For some women, that joyful time when a warm and snuggly newborn has finally arrived can be mixed with emotions about the changes in their own bodies, and many of these women have questions about how they will lose the weight they put on over the past nine-plus months.
Studies show that many women appear to hold on to at least a couple of pounds postpartum, and a quarter of women retain 11 or more pounds (5 or more kilograms) a year after giving birth. After having a baby, a woman retains, on average, 2.5 to 5 lbs. (1 to 2 kg), said Kathleen Rasmussen, a professor of maternal and child nutrition at Cornell University. That may not seem like much, but if a woman goes on to have more children or gains more weight for other reasons, the pounds can add up, she said.
Holding on to pregnancy weight can lead to serious health consequences down the road, putting moms at risk for chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes. And losing the pregnancy weight is important not just for new moms, but for babies, too. Going into a future pregnancy at a higher weight can put both the mom and the developing baby at risk for medical complications, such as gestational diabetes and hypertension.
To determine the best practices for women who want to shed the baby weight, Live Science dove deeply into the data, reviewing the best studies on postpartum weight loss and talking to key experts in the field. Ultimately, we found that losing weight after pregnancy boils down to three main points, starting before you even give birth:
- Weight gain during pregnancy (jump to section)
- Diet and physical activity (jump to section)
- Breast-feeding (jump to section)
For women worried about extra pregnancy pounds, the experts we spoke with agreed that it’s certainly possible to return to your pre-pregnancy weight, and indeed, that should ultimately be your goal.
“Most women naturally lose much of the weight they gained in pregnancy without much effort,” said Dr. Emily Oken, a professor of population medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston. And although it’s possible for women to lose all of their pregnancy weight without making major changes in their lives, the natural shift in women’s lifestyles that happens after they give birth certainly introduces new challenges.
“It’s not so much that need to make major changes, but that they need to figure out how to fit in the healthy eating and activities they used to do,” Oken told Live Science.
- Weight gain during pregnancy
- You had a baby! Now what?
- Diet and physical activity postpartum
- 5 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Baby Weight
- Your body is still healing.
- You’re not eating enough—or choosing the wrong foods.
- You’re dehydrated.
- You’re exhausted and stressed.
- You may have started working out a little too soon.
- How to lose weight after pregnancy and how long it will take
- First steps to losing weight after pregnancy
- What to expect after giving birth
- How to lose weight after pregnancy
- Related stories about pregnancy:
- Healthy Postpartum Weight Loss
- Healthy Postpartum Weight Loss:
- They are the genetic lottery winners; the less than 10% of women who seem to effortlessly return to their pre-pregnancy weight in just a few months after childbirth. But for the overwhelming majority of us, postpartum weight loss trudges along at a (too) slow, and often uneven pace.
- It’s in the Genes: Why It Takes a While to Lose “Baby Weight”
- Healthy Postpartum Weight Loss Expectations
- Succeed with the Perfect Pregnancy Pounds App
- Maintain a Postpartum Healthy Diet
- Weighty Matters: A Healthy Perspective
- Breastfeeding Speeds Weight Loss
- Healthy Weight Loss = Slow Weight Loss
- Lean Mass Ratio a Marker of Health
- Extreme Low-Calorie Diets Especially Harmful to Postpartum Women
- The Drawbacks of a Diet with too Few Calories
- 5 Reasons You’re Not Losing the Baby Weight
- 1. Too Much Of a Good Thing
- 2. Lack of Zs
- 3. The Wrong Postnatal Workouts
- 4. The Company You Keep
- 5. Patience
- The truth about baby fat
- Shape-shifting effect
- Weight-loss plateau
- The mommy metabolism myth
- Uncomfortable in the skin I’m in
- All in the family
- Free to be me
Weight gain during pregnancy
There’s no getting around weight gain during pregnancy, of course. But it’s important to understand how much weight you should gain, why your body is putting on pounds and how it plays a role in what happens after the baby arrives.
So, how much weight should a woman gain during pregnancy? It all depends on her body mass index (BMI) before she gets pregnant.
According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), women who are considered underweight should aim to gain 28 to 40 lbs. (12.7 to 18.1 kg); women with a normal BMI should aim to gain 25 to 35 lbs. (11.3 to 15.9 kg); women in the overweight category should aim to gain 15 to 25 lbs. (6.8 to 11.3 kg); and women in the obese category should aim to gain 11 to 20 lbs. (5.0 to 9.1 kg). (For women who are pregnant with twins, the recommended weight gain amounts are higher.)
And although a weight gain of 25 to 35 lbs. for someone with a normal BMI may sound like a lot — certainly, a newborn baby doesn’t weigh that much — those extra pounds do serve a purpose. As illustrated in the infographic below, pregnancy pounds also come from the placenta, the growing uterus and growing breasts, and increased blood and fluid volume in the woman’s body. And yes, added fat also weighs in.
In addition, some studies suggest that gaining too much weight during pregnancy increases the likelihood of a cesarean-section delivery, according to the review. (While C-sections are generally considered safe, they do carry additional risks compared with vaginal births. For example, a C-section is a major surgical procedure, and having a C-section for a first birth can often lead to repeat C-sections in future deliveries.)
According to the IOM, one of the major reasons women should limit their weight gain during pregnancy is to reduce risks to the baby’s health. Gaining too much weight during pregnancy increases the likelihood that the baby will have a high birth weight, which can put the baby at risk for obesity and metabolic syndrome during childhood, according to a 2015 review published in the journal Expert Review of Endocrinology & Metabolism. (Metabolic syndrome is a combination of medical issues that include high blood pressure, a large waist circumference and low levels of “good” cholesterol.)
Finally, gaining too much weight during pregnancy also may be associated with preeclampsia, the authors wrote. Preeclampsia is a serious complication that can develop during pregnancy when a woman has both high blood pressure and excess levels of protein in her urine. It can put both the mother and the baby at risk.
But the amount of weight a woman gains should not be spread equally over the three trimesters of pregnancy. The IOM advises women to gain between 1.1 and 4.4 lbs. (0.5 to 2 kg) during the first trimester. Then, during both the second and third trimesters, women are advised to gain 0.5 to 1 lb. (0.23 to 0.45 kg) per week, depending on their pre-pregnancy BMI. The IOM advises that, during these trimesters, underweight and normal-weight women gain 1 lb. per week, that overweight women gain 0.6 lbs. (0.27 kg) per week and that obese women gain 0.5 lbs. per week.
But a key point for expecting women to keep in mind is that the amount of weight gained during pregnancy is associated with the amount of weight lost afterward — quite strongly, in fact.
“Weight gain during pregnancy is the single biggest predictor of postpartum weight retention,” said Dr. Jacinda Nicklas, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the lead author of the 2015 review.
Oken agreed. “Gestational weight gain is the biggest contributor to postpartum weight retention,” she told Live Science. “Women who gain within the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy have less weight to lose and are more likely to get back to their pre-pregnancy baseline.”
But despite the risks associated with gaining too much weight during pregnancy, between 40 and 60 percent of women gain more than the guidelines recommend.
To keep weight gain within a healthy range, a woman should certainly not be “eating for two,” experts say. A woman needs “close to zero extra calories in the first trimester,” Rasmussen said. “The body makes a lot of immediate changes in response to pregnancy , but these changes don’t require a lot of calories,” Rasmussen told Live Science. Even so, a lot of the “overgain” that women experience happens in that first trimester, she said.
Indeed, studies show that despite recommendations that women gain the least amount of weight during the first trimester, in reality, this is often the trimester when the largest amount of excessive weight gain (pounds gained above the recommended levels) occurs.
“Women don’t need to gain more than a few pounds during the entire first trimester,” Oken said. And doing so can have negative consequences. “It is becoming increasingly clear that excess weight gain, even very early in pregnancy, can predict later weight retention and heart health not only for the mom, but also for her baby,” she said.
