The days, weeks and months after you have a baby are a roller coaster. You’re sleep-deprived, and your emotions are ranging from overjoyed to terrified and everything in between. All the while you’re trying to care for a helpless human and trying to make peace with your totally new post baby body; a body that you’re made to believe isn’t as “good” as your pre-baby body. After all, everywhere you look, you’re encouraged to “get your pre-baby body back”, which means immediately losing weight after pregnancy.
The thing is, unless you’re a time traveler, you aren’t going backwards to your pre-baby anything. Along with your post pregnancy body, you have a new set of (temporary) physical limitations, new hormonal profile, and a new set of priorities. Getting back to your pre-baby workouts—or a new routine altogether—could take some time. And that’s OK. As a new mom it’s important to take time after having your baby to focus on loving, bonding, and healing.
Because your body after baby is different, hormonally and physically, what you used to do to drop body fat pre-baby probably won’t work as well, even if you can find the time to fit it in.
Still, it’s not uncommon to wonder…
Once you deliver your baby, you’ll likely lose eight to 12 pounds from birthing your baby, the placenta, and any fluid loss that occurred during delivery. Some women may lose more, some less, but most will lose about that much weight immediately. However, your tummy will not automatically deflate just because there’s no longer a baby in there. Your tummy might decrease in size a bit, but your uterus takes several weeks to shrink back down, so don’t be alarmed if you still look pregnant for several weeks post-delivery.
Weight loss after pregnancy is a very unique and personal journey. Some women seem to lose the weight right away, for others the process can take a significant amount of time. Putting a deadline on the time you have to lose the baby weight is a false construct that will not make the process any easier or faster. Patience, good health habits, and self-love go long way.
According to GGS Advisory Board Member and mother of two, Dr. Brooke Kalanick:
“The truth is that what worked for you before may just not work now. What happens for many women, particularly breastfeeding moms, is that no one has told them how their metabolism has changed from these significant hormonal shifts and why their old way may not be the best way.
Pregnancy is a time of high estrogen and high progesterone, after delivery both of those hormones will plummet as your body adjusts to the new norm. With breastfeeding, a hormone called prolactin is high which keeps estrogen lower–making fat loss a tough game to win.”
That’s not said to discourage you, of course. We aren’t talking about never being lean again or never dropping the baby weight, or about accepting a weight or shape that you’re not happy about.
You can get back into absolutely incredible shape after having children. Just keep in mind that you don’t have to put so much pressure on yourself to quickly lose weight after pregnancy, and you might have to go about achieving your goals in a smarter way so you can save your sanity in the process.
When it comes to weight loss after baby, there are a few important things to keep in mind:
If you’re wondering “how to lose baby weight,” it is essentially the same as losing any other weight (i.e. a calorie deficit), it’s important to remember that things are different than they were pre-baby, and that means your approach to losing weight post-baby should be different.
The weeks and months after delivery aren’t the time to cut calories (especially if you’re breastfeeding) and hit the gym hard. The most important things you can do during that time are bond with your baby, relax, and heal your body. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be exercising post-baby. You can (and should!) if you want to speed the healing process, and get back to feeling strong, stable and healthy. However, your workouts immediately post baby need to be focused on rehabbing and retraining your core and pelvic floor.
In terms of cutting calories post-delivery, it’s important to remember that you need adequate calories to recover and heal from pregnancy, and if you’re choosing to breastfeed, you’ll need an extra 500 calories a day to account for the calories you burn producing breast milk, so you can maintain an adequate supply for your baby. In fact, this is why breastfeeding as the exclusive means of feeding your baby predicts the loss of weight gained during pregnancy in a dose-response way, meaning the more frequently and longer women breastfeed, the more weight they are likely to lose. This is no surprise, given the energy demands that breastfeeding requires! Your best bet is to listen to your body and eat when you’re hungry, even if you find yourself eating more often than you used to. You should also try to stop when you feel about 80 percent full, so you’re comfortable, but not stuffed. Do your best to tune into what your body is telling you via your hunger and fullness cues, and you should be eating the right amount of food for your body.
Before you you buy into any program or product that promises to show you how to lose baby weight fast, realize that there is no one perfect diet, exercise program or other lifestyle strategy that works for everyone. Post-partum weight loss is achievable, but no consensus exists on the optimal way or timeframe in which to achieve this. What is known is that not losing weight gained during pregnancy is a future risk factor for obesity and adverse maternal and fetal outcomes in subsequent pregnancies. In fact, about two-thirds of women studied in a recent meta-analysis retain the weight gained during pregnancy. Of course, if you were underweight before pregnancy, the little extra baby weight can be a good thing! Talk to your doctor before starting any post-pregnancy weight loss program, and consider seeing a nutritionist to make sure you are eating enough to support breastfeeding, should you choose to do so.
Studies of women losing weight after baby are very similar to anyone trying to lose weight, in that exercise alone isn’t enough. However, health professionals agree that you should not reduce your calorie intake immediately after delivery, especially if you are breastfeeding. We recommend that you wait a few weeks until you feel more like yourself again, and perhaps most importantly, are sleeping more regularly.
A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology on 940 women found that women who slept less than five hours per night at six months post-partum were at a greater risk of weight retention at one year. A recent meta-analysis found four separate studies that backed this association. While a new mom may feel that six hours of sleep is easier said than done, sleep should get easier around three to six months, when most babies start sleeping for six to eight hour stretches. Bottom line, weight loss after baby will be much harder when you’re not sleeping enough.
In order to lose body fat post-pregnancy (or anytime, really) you must be in a calorie deficit. A calorie deficit can be achieved through increased exercise or physical activity, or a decrease in calorie intake. The main issue with being in a calorie deficit immediately post-pregnancy is that your body needs those calories to recover and heal, not to mention produce breast milk for your baby (if you choose to go that route).
So we don’t recommend restricting calories immediately post-delivery. Instead, we recommend listening to your body, eating when you’re hungry, stopping when you feel about 80 percent full (that is, full but not stuffed), and eating well balanced-meals and snacks with plenty of protein, vegetables, fruits, fats, and starchy carbohydrates.
WebMD also recommends a list of 12 foods for new moms to focus on to help their bodies recover and provide essential nutrients for babies if breastfeeding. If you’re interested in a specific fat-loss diet post-pregnancy, we recommend you get clearance from your doctor and work with a registered dietitian to develop a “post-baby weight loss plan” that’s specific for your needs.