby's life without pain," she says. "And I would definitely never tell another mom to do what I did. In fact, I'd tell her the opposite: 'Relax, take care of yourself and your baby first. You have the rest of your life to be skinny but you only have this short time to be a mom.'"

*Name has been changed