In a 2015 study published in The American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Oken found that weight gain in the first trimester was more strongly associated with weight retention at seven years postpartum than weight gain during the second or third trimesters. Too much weight gain in the first trimester was also linked to higher blood pressure after pregnancy than was weight gain in the second or third trimesters.
Why is it important to gain weight within the recommended guidelines during pregnancy? (Image credit: Viacheslav Lopatin .com )
The excess weight gained above the recommended amount during the first trimester is primarily fat, as opposed to weight from the fetus, the placenta or extra fluid in the woman’s body (because these weigh very little at this point in the pregnancy), according to the researchers. Unlike fluid and nonfat tissue, this fat gain is likely more difficult to lose after pregnancy, according to the researchers.
“It can be a challenge to not gain too rapidly” in the first trimester, Oken said. For example, women who experience the fatigue that is very common in the first trimester may overeat; other women may experience nausea that’s helped by snacking, she said.
And “in some cases, women might think that, ‘Well, now that I’m pregnant, weight gain is expected, so I don’t need to think so much about what I’m eating,'” Oken said. It’s these women whom doctors especially want to educate about healthy weight gain during pregnancy, she added. However, “many women don’t see their OBs until the end of the first trimester, so we need to get the word out” in other ways, Oken said.
In order to keep weight gain within the guidelines, Oken recommends that women focus on eating nutrient-dense foods, including fruit, dairy products and nuts, and especially avoid “empty” calories or extra desserts. Also, pregnant women should try to avoid drinking their calories in sugar-sweetened beverages, and instead make sure to drink plenty of water, as the symptoms of thirst (such as fatigue and irritability) can sometimes be mistaken for hunger, she said.
But women shouldn’t beat themselves up if they deviate from a day of healthy eating.
Pregnancy can be stressful, and focusing so much on being perfect causes needless worrying during pregnancy, said Katherine Tallmadge, a registered dietitian and an op-ed contributor to Live Science. It’s OK to indulge occasionally, but it’s still important to be smart about such indulgences in order to avoid overgaining, Tallmadge told Live Science. So, when moms-to-be treat themselves, they should try for smaller amounts or stay on the healthier side of the “treat,” she said. For example, if you’re craving pizza, go for vegetable, she said.
Women who have gained too much shouldn’t get discouraged, because everyone gains weight at different rates, Nicklas said. Women who do gain too much early on in pregnancy should try to slow their rate of weight gain as their pregnancy progresses, she said. Women who have a BMI greater than 35 before getting pregnant may not have to gain any weight during pregnancy, she said.
However, doctors don’t recommend that women intentionally try to lose weight during pregnancy, Nicklas added.
You had a baby! Now what?
After giving birth, the last thing that’s likely on a new mom’s mind is going on a diet. And according to Cheryl Lovelady, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, that’s just fine.
“I tell moms, ‘The first month, don’t worry about your weight,'” Lovelady said.
Of course, a woman will immediately lose some of the pregnancy weight simply by giving birth — namely, the weight of the baby, the placenta and the amniotic fluid.
And over the next few weeks, a woman can also expect to lose the weight of the extra fluid in her body that built up during pregnancy. After the fluid is gone, what remains is the extra fat that the woman added during pregnancy.
Women should be able to lose their extra weight by six months after they give birth, Lovelady said.
“We recommend a weight loss of approximately 1 pound per week,” Lovelady told Live Science. However, in reality, women will likely lose more weight at the beginning, and the weight loss will slow as they get closer to their goals, she said. By the end, it may be only 1 pound per month, but that weight loss will be a pound of fat, as opposed to fluid, she added.
Not all of the experts agreed that all of the weight had to come off within six months. However, 12 months seems to be the upper limit for how long it should take for women to lose all of their pregnancy weight. That means women who started out at a normal BMI before pregnancy should aim to return to a normal BMI, and women who were overweight or obese before pregnancy should aim to return to their pre-pregnancy weight, and then continue losing weight, if possible, Nicklas said.
Nicklas added that the current research suggests that women who don’t lose their weight within this time period are at greater risk of retaining the weight for the long term.
“I recommend that women talk to their doctor if they are having trouble losing weight” at this point, she said. “Many women may need the structure of an evidence-based diet or weight-loss program to lose their pregnancy weight.”
It’s also important for a woman to lose the weight before getting pregnant again, experts say.
“Ideally, a woman would be at a healthy weight by the time she enters her second pregnancy,” said Paige van der Pligt, a researcher at the Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research at Deakin University in Australia. But because “the period of time between two pregnancies will be variable — and with approximately 50 percent of pregnancies being unplanned — timing for weight loss can be challenging,” she said.
“But the research shows us that it is possible,” she added.
Diet and physical activity postpartum
With the exception of breast-feeding (discussed below), losing the baby weight is really no different from losing weight at any other point in life, according to the experts who spoke with Live Science.
“Evidence shows us that both nutrition and physical activity play an important role in the weight-loss process for anyone attempting to lose weight,” van der Pligt said. “For women following childbirth, this really isn’t any different.”
Indeed, in her 2013 review of studies on the topic, published in the journal Obesity Reviews, van der Pligt concluded that “overall, programs which target combined nutrition and physical activity strategies have been more effective than those which focus on just one of these.” She noted that “programs which included individualized support are also important.”
In the review, van der Pligt and her colleagues reviewed data from 11 studies that were focused on postpartum weight-loss interventions. They found that seven of the studies involved interventions that were effective in helping women lower their weight retention after pregnancy, and that, of these, six included both dietary and physical activity components, according to the review. The authors concluded, however, that “the optimal setting, delivery, intervention length and recruitment approach” for the most effective interventions remain unclear.
What works best for postpartum weight: diet, exercise, or both? (Image credit: Odua Images .com )
A 2013 meta-analysis published in the journal Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews reached similar conclusions. Looking at data from 14 studies, the authors found that “diet combined with exercise or diet alone compared with usual care seemed to help with weight loss after giving birth” but that further research is needed.
Van der Pligt stressed that “diet and exercise” don’t mean women need to go on an extreme diet or start training for a marathon. Several studies suggest that making small changes can be helpful for losing pregnancy pounds.
For example, in the Active Mothers Postpartum trial, which enrolled 450 overweight and obese postpartum women, cutting out junk food and being less sedentary were associated with postpartum weight loss. (Lovelady, who was an author on that study, noted that these results were specific to overweight and obese women. Women who start out at a normal weight and gain within the guidelines usually don’t have an issue with postpartum weight retention, she said.)
Overall, a woman should be able to follow any healthy diet after pregnancy to lose weight, Lovelady said. Diets such as Weight Watchers, a Mediterranean diet or a vegetarian diet can all be good options, she said.
In addition, another, smaller study from Sweden — which included 68 overweight or obese women, all of whom were breast-feeding — found that dietary changes had the greatest impact on postpartum weight loss. Beginning at 10 to 14 weeks postpartum, the women were randomly divided into four groups for a 12-week intervention. One group was counseled about their diet, another on diet and exercise, and another on exercise alone. The fourth group received no advice and served as a control group, for comparison. The women in the diet-only group not only lost the most weight but were also the only group that continued to lose weight nine months later, according to the study.
Rasmussen, who was an author on the study, noted that the dietary changes the women made were not major. The intervention focused on cutting out junk food, eating more vegetables and eventually reducing the overall number of calories the women were consuming, she told Live Science.
(One limitation of the study, however, was that the exercise component was not a huge change from the amount of physical activity the women were getting prior to starting the study, Rasmussen said. So, while they did adhere to the exercise requirements, it didn’t represent a substantial increase in their energy expenditure, she said.)
“I can tell you, diet does work,” Rasmussen said. She said, for weight loss, she recommends a diet that highlights nutrient-dense calories and avoids empty calories.
