Here’s why women still look pregnant after giving birth

Even stunning Kate Middleton didn’t bounce back immediately after giving birth. AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth Many women expect that their bodies will immediately bounce back after giving birth, particularly if they didn’t pack on too many pounds while eating for two.

Yet, even if she makes postpartum diet and exercise a priority, it can take a while for a new mom’s belly to return to normal size, which can lead to feelings of failure and inadequacy.

However, it takes most women six to eight weeks for their stomach to shrink back down to normal size after giving birth, reports Hello Giggles.

That’s because not only does her tummy grow during pregnancy, but her uterus expands as well.

A woman’s uterus has to make room for the growing baby, and so it enlarges over the pubic bone, and pushes out the abdomen during pregnancy, according to the Daily Mail. As a result, women can look up to six months pregnant after giving birth.

Of course, each woman’s body is unique, but in general, the uterus is slow to deflate after pregnancy.

Certain factors — including the woman’s age, the size of the baby, the method of delivery and her weight before getting pregnant — can affect how long it takes her bump to shrink, as well. Breastfeeding can also help the uterus contract.

Postpartum Belly: When Will It Go Away?

The average newborn weighs approximately 7.5 pounds, but you’ll gain much more when expecting. Women with a normal BMI (18.5 to 24.9) can expect to gain anywhere from 25 to 35 pounds, according to Patricia Lo, M.D. an OB-GYN at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, California. She adds that underweight women should see an increase of 28-40 pounds on the scale; overweight women (BMI between 25 and 29.5) should gain 15 to 25 pounds; and obese women (BMI above 30) should aim for 11 to 20 pounds.

  • RELATED: How to Chart Your Pregnancy Weight Gain

Unfortunately for new moms, your postpartum belly won’t bounce back immediately after giving birth (despite the deceiving postpartum belly pictures you see of celebrities in the tabloids). Weight loss timelines differ for every woman based on a number of factors—how much you gained while pregnant, whether or not you’re breastfeeding, your diet and exercise habits, etc.

So when does your postpartum belly go away, and how can you speed up the process? We spoke with experts to give tentative guidelines.

Postpartum Belly Timeline

Check out this predicted postpartum belly weight loss timeline.

Postpartum Belly After Birth

Believe it or not, weight loss starts immediately after giving birth. You’ll lose about 12 pounds as your uterus shrinks back down to the level of the belly button. “You have the baby, and then lose blood, fluids, and amniotic fluid,” says Sarah B. Krieger, MPH, RD, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics who does home visits with pregnant women and moms who have children up to age three.

  • RELATED: I Accept My Postpartum Belly Just As It Is

One Week Postpartum Belly

One week after giving birth, you’re still “peeing out” a lot of fluids, especially if you had an IV/epidural, Krieger says, meaning you’re still losing weight. But don’t get on a scale just yet, Krieger says. “Focus on how your clothes fit instead of what the scale says,” she suggests.

Breastfeeding may also play a role in weight loss during this time: While nursing women are advised to consume an additional 500 calories, they often lose more weight than formula-feeding moms. “Breastfeeding consumes calories,” says Ashley Roman, MD, clinical assistant professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Langone Medical Center.

But Krieger notes that this trend isn’t true for everyone. “Some women may lose weight quicker than others whether or not they are breastfeeding,” she says.

Two Weeks Postpartum Belly

Krieger doesn’t think new moms should weigh themselves during the first two weeks, when you still might be establishing breastfeeding and “your hormones are starting to come down.” In other words, you’re still in that “baby blues” period where seeing an undesired number on the scale might send you straight into tears. Plus, she adds, “the number on the scale is usually not reflective of body fat, so don’t discourage yourself.” Krieger recommends measuring your waist with a measuring tape once a month to track inches instead of pounds.

  • RELATED: 9 Things No One Tells You About Your Postpartum Body

One Month Postpartum Belly

If you’re worried about how to lose a postpartum belly, take note: It’s common for new moms to shed as many as 20 pounds in the month after delivery, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Since most women are advised to gain 25-35 pounds while pregnant, you might be almost back to your pre-baby size by this point!

Six Week Postpartum Belly

The uterus returns to the pelvis around six weeks after birth, and it goes back to its original size (similar to a closed fist). This means your postpartum belly will look flatter and smaller. “It’s a big change as far as the belly goes,” Krieger says.

Nine Months Postpartum Belly

Krieger says there’s some truth to the saying “nine months on, nine months off.” But if you gained more than the recommended 25-35 pounds, it could take a bit longer to look like “you” again. “The bottom line is that each woman loses postpartum weight at her own pace,” Krieger says. But it’s important to know that, in some women, the skin loses its ability to regain its pre-pregnancy elasticity and does not go back to the way it was.

