You’ve spent the last 40 weeks or so eating healthy meals and not worrying much about the scale because you figured after the baby’s arrival you’d be back to the old you. Chances are you lost about 10 pounds with delivery and a few more pounds in the days that followed.
You may have resolved to start a post baby diet and make no excuses. You want to do whatever it takes to get back to your pre-baby body—or better. However, your body likely has different plans (and needs) during this time, and may take a few months or more to lose some of the extra fat you gained during your pregnancy.
Weight loss after pregnancy can be especially difficult, due to a number of challenging circumstances. Sleeping four hours straight is a small miracle. You’re stressed out checking that the baby is breathing every two minutes. Your hormones are not back to ‘normal’ yet. You’re essentially in a rehab phase.
All these things: lack of sleep, stress, hormones and structural changes in your body make it nearly impossible to get your body back to where it was before your pregnancy. It will be different for most women.
We encourage you to not buy into the obsession with getting your “pre-baby body” back.
Isn’t there a special diet after pregnancy, or a supplement that will get things rolling in that direction? No. There is no turning back the clock, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a strong, fit body in which you feel super comfortable.
As Girls Gone Strong Advisory Board member and pre/post natal training expert Jessie Mundell says:
“I really don’t like the term ‘pre-baby body.’ It usually carries a negative connotation, conveying that there’s something inherently wrong with a body that has given birth. So I’m proposing that we reclaim this idea in the most realistic, body-positive way possible.”
And Dr. Brooke Kalanick, the female hormone expert on our Advisory Board adds:
“Of course, there’s an expected transition time of healing, snuggling your newborn and being in awe of what your body just did (talk about a workout!), but then there’s the pressure of getting back to your pre-baby body.”
Unless you’re a time traveler, you aren’t going backwards to your pre-baby anything. You’ve got a new set of physical limitations, new hormonal profile, and a new set of priorities.
The problem with thinking you’re going back to your pre-baby body is that it leads us to forget things are different. Your pre-baby body was a different body, hormonally and physically. What you used to do to drop 10 pounds likely won’t work as well—even if you can find the time to do it!
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. We’re talking about the importance of going about getting those things in a smarter way so that you can not only be successful, but also be sane.”
While there is no special diet after pregnancy, there are eating habits that you can implement that may help you feel stronger, healthier, and more energetic in your body almost immediately—and the good news is, they are sustainable. No quick fixes or fads here.
As we start discussing healthy eating habits and getting back to being strong, healthy, and fit, the most important thing we want you to practice right now is self-compassion. You just made a human being. Give your body some time and kindness.
Focusing on healthy eating habits over the long term, instead of following an “after pregnancy diet” or meal plan, will not only help you lose weight in a way that supports your body as it heals and nourishes your baby, it will also help keep you sane.
The five healthy eating habits that make will the biggest difference in your progress are:
Depending on whether on not you’re breastfeeding you may need more or less food, but we don’t believe calorie counting is the way. Why?
Calorie counting isn’t nearly as accurate as you’d think, throw in breastfeeding a baby with growth spurts and you’re likely not in the ballpark at all1. Rather than counting calories, we recommend that you tune in to your body, pay attention to your hunger cues and eat slowly. If you pay attention to your body and feed it high-quality food, it generally does a good job making sure it gets the right amount of food and you won’t need to worry about following a special post pregnancy diet plan.
Before you start eating, ask yourself, “Am I actually hungry?” The answer might be “no,” and you’re just grabbing something to eat out of habit or to fulfill some other need like sleep or stress relief.
Once you start eating, practice eating slowly—if you can (extra time is often a luxury when there’s a new baby!). If you can’t stretch out the time it takes you to eat your meal, try to take short breaks (two to five minutes) every so often when you eat, say after you’ve eaten a quarter, half and ¾ of the meal. Whatever you can do to prolong the eating process. It takes about 20 minutes for your GI tract to convey to your brain that you have eaten enough and you are full. There’s a delay and if you eat quickly you’ll likely overeat.
Aim to feel satisfied, not stuffed. Every so often while you eat, check in with yourself. Ask, “Am I nearly full?”