And although diet appears to be the driving factor in losing the baby weight and exercise doesn’t have a huge effect on weight loss, the experts agreed that it’s still important for new moms to get back to moving as soon as possible.
Here’s an easy way for new moms to get moving. (Image credit: Oleg Baliuk .com )
Yes, gone are the days when women were confined to bed rest after giving birth — certainly, a woman should take care of herself and recover from giving birth, but it’s important to get moving, Rasmussen said.
“Most women can start walking soon after giving birth, regardless of whether they give birth vaginally or have a C-section,” Nicklas said. But women interested in doing more vigorous activity, such as lifting weights, should ask their OB when they can start, she added.
All of the experts we spoke with agreed: Walking is a great way for new moms to get exercise.
Walking during the postpartum period has been shown to have excellent health benefits, van der Pligt said. Plus, it’s convenient and cheap, and can be an important social activity for new moms, she added.
In one of Lovelady’s studies, for example, the women started their walking program at four weeks postpartum and gradually built up to walking for 45 minutes a day, five days a week, Lovelady said. The women in the study had been largely sedentary for the previous three months, however, she added. For most women, moderate exercise during pregnancy is considered safe and healthy.
It’s also important to reduce inactivity. In a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers looked at the effects of television viewing, walking and trans-fat consumption on postpartum weight retention. They found that women who watched less than 2 hours of television a day, walked for at least 30 minutes a day and limited their consumption of trans fat had a decreased likelihood of retaining at least 11 lbs. (5 kg) a year after giving birth.
Although researchers know that physical activity alone does not appear to cause weight loss, in combination with a healthy diet, regular exercise helps to maintain the weight loss that occurred, said Oken, who was the lead author of the study.
Although all of the experts interviewed agreed that diet and exercise strategies for postpartum weight loss don’t really differ from the strategies one would employ for weight loss at any other time of life, after giving birth, women may have one unique advantage: breast-feeding.
For example, in Rasmussen’s 2008 study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the researchers concluded that “breast-feeding could also make a meaningful contribution, eliminating in many women.”
(Nicklas noted that, while full breasts may feel heavier, in reality, they wouldn’t contribute much to a breast-feeding woman’s weight.)
Certainly, there are several factors that play a role in whether breast-feeding has an effect on weight loss, including how intensively and how long a woman breast-feeds, Rasmussen said. But generally speaking, the more a woman breast-feeds, the greater an effect it will have on her weight loss, she said.
Simply put, breast-feeding burns calories — the body requires extra energy to make milk. (However, this might not be the entire explanation, Rasmussen said. Researchers haven’t yet tested whether other factors also contribute to weight loss associated with breast-feeding, she said.)
(Image credit: didesign021/)
Indeed, the calorie requirements for breast-feeding women are higher than those for women who are not breast-feeding. Women who exclusively breast-feed burn about 500 extra calories a day, compared with women who are not breast-feeding, Lovelady said. But generally, breast-feeding women are instructed to increase their caloric intake by only about 330 calories daily, she said. The resulting deficit contributes to weight loss.
In other words, the calorie recommendations for lactating women don’t completely cover the amount needed to produce milk, Rasmussen said. Researchers assume that part of that caloric cost will be met by burning body fat, she said. So, for women who are reasonably active and gained a reasonable amount of weight during pregnancy, breast-feeding is really quite important, Rasmussen said. “But you can undo it all by overeating,” she added.
Still, according to Rasmussen, between diet, exercise and breast-feeding, breast-feeding comes out on top as the most important factor in whether a woman will lose all of her pregnancy weight.
“You have to realize there are two players here: There’s the mother, and the baby,” Rasmussen said. “So the optimal for the mother and the baby together is, first for the mother to breast-feed. The “baby gets the best nutrition we have to offer, and the mother, if she doesn’t overeat, will lose weight,” she added. “If wants to lose more weight than that, she can diet, she can exercise or she can do both,” Rasmussen said.
However, researchers haven’t reached a consensus on the effects of breast-feeding on weight loss.
“This has been looked at in many studies, and there’s still not a clear answer” on the role that breast-feeding plays in postpartum weight loss, Nicklas said. If all of the studies are considered, however, there are probably slightly more showing that breast-feeding does help, she added.
But to reassure women who are not able to breast-feed, or choose not to, Nicklas noted that breast-feeding is not essential for weight loss.
Van der Pligt agreed. Although many women do lose weight while breast-feeding, many studies have shown little or no influence of breast-feeding on a mother’s weight change, she said.
“So we can’t assume that just because a woman is breast-feeding, she will lose weight,” van der Pligt said. It’s more about promoting healthy, attainable lifestyle behaviors that will have health benefits for women and assist her in achieving a healthy weight following childbirth, she said.
This article is part of a Live Science Special Report on the Science of Weight Loss. It will be updated whenever significant new research warrants. Note that any significant change in diet should be undertaken only after consultation with a physician.
Follow Sara G. Miller on Twitter @SaraGMiller. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.
5 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Baby Weight
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Nine months on, nine months off.”
But, for many new moms, it can be frustrating to face extra lingering pounds or deal with clothes that don’t fit right. The latest research details why.
Postpartum weight loss varies for each woman. Getting back into shape isn’t always as simple as eating less and working out more, especially when you’re adjusting to caring for your little one.
Our experts share five reasons why you’re not losing baby weight, and what to do instead.
Your body is still healing.
“Many women gain a large amount of gestational weight. And after the baby comes, you have less time to exercise, less sleep, and your body is still healing from pregnancy and delivery,” explains Laura Arndt, a pre- and postnatal expert and the CEO of Matriarc.
“Many moms don’t feel they have support and time to focus on themselves. They have an infant to take care of, and they put their own health on the back burner. All of these things make it challenging to get into a healthy routine and lose the baby weight.”
Also, it takes time for your body to recalibrate as a whole, due to hormone fluctuation, adds Aaptiv trainer Candice Cunningham.
“Your body was overloaded while growing your baby, and those things don’t just disappear,” she continues. “This can cause everything to still be out of whack postpartum for a while. If you are breastfeeding, it can definitely take longer, as well.”
The solution? Patience, and if you need it, professional help. “Don’t compare yourself to anyone else and take baby steps,” says Aaptiv trainer Jaime McFaden.
“It is not a race. You just had a child. So give yourself time to get back to where you want your weight to be. And, if after months of being consistent with eating healthy and resting enough, nothing has changed, talk with your doctor to see if hormones need to be adjusted.”
Check out the newest classes we have in the Aaptiv app. We have workout classes for every level.
You’re not eating enough—or choosing the wrong foods.
Cutting calories in the hopes of losing baby weight might sound like the right approach. However, it’s actually not ideal, says Cunningham.
Your metabolism isn’t necessarily the same as it was pre-baby, and not eating slows it down. This can lead to not losing baby weight and even extra weight gain down the road.
“There are many women will help them lose weight. Eating less does not mean you will automatically lose weight,” concurs McFaden.
“If you are not eating enough food, your body will store fat. Plan meals ahead and make sure you are eating enough well-balanced foods, instead of convenient, packaged foods that are usually full of . And, if you are breastfeeding, this is not the time to try any diet, because you must be sure you have enough nutrients for both you and baby.”
Dr. David Diaz, a reproductive endocrinologist and fertility expert at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center, notes that women who are breastfeeding experienced an increased metabolic rate, which naturally requires a higher calorie intake.
But, for those concerned about excessive weight gain during nursing, he says making modest changes in food quantity and quality can help manage calorie intake without jeopardizing infant health. He recommends that new mothers aim to consume around 2,500 calories per day.
In the meantime, watch portion sizes, read food labels, and stick to real, whole foods. You can also try to avoid high-calorie drinks in favor of water, tea, or coffee.
Even if you’re trying to lose weight, says Arndt, you still need the right balance of calories and nutrients to help your body heal and maintain energy levels.