  • RELATED: Lose the Baby Weight for Good: 18 Real Moms Tell You How

How to Get Rid of Your Postpartum Belly

According to ACOG, if you keep up the healthy eating habits you began during pregnancy, you’ll be close to your normal weight within a few months of giving birth. Getting some exercise will help you lose the weight. (Check out some postpartum belly exercises here.)

Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is also key. “As long as Mom is eating enough calories to ensure she consumes the vitamins and minerals necessary to promote healthy skin and weight loss/maintenance, and she includes a little fitness each day, she is not only being the healthiest mom, but she is role-modeling a healthy lifestyle for her children,” Krieger says.

She also warns against fad diets, which will not promote long-term weight loss. Even worse: crash dieting can deny your body of nutrients and delay healing after birth, and deprive your baby of critical calories and nutrients if you’re breastfeeding, ACOG says.

Should I Use a Postpartum Belly Band?

Women who had C-sections may be advised to wear a postpartum belly band or wrap, since they can help your C-section incision heal. But you may have seen women with vaginal deliveries touting the benefits of these products as well.

  • RELATED: How to Prevent Stretch Marks During Pregnancy

Here’s the deal: While postpartum belly wraps (also called belly binders) won’t actually cause weight loss, they may provide some benefits. For example, they help tighten your stomach after pregnancy, improve circulation, reduce swelling through compression, and support the abdomen and lower back. They also give the stomach a flatter appearance under clothing. What’s more, these postpartum belly bands may be especially helpful for those with diastasis recti.

Ask your doctor if you want to use a postpartum belly wrap. If given the go-ahead, you’ll likely wear it for about six-eight weeks, for 10-12 hours per day (depending on manufacturer’s instructions). And remember, you still need a healthy diet and exercise plan to lose the postpartum belly!

  • By Jennifer D’Angelo Friedman and Dr. Michele Hakakha

Focusing on breath is meditative, so helps you to relax without having to take time out specifically to meditate (hard, when you have young kids)

Melissa checked my separation and agreed it was three fingers. She said that while that was a big gap, there was tension in the muscles, which was a good sign. Apparently poor diet is a contributing factor and eating the wrong foods can lead to softer muscles, which won’t come back together easily.

In our first session, she explained the connection between the pelvic floor, upper back, posture and stomach. Put simply, if one of those areas is unaligned or compromised – so are the others. I’d been doing daily Kegels to keep my pelvic floor in action (you can start right after giving birth – it may take a few days to feel anything working, but it will be) so wasn’t leaking but apparently that alone means little. My posture was definitely being affected by breastfeeding and stooping down to pick up babies/toddlers/toys.

We talked about diet and Melissa said I should be drinking loads of water and eating lots of protein and an array of veg every day (at least one portion of greens, but a colourful plate of veg is important). Also, berries and no (or less) sugar, booze and caffeine. That would be harder for me – I have a massively sweet tooth and caffeine is currently my saviour, as a sleep deprived new mum. But I decided to at least be more conscious of what I was – and wasn’t – putting into my body.

Something else I found interesting was Melissa checking my ribs, which expand during pregnancy and take some time to return to normal. Again, this wasn’t something I knew about or had had checked. It now made sense that my bra side had changed around the chest as well as the cup. I told a friend about this and she said that she had also been worrying about her ‘fat back’ wondering why it was all being stored there. It’s not fat – it’s a wider ribcage.

The amazing Swedish massage from Melissa worked to unstick the muscles and relax me. It’s important to avoid stress, where possible, and find ways to relax in order to help your body recover after childbirth. Cortisol – the stress hormone – is an enemy to recovery. (On a side note, if you’re breastfeeding I’d avoid lying on your front during a massage as pressure on your chest can block ducts and cause mastitis. I know, because it recently happened to me).

Lastly, breath is important. When doing our stretches and lunges, Melissa emphasised the out breath – you need to breath out for as long as possible, draining your lungs, before breathing in again. Also, focusing on breath is meditative, so helps you to relax without having to take time out specifically to meditate (hard, when you have young kids).

Our three sessions spanned a two-week period – and I practised the exercises every day between sessions; lunging while the baby slept or stretching when the kids were playing on the rug. A week in, I noticed the gap had closed to two fingers. Another week later, it was down to one. I definitely don’t have a six-pack – the loose skin and extra pudge remain – but that wasn’t my aim; I just didn’t want to continue looking pregnant.

