Exercise & Weight Loss After Baby Post Pregnancy

Post Pregnancy Advice

Your baby has arrived! As a new mom it’s important to take time after welcoming your baby into the world to focus on loving, bonding, and healing. Getting back to your pre-baby workouts—or a new routine altogether—could take some time. And that’s OK. Many women find that they can bounce back very quickly, while others report that their bodies never feel or look the same, so the average weight loss after pregnancy will vary dramatically!

Women get lots of pampering and attention while pregnant, but don’t give themselves nearly the same care after going through the—let’s face it—sometimes traumatic process of childbirth! In addition to your own recovery, you have a new life depending on you. Keeping your energy up, caring for your baby, and managing postpartum physical and psychological complications should be your top priorities now for the first few months. Losing pregnancy weight may be a quick, or very slow process, but it must be done in a healthy and safe way. In fact, it’s always a good idea to take weight loss slow and steady, regardless of whether you are postpartum or not.

Why We Encourage a Reasonable Plan for Losing Weight After Pregnancy

After having a baby, it’s very common for women to feel eager to “lose the baby weight.”  In fact, one of the most common questions we receive from our audience is: “What’s the best way to lose weight fast after pregnancy?” Since many women never lose the weight gained during pregnancy, and continue to gain weight thereafter, it is a reasonable question.

While we totally understand these desire to lose weight after pregnancy, as a new mom it’s important to take time after welcoming your baby into the world to focus on loving, bonding, and healing.  Losing the weight healthfully and returning to pre-baby exercise safely could take some timeAlso bear in mind that some of the weight you gained was necessary and normal to support your baby’s growth, so there is no sense in being hard on yourself. Sure, you may have gone a little overboard on the “eating for two” myth, but you’re human, and deserve a break from what has likely been many years of regular exercise and trying to eat properly!

Don’t put so much stress on yourself to “get your body back.”  Your body just did something miraculous, and not giving yourself time to heal properly, may lead to some major setbacks in the future.


Is There A “Best Post-Pregnancy Diet?”

With a new baby, it may be challenging to prepare healthy food, and you may find yourself tempted to eat whatever is most convenient. Your number one concern in your post-pregnancy diet should simply be eating enough high-quality, nutrient-dense calories to support breastfeeding your baby, if that’s what you choose to do, and to keep your energy levels up since you’ll be running low on sleep. The last thing you want to do at this time is crash diet or engage in intense food restriction, especially if breast feeding.

Even if you don’t breastfeed, eating high-quality, nutrient-dense, whole food is still your best bet for staying healthy while dealing with the stress of having an infant and allowing your body to heal. This means your post-pregnancy diet will include eating plenty of lean protein, vegetables, fruits, healthful fats, and unprocessed or minimally processed starches.

Keep in mind that you will be on a post-baby hormone roller coaster after you deliver, and this will dictate everything from hunger levels to energy levels to mood to sleep to your ability to deal with stress and lose body fat.

This hormone roller coaster coupled with the fact that you shouldn’t be exercising very strenuously immediately post-pregnancy means that your main goal immediately post delivery should be to relax, spend time with your new baby, and heal your body so that when it is time to return to strenuous workouts, you have a solid foundation and you’re ready to rock.

Most women lose roughly 10 pounds with delivery, depending on the weight of the baby, and then a few more pounds in the days that follow as excess stored fluids are lost. However, your body likely stores some extra fat during pregnancy, which is normal and important. This will not go away on its own within a few days, and it may take you several months (or more!) post-delivery to return to your pre-pregnancy weight. Many women report that their fat distribution changed after pregnancy as well.


Losing Weight While Breastfeeding

Some evidence has shown that breastfeeding plays a role fat distribution after pregnancy, and longer, more frequent lactation periods have shown to help women lose some of the excess pregnancy fat stores. However, this must be interpreted carefully, since breastfeeding is also associated with other factors such as higher education and socioeconomic status, both of which predict a healthier weight. Potential weight loss aside, breastfeeding has numerous other benefits for mother and child, and should not be viewed as a method of losing pregnancy weight.

How Soon Can You Exercise After Pregnancy?