“Make sure you stay hydrated. Dehydration is a big problem with weight loss and most women aren’t getting enough water,” says McFaden. “Be sure you are drinking at least half your body weight in ounces per day.”
Think of it this way: staying hydrated makes you less likely to overeat. Additionally, it helps your body function properly in terms of gut health, metabolism, energy levels, and even mood regulation.
And, on the weight loss front, drinking more water helps to burn off fat, rather than store it within your body.
You’re exhausted and stressed.
“After the overwhelming joy of childbirth has passed, some women may turn their thoughts to reestablishing their fitness level and pre-pregnancy weight,” says Dr. Diaz.
“After delivery, the family dynamic changes, due to the extra demands placed on parents by the new arrival. The extra duties can exert a physical and emotional stress, making it more tempting to seek comfort food in place of choosing healthful meals.”
When you’re stressed and not sleeping—two extremely common factors during the postpartum period—it’s normal to struggle with weight maintenance.
Research indicates that lack of sleep leads to an increase in cortisol, which impacts metabolism negatively, and one study found that women who sleep five hours or fewer per night are 32 percent more likely to experience major weight gain.
“Lack of sleep causes your energy to be already low,” says Cunningham. “Try to take a positive outlook on everything new in your life. It may be stressful, but try to enjoy it. Take breaks and rest. You have to take care of you, too.”
“Being exhausted during motherhood can make losing weight seem frustrating,” says McFaden. “But, if you start slow, and create a plan, you will lose weight over time.”
You may have started working out a little too soon.
Arndt says that many women return to high-impact exercise too quickly after having a baby, rather than focusing on low-intensity workouts for the first several months.
But, doing too much too soon can lead to complications like diastasis recti, pelvic issues, or simply overexertion. Be sure to get cleared by your doctor before starting a postpartum exercise routine, and, on the whole, plan to give yourself at least six to eight weeks of rest and recovery first.
“Recognize your body has changed, a lot,” says Cunningham. “Don’t rush—the weight will come off. Slowly ease into exercise again, and eat healthy foods. Find someone qualified to help you get back into fitness postpartum to make sure you don’t do anything you might regret down the road.”
McFaden agrees, acknowledging that losing baby weight may seem impossible, but it is totally doable. She also suggests hiring a postnatal trainer to create a holistic plan tailored to your individual needs.
“Low-impact cardiovascular exercise, pelvic floor and core work can help heal your body from pregnancy and delivery,” says Arndt.
“Make sure you get as much sleep as you can, focus on the right exercises, and eat nutrient-dense snacks and meals regularly. If you find yourself gaining weight or lacking energy/appetite postpartum, speak to your doctor.”
Check out some of our workout samples here. Our expert trainers will guide you through each workout.
How to lose weight after pregnancy and how long it will take
- Within the first two weeks after giving birth, you can expect to lose an average of eight to 20 pounds as your body clears out excess fluid.
- It’s important to give your body four to six weeks to recover from giving birth before you try to lose weight. After that, losing about one and a half pounds per week is safe and won’t affect your milk supply if you’re breastfeeding.
- One study published in 2015 suggests that breastfeeding can help you lose weight after birth. But other research has found conflicting results.
- If you’re having a hard time losing weight because you’re still experiencing pregnancy cravings, you can expect them to disappear within six months after birth.
- This article was reviewed by Julia Simon, MD, who is an assistant professor with the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UChicago Medicine.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Doctors recommend that women gain between 15 to 40 pounds while pregnant depending on their pre-pregnancy BMI. However, a 2017 review in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reports that most pregnant women gain more than they probably should.
In their study, researchers reported that close to half, 47%, of the over 1.3 million women in the review gained more than what’s recommended, while about a quarter put on less. And getting rid of those pesky pregnancy pounds can be tough. But be patient.
In general, new moms can expect to lose their pregnancy weight, “within a year of delivery of their child,” says Craig Salcido, MD, an OB-GYN with Mission Hospital in Orange County.
Here are some tips for how to manage your expectations for weight loss and get back to your normal weight after pregnancy.
First steps to losing weight after pregnancy
The first steps start even before you become pregnant.
“The amount of weight a woman gains during pregnancy depends on the following factors: their pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI), the number of prior pregnancies, physical activity levels and nutritional habits,” says Craig Salcido, MD, an OB-GYN with Mission Hospital in Orange County, CA says,
But having a healthy pre-pregnancy BMI and staying within the gaining guidelines can make it easier to lose weight after you give birth, according to the Institute of Medicine.
What to expect after giving birth
“Women tend to shed weight immediately after giving birth because of the loss of the placenta and amniotic fluid,” says Salcido. And that will likely continue in the initial postpartum phase: “Expect that within the first two weeks after birth to lose an average of eight to 20 pounds as your body clears out excess fluid.”
But after that, you will most likely still retain some residual pregnancy weight. Now, it can be tempting to start counting calories and try to lose all of that weight fast. But if you’re breastfeeding that’s going to be difficult because breastfeeding moms need an extra 500 calories daily.
That said, it’s safe to start on a diet and exercise regimen while you’re breastfeeding, says Salcido. You just need to give your body enough time to recover first. You’ll need between four to six weeks:
- Four weeks: If you had a vaginal delivery you can speak with your doctor about returning to a moderate exercise routine four weeks after giving birth.
- Six weeks: If you had a C-section, Salcido says to wait six weeks before you start counting calories and exercising to lose weight.
“Weight loss of about a pound and a half a week is safe and likely won’t affect your milk supply if you are nursing,” he says. Therefore, if you have 30 pounds of residual pregnancy weight, and you lost 1.5 pounds per week, you can be back to your pre-pregnancy weight in 20 weeks, or 5 months.
How to lose weight after pregnancy
Breastfeeding could be helpful when it comes to weight loss. In one 2015 study, published in Preventive Medicine, US moms who exclusively breastfed for at least three months lost more weight—just over 3 pounds—and were more likely to return to their pre-pregnancy weight a year after giving birth compared to moms who didn’t breastfeed exclusively or at all.
While this is encouraging, other studies have found conflicting results. Overall, it seems that the longer you breastfeed, the more effective it is at helping you lose weight.
As far as which diet works best, Salcido says: “The safest and easiest way to lose pregnancy weight is to eat small meals throughout the day, instead of three large ones, to boost your metabolism.” He recommends always starting your day with breakfast, picking healthy snacks, like nuts, and drinking lots of water throughout the day.
Plus, as expected, sticking with fruits and veggies is smart. “Keep in mind to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables—they help provide your body with needed nutrients while also breaking up fatty deposits,” he says.
But if you find yourself with cravings, similar to the ones you had while pregnant, you’re not alone. “Some women may continue to experience cravings after birth because of changes in hormone levels,” says Salcido. Cravings may include anything from sugar to caffeine to protein.
Salcido says a good rule of thumb with postpartum cravings is to treat them like you would when you had them while pregnant: everything in moderation. Moreover, “these cravings tend to disappear within six months postpartum,” he says.
The bottom line is that when it comes to weight loss, studies show that eating well and working out is the way to go. Most women will get the OK from their OB to start exercising by 8 weeks after giving birth, says Salcido. And once you do, the usual advice for moderate exercise applies. About 2.5 hours every week, which equates to 30 minutes a day for five days a week.
Related stories about pregnancy:
- Your baby bump will pop out between weeks 12 to 16. Here’s how to tell if you’ll show early or late.
- How much weight you should gain during pregnancy, according to doctors
- Foods to avoid during pregnancy and how to still stay healthy
- How long it takes to recover from a C-section before you can drive a car, take a bath, and have sex
- Yes, Tylenol is safe for pregnancy. Here’s the right dosage
- Doctors debunk the 25 biggest pregnancy myths
The baby of gigantic size surprised doctors and staff members who were not fully prepared for such an event but miraculously managed to give birth to the 40-pound (18 kilos) baby who remains in a healthy state, has confirmed a hospital spokesman.