If you have a few kids, then you’re probably getting up twenty times during your meal to get things, clean up spills, or breaking up fights. It could take you 20 minutes to eat, but with so many distractions it may be difficult to notice when you’re full.
There isn’t such a thing as a “best post pregnancy diet. However, ideally, after delivering your baby it’s important that you eat high-quality, minimally proceeds food. After all, if you’re breastfeeding, your baby eats what you eat, and you want your breast milk to be as nutritious as possible. In addition, your body has a lot of healing to do post-delivery and high-quality nutrition can ensure that your body heals as quickly as possible.
That doesn’t mean you can’t eat other things, but make sure that the majority of your food choices come from protein-dense foods and vegetables. You should aim for at least two portions of vegetables and one portion of protein at each meal. Foods like spinach, peppers, fish, and chicken breast are nutrient dense and lower in calories.
To ensure that you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs during this time, we recommend about ten portions of vegetables every day—focusing primarily on the colorful, fibrous, non-starchy varieties (e.g. leafy greens, peppers, zucchini, cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage.), and secondarily on starchier produce such as potatoes and sweet potatoes. A portion of vegetables is about the size of your fist.
Ten portions sounds like a lot, and starting with that as a goal may feel overwhelming. Start with whatever you can manage and try to add one more portion every two weeks. If you’re not sure what to eat, here’s a great infographic to help guide you.
If you’re breastfeeding, your body is using a lot of protein to produce your breast milk. Make sure you’re including protein-dense foods in your meals. Even if you’re not breastfeeding your body is healing and repairing during this time, and this process requires protein. Some examples of protein-dense foods include:
Aim to have one portion of protein-dense food at each meal. A portion of protein is equivalent to about the size and thickness of your palm (which is typically 20 to 30 grams of protein).
Though you may be worried that eating a more protein may pose some health risks, particularly related to your kidneys, rest assured. There is no evidence that healthy people eating higher amounts of protein are at higher risk of kidney damage or disease.2,3,4,5
Strive to have one portion of fat at each meal, as well. Seeds, nuts, avocado, oils, and butter are considered fats. A portion of fat is equivalent to about the size of your thumb.
Depending on your size you may need to adjust these recommended portions. For example, if you find that you’re full with just half a portion, then reduce the portion size and monitor how you feel. Your hunger and fullness are more important than recommended portions sizes, but start by eating your vegetables, then your protein, then starchy carbs. Here’s a handy guide.
If you’re breastfeeding you should make an extra effort to get a few key nutrients in your meals.
Breast milk is high in is fat, particularly a specific type of fat called DHA, which is important for brain development and function. During this time, you’re giving your baby all your DHA. Couple that with sleep deprivation and stress, and it’s just a matter of time before you forget where you left the baby! OK, but seriously… if you’re breastfeeding it is recommended that you get enough DHA for both you and your baby. Supplement with fish oil high in DHA, choose DHA-fortified eggs, and/or eat oily fish such as salmon, sardines, and anchovies.
Along with healthy fat, breast milk is high in protein and, as mentioned earlier, you should make you’re eating enough protein. If you want to improve your breastfeeding diet, start by eating at least one portion of protein per meal, opting for lean meats. Supplement with natural, unsweetened protein powder if you need to. Include dairy if you and your baby can tolerate it. It’s possible that your baby could have a negative reaction to the cow’s milk you’re drinking or eating. Things like fussiness after feeding, inconsolable crying and/or skin reactions (rashes, hives, eczema, dry skin). Eliminate dairy if you suspect your baby is having issues with your milk and talk to your pediatrician.
Breast milk is also high in calcium, and the foods you eat can enhance that. Some examples of foods high in calcium are dark, leafy veggies, bok choy, tofu, legumes, nuts, seeds, fortified milk and fortified cereal grains.
When you’re breastfeeding, consider supplementing with vitamin D (at least 600 IU6) or getting some sun exposure for 20 to 30 minutes, 2-3 days per week if you can.
If you have a newborn you’re going to be sleep deprived. As a new mom, sleep deprivation is inevitable.
On its own, sleep deprivation is linked to weight gain and poor food choices. While optimal sleep related to weight loss is six to eight hours (straight)7 and better food choices.