This is a ‘before and after’ of my belly. There were two weeks between the photos being taken:

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If left untreated, diastasis recti can worsen and cause longterm damage to the back, headaches, pelvic floor (leaking) issues and bad posture. So any other mums wondering why you’re still looking pregnant, four months postpartum, head to your doctor and ask to be checked, then request treatment from a physio. It’s worth it. Soon I’ll pop back to the supermarket and ask, again, if I can pay at the pharmacy. Let’s see what the cashier says this time…

Read more about diastasis recti

And check out personal trainer Melissa Gaul’s website

Why do I still look pregnant?

You may be very surprised by the way your tummy looks after birth. Even though your baby is out, you may still have a round, squishy midsection that makes you look like you’re six months pregnant.

Many women also have a dark line down their abdomen (called a linea nigra and a web of stretch marks, which are actually little scars caused by the extensive stretching of skin. Those who had a c-section have surgical scars to contend with as well.

It takes time for your body – especially your belly – to fully recover from pregnancy. Imagine your abdomen as a balloon, slowly inflating as your baby grows. Childbirth doesn’t pop the balloon; it just starts a slow leak. But don’t worry – it’s a steady one.

From the moment your baby is born, hormonal changes cause your uterus to contract, shrinking it back to its pre-pregnancy state. It takes six to eight weeks for your uterus to return to its normal size.

All the cells in your body that swelled during pregnancy begin to release the extra fluid, which is eliminated from your body through urine, vaginal secretions, and sweat.

And the extra fat you put on to nourish the baby starts burning off (especially if you’re nursing and exercising). But it takes at least a few weeks to notice results.

Stretch marks and the linea nigra, however, endure longer. The good news is that stretch marks usually become considerably less noticeable six to 12 months after you have your baby. Their pigmentation fades and they typically become lighter than the surrounding skin (the color will vary depending on your skin color), but their texture will remain the same. The dark color of the linea nigra will gradually fade over a year, but that too may not completely disappear.

How long will it take for my belly to shrink back to normal?

We’ve all heard stories of new moms whose tummies are tight and flat immediately after giving birth. Although this does happen, it’s rare. For most women it takes months to get rid of the “pregnancy pouch” – and sometimes it never goes away entirely.

Patience is key. It took nine months for your abdomen to stretch to accommodate a full-term baby, so it makes sense that it would take at least that long to tighten back up.

The speed and degree of this transition depends largely on your normal body size, how much weight you gained during pregnancy, how active you are, and your genes. Women who gained less than 30 pounds and exercised regularly during pregnancy, who breastfeed, and who have had only one child are more likely to slim down quickly.

If you’re not breastfeeding, you’ll need to watch how much you’re eating in order to lose pregnancy weight. You need fewer calories now that you’re not pregnant. (See our Diet for Healthy Post-Baby Weight Loss and Diet for a Healthy Breastfeeding Mom.)

What can I do to make my belly look better?

Breastfeeding helps, especially in the early months after childbirth. Women who breastfeed burn extra calories to make milk, so they usually lose pregnancy weight more quickly than women who don’t nurse.

Nursing also triggers contractions that help shrink the uterus, making it a workout for the whole body. But many breastfeeding moms say they have trouble losing the last 5 to 10 pounds.

Some experts speculate that the body retains these extra fat stores to aid in milk production. Science hasn’t yet answered this question definitively. See our poll on whether breastfeeding helps you lose weight to learn what other nursing moms experienced.

Exercise also helps. Whether it’s a stroll around the block or a postpartum yoga class, physical activity tones stomach muscles and burns calories. A rigorous exercise regimen that includes an aerobic workout and movements that focus on the abdomen can work wonders. (But before starting an exercise routine, make sure your body is ready.)

Some baby bulges require more effort. In some women, the left and right side of the muscle that covers the front surface of the belly can separate, a condition called diastasis recti. This is more likely to happen if you’ve been pregnant more than once.

It isn’t painful, and often the only signs of the condition early in pregnancy are extra skin and soft tissue in front of the stomach wall. In later months, the top of the pregnant uterus can sometimes be seen bulging out of the stomach wall. Your doctor can tell you whether you have this condition and suggest exercises to fix it after your baby is born.

Is it okay to go on a diet?

If you gained a lot of weight during pregnancy, losing some of those pounds can help reduce your belly. A low-calorie diet can help you lose weight, but give nature and exercise time to work first. Wait at least six weeks – and preferably a few months – before cutting back on calories, especially if you’re nursing.

Women need 1,600 to 2,400 calories a day to maintain a healthy weight. To lose about a pound a week, cut out 500 calories a day either by decreasing your food intake or increasing your activity level. Losing more than a pound a week may make you feel fatigued and negatively affect your mood.