The single mother who’s delivery necessitated a surgical incision in the mother’s abdomen and uterus was done to prevent any harm to the baby and mother’s health and was undergone without any complications.
The 600-pound woman was brought in emergency by ambulance, her family unable to carry her in an automobile
The doctor who practiced the cesarean section first believed the woman to be pregnant with twins or even triplets.
“I have dealt with other women suffering from obesity before but this birth will stick with me until I die,” he told reporters with a large grin.
“I truly believed there was two or even three babies in there” he commented laughingly, “but no, it was just one big sturdy guy. He obviously has a career as a future rugby player” he added with humor.
The largest recorded baby in the world was previously thought to be a South African baby who is believed to have weighed 38 pounds (17.2 kilos) and was born in 1839.
The young boy of Zulu origin is reported to have grown to an impressive 7’6 feet or 2.28 meters high before he reached his 18th birthday.
On 14 January 2015, World News Daily Report published an article titled “Australia: 600 Pound Woman Gives Birth to 40 Pound Baby.” (The claim resurfaced when it was reproduced by the generally satirical site NYMeta on 4 June 2015.)
According to the original claim, an unnamed “single mother” in Australia weighing 600 lbs. gave birth to what was possibly the largest baby in recorded history:
A 600-pound woman has given birth to a 40-pound baby at Perth’s King Edward Memorial Hospital, a record breaking weight that could possibly make the newborn the largest baby ever born, reports the Western Australian Herald this morning.
The baby of gigantic size surprised doctors and staff members who were not fully prepared for such an event but miraculously managed to give birth to the 40-pound (18 kilos) baby who remains in a healthy state, has confirmed a hospital spokesman.The single mother who’s delivery necessitated a surgical incision in the mother’s abdomen and uterus was done to prevent any harm to the baby and mother’s health and was undergone without any complications.
The article included a purported quote from the woman’s doctor, whose name was also not provided:
“I have dealt with other women suffering from obesity before but this birth will stick with me until I die” he told reporters with a large grin. “I truly believed there was two or even three babies in there” he commented laughingly, “but no, it was just one big sturdy guy. He obviously has a career as a future rugby player” he added with humor.
While many readers took the claim at face value and subsequently shared it on social media sites, there was no truth at all to the story. An image of the woman used in the World News Daily Report article was taken from the TLC channel’s reality show My 600-lb Life, and the woman pictured hailed not from Australia, but from Mississippi.
World News Daily Report‘s disclaimer page states:
World News Daily Report is a news and political satire web publication, which may or may not use real names, often in semi-real or mostly fictitious ways. All news articles contained within worldnewsdailyreport.com are fiction, and presumably fake news. Any resemblance to the truth is purely coincidental, except for all references to politicians and/or celebrities, in which case they are based on real people, but still based almost entirely in fiction.
World News Daily Report‘s prior fake news articles includes a widely shared story about an eyewitness account to Jesus’ miracles, another claiming loggers mistakenly cut down the world’s oldest tree, and a hoax involving a “prehistoric shark” purportedly discovered in Pakistan. Our article “Six Ways to Spot Fake News explores content (like this) that targets social media likes and shares.
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Her chunky newborn was truly a dream come true. \t
Her chunky newborn was truly a dream come true.
“I dreamed of a little fat baby,” Corrigan told 7 News. “I’ve always wanted a little fat baby and I’ve got a big one!”
The record for “heaviest birth” is currently held by Giantess Anna Bates, who gave birth to a boy weighing 22 pounds and measuring 28 inches in her home in Seville, Ohio, on January 19, 1879. Sadly, her son died 11 hours later.
Regardless, Corrigan considers the birth of her 13-pounder an accomplishment, especially since she passed up an epidural to opt for a natural birth.
“I think I was in a bit of shock because the birth was natural and I only had gas so I was still in a bit of shock just from that,” said Corrigan, explaining that she had to continue reminding herself to think positive thoughts throughout the delivery. “The power of positive thinking during birth, be positive, breathe deep.”
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By Joshua Stone, MA, ATC, NASM-CPT, CES, PES, FNS
One of the most common inquires I get is from new moms looking to lose that postpartum belly. How is it possible that celebrities like Heidi Klum can drop 30-40 pounds in just four months? Anna Paquin goes from twins to 6-pack abs in five months. For new moms, that is frustrating, when you work so hard to lose stubborn body weight. What do they do that you don’t? Trust me, there is no super-secret information or magic formula that only they are privy to. You have the same physiology and weight loss capabilities as Hollywood superstars.
Normal weight gain during pregnancy is 30-35 pounds. Roughly 10 pounds is lost immediately after birth – 7 pounds for the baby, plus 2-3 for blood, amniotic fluid and other. Through the first week your body will flush another 5 pounds of reserved water weight. Optimal weight loss should be 1-2 pounds per week. If you do the math, you will find that Anna Paquin and Heidi Klum lost about 2 pounds per week. Suddenly, Heidi and Anna’s weight loss isn’t so dramatic, does it? A loss of 1-2 pounds per week is easily attainable if you are diet compliant and dedicated to exercise.
Weight loss is not easy and takes hard work. My colleague, Michelle Maloney, who is also a Zumba and Yoga instructor as well as a mom to two beautiful kids says: “It’s important to find a variety of physical activities that you like so you don’t feel you have to do the same thing all the time. In fact, variety is key in avoiding plateaus in your weight loss process.” Tina Greenlee, a fitness instructor here at Human Kinetics states that the integration of resistance training in to the daily exercise program is vital to success. Travis Akin of MaxResults Fitness, says start slow and be realistic with weight-loss goals. While many celebrities achieve weight loss quickly this is not typical. The exercise program outlined below echoes the experts’ comments above.
Phase I: Day 0 (or physician clearance) -5 weeks postpartum
In this phase your goal is to increase baseline fitness levels. Depending on your previous fitness level this stage can be progressed through quickly. In order to improve baseline cardiovascular levels it is best to start with steady state training. Steady state exercise is low intensity exercise that is done for an extended. Walking, jogging, or biking for 30 -60 minutes are good examples. The key in this training is that intensity level stays constant and relatively low. Intensity is low, with target heart rate (THR) of 50-65% of your max heart rate. Target heart rate can be determined using the following equation . Bottom line, low and slow will build a base.
Developing and retraining postural and core musculature is vital following pregnancy. During pregnancy your postural muscles lengthen and tendons stretch. It is prudent to strengthen these structures as this will reduce injury risk and rebuild the core, the foundation of all movement. Good postural exercises are Kegels, abdominal bracing, and the drawing-in maneuver. In this phase you will start slow, but by the end of week 5 you should be exercising five day a week for at least 30 minutes.
Phase II: 5-12 weeks postpartum
In this phase you are going to increase strength and train your heart to work at higher intensities. This is done through interval training. Take the baseline cardio program from phase one, but add in short bursts of high intensity exercise. For example, jog for two minutes, run at three-quarter speed for 30 seconds. Repeat the cycle of jog, run for a set period of time. The brief bouts of spiked heart rate increase your average heart rate during the workout.
Increasing strength is also very important and with a resistance circuit training program you can increase both cardio and strength. Circuit training is simply a series of exercises that are performed for a set time frame with minimal rest periods in between each exercise. Designing a circuit program is easy. Pick a series of 5-10 exercises. Alternate the exercises between upper body, lower body and total body. Here is sample 30 sec on /30 off program:
Push-up (30 seconds)
Rest (30 seconds) – Note: during your rest period get ready for the next exercise
Bent over row
Step-up with overhead press
Repeat that cycle five times. Total workout time would be 25 minutes.