You likely want more sleep and you remember what sleeping was like. but you can’t get more sleep because well you have a newborn baby who sleeps just two hours at a time and thinks that 2:47 am is a good time to start the day.
And you can’t really sleep because your house is a mess, you haven’t bathed since Tuesday, you’re behind on laundry and you have to send thank-you cards to everybody who sent you something for baby. And really, what’s the use of sleeping for less than two hours—if you can even get to sleep?
What can you do? How do you handle sleep deprivation after baby?
Decide what is important to you. If losing weight is the priority then sleep has to be a priority. No judgment. If it’s important to you then you have to give up doing other things when baby’s sleeping. When baby’s sleeping go to bed. You likely won’t sleep but go to bed.
Get other people to do everything that doesn’t require you to do them. If people offer help, accept with boundaries. Yes, you need help with the house.
In some cases having someone feed baby at a key time will give you an extra couple hours of straight sleep. For example, if you breastfeed baby at 7pm then go to bed, someone else can put baby to bed and feed baby next time (say between 9pm-11pm) with a bottle (you would need to pump earlier). The next time baby gets up (say midnight to 2am) you’ve gotten between 4 ½ to 6 ½ hours of sleep without interruption rather than 2-3 hours straight.
You’re now responsible for a brand new human being. They let you leave the hospital with this wee creature. What were they thinking? There are a lot of new worries and demands for your attention with a new baby that translates into a lot of stress after pregnancy. While there’s no way to stop stress you can do things to manage stress.
Up at for a 2 a.m. feeding that takes way longer than you could’ve imagined? Good news is since everyone’s asleep it’s a good time for Stress Management 101 – Breathing. While you’re feeding baby, you can focus on breathing, being mindful of the moment and releasing tension in your body.
Breathe. Inhale through your nose, focus on the air filling your lungs, hold the breath, and slowly breath out through your mouth. Pick a count, two seconds in, one second hold, two seconds out or four seconds in, four second hold and eight seconds out. Whatever the count is doesn’t matter as long as you keep it that same as you breath. Breathing rhythmically has been shown to decrease stress.
Be mindful of the moment. This may sound a little out there, but focusing on the moment rather than what went wrong this morning or what you need to do tomorrow increases feelings of well being.
Release the tension in your body. Notice tensions, aches and pains in your body and focus on releasing the tension or letting the pain go.
Another thing you can do that has been found to improve stress after pregnancy is to go outside. Nature reduces stress. Actually, even looking at pictures of nature reduce stress8. It doesn’t have to be long (10 minutes) and it doesn’t have to be a lush forest—even a few planters in your backyard helps. Chances are it will help baby relax too.
Recruit people to help you if you can. You’re not a bad mom if you ask for help.
TGGS Advisory Board Member and mother of two, Dr. Brooke Kalanick had this to say about your hormones after pregnancy:
“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.”
This should give you a sense of what is a reasonable expectation when it comes to post pregnancy hormones. It not impossible, but you need to adjust your weight loss timeline and be smarter about how you get to your end goal.
3. Manninen AH. High-protein diets are not hazardous for the healthy kidneys. Nephrol Dial Transplant. 2005 Mar;20(3):657-8.
4. Knight EL, Stampfer MJ, Hankinson SE, Spiegelman D, Curhan GC. The impact of protein intake on renal function decline in women with normal renal function or mild renal insufficiency. Ann Intern Med. 2003 Mar 18;138(6):460-7.
5. Bernstein AM, Treyzon L, Li Z. Are high-protein, vegetable-based diets safe for kidney function? A review of the literature. J Am Diet Assoc. 2007 Apr;107(4):644-50. Review.
7. Elder CR, Gullion CM, Funk KL, Debar LL, Lindberg NM, Stevens VJ. Impact of sleep, screen time, depression and stress on weight change in the intensive weight loss phase of the LIFE study. Int J Obes (Lond). 2011 Mar 29.
8. Berman MG, Hout MC, Kardan O, Hunter MR, Yourganov G, Henderson JM, Hanayik T,
Karimi H, Jonides J. The perception of naturalness correlates with low-level
visual features of environmental scenes. PLoS One. 2014 Dec 22;9(12):e114572