Don’t go on a severe diet – rapid weight loss affects your ability to breastfeed. Extreme dieting puts your body in starvation mode, and the stress and fatigue reduces the amount of milk you produce. Also, when you diet too much, you may not eat enough nutrient-rich foods, which means your baby may not get all the fat and vitamins she needs from your breast milk.

Your postpartum belly: When will it change back and how to learn to love the parts that don’t?

Most first-time moms can’t wait for that magical moment when they look at themselves in the mirror and finally catch their first glimpse of that greatly anticipated baby bump. It’s the first obvious sign that you are growing a little life in your belly, and soon-to-be mamas spend the next few months happily taking photo after photo of their growing bellies and proudly posting their bump pics on social media. Fast-forward another seven months or so, and new moms find themselves cursing what remains of that baby bump as they desperately wait for their body to “go back to normal.” But what is “normal” after giving birth?

When every magazine cover you see focuses on celebrity moms losing their baby weight, it’s little wonder that new moms feel pressure to erase all signs that their bodies have just housed and birthed a little human. Spoiler alert: The truth is that your body will never be exactly the same as it was before you got pregnant. The best thing any new mom or mom-to-be can do for herself is to get a real understanding of how, why and when her body will change in the months after birth. The next, and most crucial, step is to find a way to love and celebrate that postpartum belly. After all, it worked so hard to keep your little one safe in there for all those months.

We talked to Dr. Sherry A. Ross, women’s health expert and author of “She-ology. The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period” to get the facts on why your belly looks the way it does after birth. We also spoke with four moms about their postpartum stomachs and how they learned to love their bodies as they are.

Why does my postpartum belly still look pregnant, and how long will it take to go down?

During pregnancy, your uterus has to expand to make room for your growing baby. As it expands, it rises and moves its position to be right above your pubic bone; that’s when you see that first little pregnancy bump. It takes a full nine months for your uterus to go through this process as it slowly shifts and expands within your body.

After giving birth, new moms are often surprised to find that they still look a little pregnant for a few weeks, but it makes total sense. Your uterus is still shrinking and finding its way to its original position, and, for most moms, this can take up to three months.

“Immediately after delivery, the uterus will be at the level of your belly button, which is reminiscent of being 20 weeks pregnant,” Ross says. “Women tend to look pregnant for another six to nine weeks as the uterus and saggy, post-baby belly find their way back to normal.”

Will the loose skin on my stomach return to normal?

As for that frustrating loose skin that you may have? It’s also a side effect of your belly getting bigger during pregnancy. As your belly stretches out to accommodate your growing baby, the collagen and elastin fibers that make up your skin can snap or rupture and it can take a lot of time for your skin to go back to normal. In some cases, it may never go back completely, and a lot of that is due to genetics. Drinking lots of water, eating a healthy diet and exercising are all ways you can try to minimize that loose skin.

“After you deliver your baby either by C-section or vaginally, your uterus and flappy belly skin need time to get back to their pre-pregnant status,” says Ross.

Try to allow a realistic amount of time for your body to recover its shape.

“I always tell my patients, give yourself a full nine months to recover completely after having a baby,” Ross says. “After all, you have just gone through a physical, emotional and hormonal storm!”

Is there anything I can do to get rid of stretch marks on my postpartum stomach?

Stretch marks occur when you lose or gain weight quickly — something that certainly happens during pregnancy. The elastin and collagen in your skin stretching too far and rupturing is the culprit behind stretch marks as well. Creams and oils can reduce itchiness by moisturizing your skin, but they won’t get rid of stretch marks.

“Stretch marks are genetically determined, which means if your mom got them, especially during pregnancy, you probably will, too,” says Ross. “Using creams and gels rarely make much of a difference in their appearance, but I am a true believer that coconut oil has a lot of health benefits for hydrating the skin. Fortunately, stretch marks fade with time and become silvery white or red, but rarely disappear completely.”

What is diastasis recti, and can that affect the way my postpartum belly looks?

During pregnancy, your growing uterus causes the muscles in your abdomen to stretch to accommodate it.

“Every pregnant woman is familiar with the protruding ridge that is easily seen going down your belly when you are going from a lying to sitting position,” Ross says. “This ridge normally separates the abdominal muscles. They can become overly stretched causing a more pronounced separation called diastasis recti. The growing uterus will appear more forward.”

Although that never-disappearing belly pooch could be a sign you’re dealing with diastasis recti, it’s a condition that needs to be identified with the help of your doctor or a qualified physical therapist. If you’re diagnosed with it, your best course of action is to work with a certified physical therapist who specializes in postpartum moms, diastasis recti and other conditions that affect the core.