Exercise after pregnancy has been shown to reduce depression, increase self-esteem and minimize the risk of chronic disease. Regardless of whether a woman is breastfeeding or not, it is important for women to gradually lose the weight gained during pregnancy, unless they were underweight before pregnancy.

A common question for active women after having a baby is, “How soon can I start exercising?” More often than not, this is motivated by a desire to lose the baby weight quickly. Women should be aware that in most studies, exercise in the postpartum period does not result in weight loss unless combined with a calorie-restricted diet. Therefore, exercise after pregnancy should be focused on the myriad health benefits of exercise on physical function, chronic disease prevention and overall quality of life, and less on weight loss.

Getting back to your pre-baby workouts—or a new routine altogether—could take some time, and that’s OK.  The standard recommendation for returning to exercise after a C-section is six weeks, so that you can rest and recover properly.  However, if you had an uncomplicated vaginal delivery and were exercising during pregnancy, it may be safe to resume light exercise as soon as you feel ready. Be sure to talk to your doctor to make sure you are clear for returning to exercise, just as you did when you started exercising during pregnancy.

Whatever activity you return to, begin with less time, lighter weight, and an overall lower intensity, and follow the 10 percent rule. Only increase one component of the FIT principle—Frequency, Intensity, Time—by 10 percent per week. This is true when you are a newbie to fitness, or recovering from an injury, and it is true when recovering from birth. There are some gentle and restorative exercises that can and should be done immediately postpartum to help optimize your body’s healing.  These exercises can help you feel more comfortable in your body, and allow your body to truly heal itself from the inside out, so you can get back to the gym and back into your routine in a strong, safe manner.


The “4R” Post-Pregnancy Protocol

Girls Gone Strong Advisory Board Member and pre and postnatal expert Jessie Mundell recommends that postpartum mamas follow her 4R Post-Pregnancy Protocol:

  • Rest
  • Recover
  • Rehab
  • Retrain

These are all important steps to feeling more comfortable in your body and allowing your body to truly heal itself from the inside out.  These exercises will also help you get back to the gym in a strong, safe manner in due time.

These exercises include specific breathing exercises that help connect your core and your pelvic floor, and then integrating that breathing into important movement patterns like squatting. The reason we recommend integrating them into your program as soon as you feel ready is because you’re probably already doing these movements (i.e breathing and squatting up and down to pick up things off the floor), so we want you to start doing them in a way that will speed recovery instead of slow it down. Additionally, we encourage you to take extra precaution if you’re returning to exercise after C-section.

What Is The Best Exercise After A C-Section?

The 4Rs—rest, recover, rehab, and retrain—are especially critical if you’ve had a c-section.  C-sections, while common, are still major abdominal surgery and should be treated as such.  C-section healing is an individual process, with no specific timeline. You have several layers of sutures, and just because your outer incision may be healed around six weeks post C-section does not mean that you’re ready to return to normal activity.

If you had major knee surgery, would you return to normal activity six weeks later once your incision healed with no physical therapy or guidance for working your back back to normal activity?  We hope not!  Returning to exercise after a C-section is no different. Furthermore, you may still be experiencing residual back pain from pregnancy, and a core weakened from surgery may exacerbate this.

The types of exercise that will be beneficial around six weeks post C-section are, for example, breathing, walking, core restoration, and bodyweight exercises. You will need to take more time before returning to higher intensity, or high-impact activities, such as running, jumping, heavy weight training, or abdominal exercises that put the spine in excessive flexion or extension, such as crunches and leg raises.

While you may feel more eager to get back to exercise after a C-section, recovery from a C-section is the first priority.

Additional Post-Pregnancy Resources:

  1. US National Library of Medicine, The Reset Hypothesis: Lactation and Maternal Metabolism.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3006166/
  2. Research Gate, Postpartum Exercise Regardless of Intensity Improves Chronic Disease Risk Factors.  https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Michelle_Mottola/publication/47812354_Postpartum_Exercise_Regardless_of_Intensity_Improves_Chronic_Disease_Risk_Factors/links/5450d9730cf24e8f73761f2c.pdf
  3. International Journal of Obesity, The effect of physical exercise strategies on weight loss in postpartum women: a systematic review and meta-analysis.  http://www.nature.com/ijo/journal/v38/n5/abs/ijo2013183a.html
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