Phase III: 12 weeks – goal weight attainment
A word of caution: You should only workout in this phase if you have the physical ability to do so. In this phase the goal is to perform high intensity exercise for maximal caloric burn. Target heart rates in this phase are often 85-95%, which may not be suitable for everyone. If you have a history of cardiovascular disease or question your physical abilities seek consultation from a physician. If you are unable to exercise at this high-intensity, do not worry. An individual can easily exercise in phase II and still meet weight loss goals.
High intensity equals high calorie burn. In this phase you will perform exercises that elevate your heart rate to near maximal levels. Plyometric exercises, boxing, and jump rope are examples. Anna Paquin’s favorite exercise post pregnancy was boxing. Due to the high intensity, your workout time can be significantly reduced. Take a look at this workout comparison for a 30-year-old, 150 lb. female:
Exercise Routine A: 40 minutes @ 60% heart rate (115 BPM) = 235 calories burned
Exercise Routine B: 20 minutes @ 90% heart rate (170 BPM) = 235 calories burned
However, the caloric burn doesn’t stop there. Following a lower intensity workout your caloric burn will remain elevated for 2-6 hours. Following high intensity exercise caloric burn can remain elevated for as much as 18-24 hours. This means continued weight loss.
Diet is not to be forgotten about. A common myth is that nursing moms need to eat more, which leads many new moms to over eating. Nursing moms rarely need to increase diet intake more than 300 calories.
Have a diet high in lean protein (fish, poultry, pork, eggs) as it suppresses hunger longer than a diet filled with processed carbohydrates. Fruits and vegetables should be your primary source of carbohydrates. Following a diet of lean protein, colorful fruits and vegetables ensures you are receiving much needed vitamins, such as Vitamin A, D, E, K, B-complex and minerals like potassium, copper, zinc, iron and magnesium. A diet high in vegetables will also provide adequate fiber, which is good for postpartum moms to regain normal gastrointestinal function.
Weight loss is not rocket science. Keep it fun, simple, and stay compliant with your plan. You will get there.
Joshua Stone is an Acquisitions Editor for Human Kinetics in Champaign where he works with experts to create health and wellness books. Josh is an also Independent Consultant helping individuals become pain free and meet fitness goals. Over the years he has worked with everyone from moms and kids to Olympic and professional athletes. Josh’s hobby is expressing his passion of health and wellness through his blog site: AthleticMedicine.Wordpress.com.
Healthy Postpartum Weight Loss
Healthy Postpartum Weight Loss:
It’s in the Genes: Why It Takes a While to Lose “Baby Weight”
Women store extra energy-reserves late in pregnancy as a hedge against possible disasters that might cause food scarcity. It’s like an insurance policy that has helped us thrive as a species. So it makes perfect sense that your body would not want to “empty the pantry” directly after childbirth. It’s to our genetic advantage to have energy stored as fat, at the ready, so that we can fully nurture our newborns.
Healthy Postpartum Weight Loss Expectations
Typically, women who gain the recommended 25 – 35 pounds during pregnancy will lose about 15 pounds at delivery, and then drop another 4 to 6 pounds of water weight in the first week or so, leaving them about 15 - 20 pounds over their pre-pregnancy weight a one month postpartum. Then the rate of weight-loss slows to about 2 to 4 lbs. per month.
To insure steady weight loss, you need to eat enough to support your metabolism while at the same time creating a small, daily, caloric deficit so that you regularly use a small amount stored fat to support breastfeeding.
Succeed with the Perfect Pregnancy Pounds App
Use the Perfect Pregnancy Pounds App after your baby is born, to identify the ideal number of calories that you should consume, whether breastfeeding or formula feeding, to slowly and healthily lose any extra pounds.
Maintain a Postpartum Healthy Diet
Ideally, on learning that you were pregnant, you became conscious of sound nutritional guidelines, and you began eating the healthiest and highest-quality food available. You also strove to consume the right amount of calories for your individual metabolism. Now, in your postpartum months, you should continue with these healthy habits.
But even if you weren’t able to eat a super healthy diet, over gained, or find time for regular exercise, you can still make profound changes in your lifestyle. It’s never too late to change course and set off in a healthier direction and achieve your weight loss goals.
Food quality is as important as the total number of calories consumed. Eating lots of low quality calories triggers a chemical response in our brains, which over-rides feeling of fullness and satiation. Low nutrient foods leave us feeling unsatisfied and can change the balance of “good bacteria” in our guts. Binge eating and foods cravings are often triggered by nutritional imbalances. Habitually eating a low quality diet causes a duel state of being over-fed and under-nourished.
Weighty Matters: A Healthy Perspective
As a postpartum mom, don’t forget that not all of the additional weight reflected on the scale can be attributed to extra “baby fat.” If you gained the proper amount of weight during pregnancy, then at three months postpartum you may find yourself in the range of 10 to 15 pounds over your pre-pregnancy weight. But, only a portion of that derives from extra stored fat. You are, after all, operating an around-the-clock milk factory, and that alone requires more breast tissue, fluids, other tissues, and additional energy stores.
Breastfeeding Speeds Weight Loss
During the first few postpartum weeks, lactation requires about 300 calories per day, or about the same amount of calories that you needed in the third trimester. Then as your milk supply increases as your baby grows and consumes more, the caloric demand of breast milk production slowly rises and peaks at six months post pregnancy to about 500 calories per day. Your metabolism stays elevated until your baby is eating a substantial amount of her calories from solids, or if you stop breastfeeding. The average calorie cost of breastfeeding for one year averages to about 400 calories per day.
Over the course of one year, breastfeeding women will use almost 146,000 more calories than mothers who formula feed. This equates to an additional 42 pounds worth of energy. This gives breastfeeding women a clear and powerful advantage in their weight loss goals, as compared to women who do not breastfeed. Breastfeeding women are known to be more likely to return to their pre-pregnancy weight, and at a quicker rate, than women who formula feed.
Of course weight loss is far from the only reason to breastfeed. Breastfeeding supplies many important health benefits to both your and your baby.
Healthy Weight Loss = Slow Weight Loss
In order to lose weight, you need to create a small – no more than 500 calories per day – energy deficit on most days of the week. Ideally, you want to create this deficit with about half coming from increased activity, (plus 250 per day) and half (minus 250 per day) coming from diet.
Fitting in fitness is a challenge for most new moms, as caring for a new born while tending to other children or work obligations can quickly leave little time for exercise. New moms who cannot find time to exercise regularly will need to create an energy deficit through diet alone.
Beware of very low-calorie diets, or fad diets, because they often disregard the principals of healthy, balanced food intake. While these diets may move the scale quickly, they do so at the expense of our lean mass ratio. When you lose more than one pound per week, then about ½ of that weight can come from lean tissue.
Quick weight loss is especially dangerous for women, as we have proportionally less lean mass per body weight then men. Loss of lean mass lowers resting metabolism, which makes continued weight loss more difficult, and rebound weight gain more likely, when calorie restriction stops.
Lean Mass Ratio a Marker of Health
A healthy body has an ample amount of well-toned muscle tissue, dense bones, and a healthy percentage of fat storage. Athletic women should have about 14 – 20 % body fat, where as average women should have about 20 – 25 % body fat.
Extreme Low-Calorie Diets Especially Harmful to Postpartum Women
Taking in too few calories has many side effects that can be particularly harmful to women during the postpartum period. When you restrict calories too much, several undesirable physiological adaptations occur.
The Drawbacks of a Diet with too Few Calories
Severe calorie restriction:
- Reduces the amount of lean tissue in the body and lower basal metabolic rate, thereby inhibiting weight loss.
- Causes or exacerbates fatigue.
- Negatively impacts mood and sleep patterns.
- Reduces energy levels and motivation for physical activity, perpetuating sedentary lifestyle habits.
- Infant intake of breast milk declines in mothers who consume less than 1500 calories per day for an extended period.
- May slow infant growth and development.