How moms say they’ve learned to love their postpartum bellies

While you may make peace with the fact that your postpartum body will be different, and it may never go back to looking the way it did before you got pregnant, you may still struggle with your appearance and how you feel in your skin post-baby. We talked to four moms who shared how they learned to appreciate and celebrate their postpartum belly — and body.

Don’t stop celebrating your body just because you aren’t pregnant anymore

“During pregnancy, your belly is celebrated, and you yourself may even love its fullness and roundness, but after you have the baby, it is instantly different,” says Renee Evans, a mom of three from California and an Instagram influencer, who uses her social media to share her photography and daily life with other moms. “I felt shocked by and very ashamed of my postpartum belly, especially with my first child. I did not expect to feel this way, and I wanted it to go away.”

Evans makes a valuable but infrequently discussed point: It can feel like overnight, women go from hearing positive comments about their pregnant bellies to being bombarded with imagery and advice that focuses entirely on erasing all evidence that you were ever pregnant in the first place. Most moms may not even realize that they’re internalizing that change in messaging, and it’s important to realize it does happen and to question why.

Katie Crenshaw, a mom of three from Atlanta, who uses her Instagram presence to encourage other moms to celebrate their postpartum bodies agrees.

“We love our pregnant bellies,” Crenshaw says. “We rock the bodycon dresses, take selfies, and we have so much respect for our mid-section during that time. We even show it off. We are so confident in our bodies for nine months. So, why do we stop?”

Realize that you are so much more than your body

While she urges her fellow moms to love their postpartum bodies, Crenshaw stresses the importance of realizing that you are so much more than what you see in the mirror.

“I’m going to be honest. I don’t love my physical body every day,” she says. “Every day, I love my soul. Every day, I love my spirit and my heart my tenacity and my purpose and my true self, and here’s my secret: When you love your true self unconditionally, honoring and accepting a body that holds the person you adore becomes much, much easier.”

Focus on getting stronger — not thinner

“After I had my third child, I set a goal for myself to just go to the gym every single day for two weeks and see where that led me,” says Evans. “I did not set a physical goal or put any numbers in my head. That was too overwhelming. I only wanted to focus on creating a habit. My body started changing and becoming stronger, and, of course, that was so motivating. I started to be able to do things that I wasn’t ever able to do before. It was empowering and gave me a whole new appreciation for my body.”

Brenda Rivera Stearns, a mom of five from Ohio and popular Instagram mom who writes about motherhood and homeschooling her children, also finds inspiration in focusing on how strong her body already is and how much stronger it can be.

“It’s impressive how much my body has gone through,” says Stearns. “But it’s also changed in other ways. My body now is stronger. I have a higher tolerance for physical pain. My body loves deeper. My body can hold five babies. This body is capable of loving so much more than that pre-pregnancy one. I have physical goals I want to reach. I want to be healthy and strong and stay active throughout my days. I have my moments when I feel ‘ugly,’ and I usually snap out when I remind myself how far I’ve come.”

Try to see yourself through your kids’ eyes

If you’re feeling a little bit down about the way you look, sometimes the best solution is to switch perspectives temporarily — and think about how your child sees you. To them, you are a superhero, and they adore the body that gives them hugs and cuddles and makes them feel safe when they are afraid. Even that newborn who can’t yet communicate with you through words loves your body because it gives them the warmth and love he needs to grow bigger every day.

“My kids have helped me realize that it doesn’t matter what my body looks like, they see me for who I am inside,” says Stearns. “They make me a better person. Society wants to label us as flawed, but I am here to remind all of us that, to our children, we are perfect. They see behind the stretched out skin, marks and lines. They see us for who we truly are. They know our hearts and love us unconditionally. And that is all that matters.”

Understand that it will take time and effort, but you can fall in love with your postpartum belly

“It took my almost two years after the triplets’ birth to find beauty and comfort in my new body,” says Desiree Fortin, a mom of triplets from Encinitas, California, who connects with other moms about postpartum struggles on her Instagram account. “It’s amazing how much perspective can change, because I see my body now and find it so beautiful. I appreciate it for all it has done. But it took time and the choice to change my perspective!”

Evans says it took her awhile to begin to accept and love her postpartum body, as well. It wasn’t until after her third pregnancy that she began to look at things differently.

“My belly will never look the same again and that is fine, because it tells my story; it’s the story of my body growing life,” says Evans. “Our bodies are amazing and resilient, and we are capable of so much. I am at the point where I am so proud of my body. It’s not perfect by any means, but it is mine, and it’s the only one I’ll ever get, so I want to take care of it and feel good about it.”

Read next: Learn about what postpartum belly binding can do for you

Still look pregnant after birth

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