How Calorie Restriction Slows Metabolism
If you’re sedentary and on an overly restricted diet, then up to half of the weight that you lose will come from protein in your muscles, not stored fat. Slowly, over time, your muscles and bones will lose strength and density. Erosion of muscle mass, in turn, lowers basal metabolism because muscles burn more energy at rest than other tissues. Additionally, reduced bone and muscle mass is one of the hallmarks of aging, and places women at much higher risk for developing osteoporosis, or brittle bone disease, later in life.
You may initially find this bizarre, but in order to loose excess fat, you will need to make sure that you eat enough to prevent muscle loss and metabolic slow down. Our metabolisms are superb at adjusting to environmental factors. Lowering your intake too severely triggers an energy-conserving response where the body dramatically lowers resting metabolism, sometimes referred to as the “starvation response.” Through thousands of years of genetic adaptation to cyclical famine, our ancestors who were most efficient at hording calories during lean times survived and reproduced.
Unfortunately, our bodies cannot discern the difference between intentional extreme dieting for weight loss and famine-induced calorie deprivation. Regardless of the reason for caloric restriction, when your body perceives that it is not getting enough food over an extended period, it reacts by slowing down its metabolism.
Insufficient Calorie Intake Causes Fatigue
For new moms, a big downside to hardcore dieting is fatigue. When your metabolism lowers, so does your energy level. A new mother is already exhausted from disrupted sleep cycles and 24/7 infant care, and other family obligations. The last thing mom needs is more fatigue. Fatigue undercuts the motivation to be physically active, so women who crash diet are more likely to be sedentary.
Dieting Negatively Impacts Mood
Dieting creates a negative mindset and is as much a psychological, as a physical, stressor. Without a doubt, dieting zaps the pleasure out of eating. Most diets have a long list of taboo foods, which create the temptation for the “forbidden fruit.” Restrictive diets are almost impossible to maintain, which sets the stage for “failure,” yet again. Guilt ensues.
On the other hand, a nutrient-rich diet, in the right quantity, is enjoyable, guilt-free and health enhancing.
The fatigue caused by extreme dieting can make us short-tempered, reducing our ability to handle the day-in and day-out stresses of parenthood with grace and ease. In this way, dieting inhibits our best selves, diminishing our capabilities and effectiveness as mothers.
Potential for Depression
When you add up the damaging effects of lowered metabolism, fatigue, lack of motivation and negative mindset, this begins to sound a lot like depression. Although postpartum depression cannot be directly linked to poor nutritional choices or chronic dieting, clearly the overall stress of dieting and reduced nutritional status may worsen a depressed state or add to a woman’s risks for depression.
5 Reasons You’re Not Losing the Baby Weight
“Rock-a-bye Baby” may be your little one’s theme song, but is yours more like “Bye-Bye Booty?” Some studies show that it can take, at minimum, the length of a full-term pregnancy to get a new mom’s body back to its pre-pregnancy size and shape.
So, now is not too soon to take a closer look at your postnatal fitness and nutrition program, in-order to accelerate your fitness and postnatal weight-loss goals. Remember: Always check with your doctor before returning to your exercise routine.
- RELATED: Lose the Baby Weight Success Stories
1. Too Much Of a Good Thing
While good nutrition is imperative, especially to support breastfeeding, keep in mind that healthful foods have calories, too. Heart-healthy fats such as nuts, whole grains such as brown rice, and some gluten-free bakery items found in organic markets are examples of beneficial foods that support energy and bodily function for any new mom.
But when you’re consuming more calories than your body can burn, even the calories in those so-called superfoods will be stored as fat. Be conscious of portion sizes, take time to read food labels, and, if you’re having trouble with emotional eating, get support.
2. Lack of Zs
It comes as no surprise that both the pattern and duration of a mother’s restful sleep becomes instantly compromised when a new baby arrives home. As sleep decreases, cortisol levels increase, which results in a mom’s inability to metabolize calories efficiently. Unfortunately, this is an unavoidable and honest expectation of new motherhood. To keep cortisol at bay, diminish cortisol spikes from other possible sources—for example caffeine, stress, and overexertion in the gym too soon after giving birth.
- RELATED: A New Mom’s Guide to Sleep
3. The Wrong Postnatal Workouts
Any tired, new mom is lucky enough to have the energy, let alone the time, to make it to a workout. Most postnatal women who have had vaginal delivery are urged to wait at least 6 to 10 weeks before beginning any postnatal exercise program—but no matter what, you need to get medical clearance from a doctor prior to starting back into a fitness routine. Doing too much, too fast can lead to any number of complications, including diastasis recti (separation of the abdominal wall) or simply exercise overexertion, which itself can hinder all of your efforts.
Once you’re approved for exercise after giving birth, consider consulting with a fitness expert to get educated on what formats and exercises are appropriate for most postnatal moms, and which ones should be avoided.
4. The Company You Keep
Weight-loss success requires support from those around us—but even well-meaning friends and family could hinder your efforts. Some new moms are showered with homemade meals and desserts from friends and family. It’s natural to want to enjoy comfort foods and indulge in treats when you’re recovering.
Other new moms, especially those who find luck with losing baby weight fairly quickly, can be faced with envy from friends who aren’t seeing the same success.
Communicate your wish to be the healthiest you can be to those around you, so they can best support your wellness goals. If that fails, eliminate situations or people in your life who bring you down, create undue stress, or cause you to second guess your abilities to succeed in losing baby weight.
Take a moment, breathe, and focus on what you can do today to move toward your end goal. Studies show the most efficient weight-loss plans are those that aim to create a loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week. This is a sane target for new, busy moms as well.
By setting realistic and attainable goals, such as walking for 30 minutes each day, or eliminating fatty and processed foods from meals, many postnatal moms should be able to safely lose up to a couple of pounds per week. Your positive affirmations to live healthier, will, in time, result in a trimmer physique. Meanwhile, keep up the great work, and know that your healthy lifestyle will benefit both you and your beautiful new baby.
- RELATED: Losing the Baby Weight: What It Takes
Remember: Always check with your doctor before starting any postnatal fitness program; you’ll need to wait at least six weeks after having a Cesarean section.
After nine months of being in a body that’s constantly changing, you’re psyched to finally meet your kid and embrace #MomLife. At the same time, there’s so much focus on celebs’ post-baby bodies and how fast they’ve “bounced back.” When someone like Adriana Lima walks the runway just weeks after giving birth, it can feel like there’s some kind of secret or magic bullet to dropping the baby weight quickly. But here’s what you can realistically expect when it comes to weight loss after birth, according to experts.
1. Yes, breastfeeding burns calories, but it’s not a diet. New mom Naya Rivera recently claimed she “easily” dropped 30 pounds just from breastfeeding and low-impact exercise. Cat Deeley said she did nothing but breastfeed, and in two months, was back in fighting shape. Breastfeeding is a legit calorie burner, but despite what every skinny new mom claims, you shouldn’t use it to reach your post-baby body goal faster. As your baby’s primary, even sole, source, of nutrition, you need an additional 400 to 500 calories to help keep your milk production flowing, explains Sherry Ross, MD, ob-gyn, and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
About two-thirds of those extra calories should come from snacks and foods you eat. The other one-third is burned from weight you gained when you were pregnant. Because of that, if you eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, “you’re bound to lose weight naturally,” says Dr. Ross. (You can expect to drop about 1 pound a week.)
But don’t think you can lose weight faster by cutting calories. Eating less than 1,800 calories a day could hinder your milk supply. (Not to mention the fact that you’ll probably feel exhausted.)
2. Your “mom belly” actually has nothing to do with your uterus. You might have heard there’s nothing you can do about a postpartum pooch and how it’s there because your uterus stretched out during pregnancy.
“The uterus is made of smooth muscle that does not in itself contain any fat,” explains David Diaz, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist and fertility expert at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. True, it did stretch and grow to accommodate your little one. But by six weeks after delivery, it will have contracted back down to its normal size — which is about the size and shape of a pear.
So if you still have a mom belly a week, a month, maybe even a year after your baby arrives, it’s stored fat you acquired during your pregnancy that your body’s holding onto.
3. Your pre-baby shape can affect how fast you get your old body back. Chances are you know someone who was able to fit back into her skinny jeans a few weeks after becoming a mom. Or you follow super-fit moms on Instagram who were taking bikini selfies days after giving birth. You probably also know someone who’s frustrated by how long after delivery she’s been working on losing the baby weight. Basically, there’s no set timetable for losing postpartum weight, and the fact is that the more weight you gain during pregnancy, the longer it will take to lose, Dr. Ross says.
But don’t let that bum you out. “The most common misconception about weight loss after pregnancy is that the weight should come off more quickly than it does in real time,” says Dr. Ross. “I tell my patients that it takes nine months to go through the pregnancy process, so allow yourself nine months during the postpartum period to have your body return to normal.”
4. Weight loss plateaus are real. Another myth you might have heard from some unhelpful person? How most moms struggle to get rid of their last 10 pounds of baby weight. Unfortunately, just like the freshman 15, there is some truth to that. You can blame a perfect storm of lifestyle changes (who wants to work out when your breasts are sore and swollen, and you’re freaking tired?), decreased metabolism, and shifting hormones. Weeks or months after you’ve shed some of your baby weight, your body’s all of a sudden like, “Uh, NO.” In other words, your metabolism slows when you lose weight. And when the calories you eat begin to match the calories you burn, you may be face with a weight plateau.
“This plateau is a normal response ,” explains Ross. “The final 10 pounds you need to lose may take the longest to lose. But it will be the most gratifying.”
5. Celebs don’t have some kind of secret weight loss magic bullet. Do these models who hit the runway in bikinis just days after becoming moms know something that we don’t?
“Supermodels make a living by being thin, so they have extra motivation to drop their pregnancy weight as quickly as possible, even if it means doing it in an unhealthy way,” says Dr. Ross. In other words, don’t see their super-fast results as something you need to replicate.
“If you’re aggressively restricting your calories and exercising excessively, this will affect your energy levels and ability to breastfeed successfully,” Dr. Ross warns. “Whether you’re a supermodel or average, ‘real’ woman, your first priority should be providing for your newborn in the healthiest way and being patient in losing your postpartum weight.”
6. You may need help. You’re exhausted, sore, bonding with your newborn, and still trying to absorb the surreal fact that you’re now a parent. So maybe you’re not taking great care of yourself or eating as well as you should. Instead of feeling guilty about it — or wrongly assuming that how you look and feel is no longer important — reach out for help from a doctor, a dietitian, or maybe just another new mom who would hit the gym with you.
Your post-baby weight is just part of the equation. “Making the time and effort to meet with a nutritionist or personal trainer is a great investment that will pay dividends for years in preventing diabetes, hypertension, elevated cholesterol, and many other serious medical conditions,” says Dr. Diaz. Whether you get down to your same pre-pregnancy size or hover above it, your ultimate goal is to feel good and be around for your kid for a long time.
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Gone are the days when the postpartum period meant throwing on a baggy sweatshirt and forgetting about your body for a while. Not with celeb mommies showing up in Us and Star looking teeny and toned just weeks after giving birth. It’s downright confusing: What’s a woman supposed to look like four months after having a baby? Like Heidi Klum, glowing and gorgeous in size 4 jeans? Or the woman down the street with the size 16 pooch? If you’re still wearing your maternity clothes, does that make you so very unusual? And if you’re overweight now, are you destined to be that way forever?
Just like you, we at BabyCenter wondered: When it comes to postpartum weight issues, what’s normal? So we surveyed nearly 7,000 moms with babies ranging in age from just a few days to 4 years old. The big finding – that for many women, the post-baby bulge can be frustratingly hard to lose – is more reassuring than it sounds.
“For most people, the weight doesn’t just melt off,” says Madelyn Fernstrom, director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s weight management program. “Even the celebrities who lose the weight within three months have to work out regularly – usually for extended amounts of time measured in hours, not minutes, which means getting outside help with the baby – and diet to do it. It’s hard for pretty much everyone.”
But far from impossible. Many new moms who struggle with their weight – including those for whom it’s been a lifelong issue – manage to get not just trimmer in the post-baby era but healthier than they’ve ever been. So read the results of our exclusive poll, find out what real women experience – and breathe a sigh of relief. Whatever the state of your body these days, you’ve got plenty of company.
The truth about baby fat
Many new moms assume that losing their baby fat will be much easier than it really is.
“I had this misconception that I would be back to my old shape within days,” one survey taker told us. “I even brought my old clothes to wear home from the hospital! I had to ask my husband to bring my maternity clothes from home.”
61% of new moms said they expected to be back down to their pre-pregnancy weight by their baby’s first birthday
It’s a common expectation. In our survey, 61 percent of brand-new mothers said they thought they’d be back down to their pre-pregnancy weight by their baby’s first birthday. But when we polled moms of 1- to 2-year-olds, nearly 60 percent were still carrying at least a few extra pounds.
Of course, a fair number of women do get in shape fast: A fifth of our survey moms with newborns (3 months old or younger) said they’d already lost all their baby weight.
Fernstrom says a year is a more realistic timeline for even a motivated new mom, with the last 10 pounds taking the longest to shed. The not-so-surprising reason? “Busyness and fatigue make it hard to find time to exercise,” she says, “which is what you need for more rapid loss.”
Even if it takes them a while, however, our survey found that more moms are eventually losing the weight compared to just two years ago. In 2008, 37 percent of moms of 2- to 3-year-olds reported they had hung on to 10-plus pounds of their pregnancy weight. This year, that number has fallen to 22 percent.
For many moms, the extra weight isn’t the only shocker.
“You may weigh the same or less after your pregnancy, but your clothes will fit differently!” lamented one mom in our survey. “I weigh less now, but I wear a larger size.” If you’ve been surprised by the way pregnancy has reconfigured your body, you’re hardly alone.
87% of women say their stomach still hasn’t returned to normal
Nearly half of our moms said their breasts are different now, and 37 percent said they have wider hips. But the post-baby tummy – “my mommy fluff,” as one woman put it; “this bulbous tire around my middle,” another complained – is what really seems to blow most moms away. One to two years after having their baby, 86 percent of women say their belly still hasn’t returned to normal.
The good news: According to Fernstrom, it’s possible to regain your old muscle tone – or even develop tone you never had before – no matter how old you are. But it takes time. Expect to wait at least six months and up to a year before your tummy starts to look somewhat recognizable – and that’s with regular exercise and sit-ups.
On the downside, muscle tone is not the same as skin tone. Some women are genetically vulnerable to stretch marks and saggy skin. These may look better over time, but they may not go away completely. Skin will also lose some elasticity after each birth – and with age. So if you had your kids later in life, it will be that much harder to restore your tummy to its former firmness.
Still, not all changes are unwelcome. As one new mom noted, “I have boobs now – and I didn’t have to pay for them!”
It’s definitely tougher to shed the pounds if you gained more than the recommended amount (but it can be done).
“For my first two babies, I was told to eat whatever I wanted. Big mistake!” said one of our survey moms. “I gained 50 pounds with my first and almost 40 with my second. Then, for my last one, I gained just 25 pounds. Not only did I feel great throughout the pregnancy, I returned to my pre-pregnancy weight in six months instead of two years.”
43% of our moms gained more than the recommended limit of 35 pounds
If you put on more than the recommended 35 pounds, join the club. So did 43 percent of our survey takers. And if the extra weight has presented a challenge for you, you’ve got lots of company there as well. Just 33 percent of our big gainers managed to shed all their pregnancy weight by their baby’s first birthday versus 46 percent of moms who gained less. A year or two after the birth, moms who gained more were also more likely to be carrying at least 10 extra pounds (49 percent versus 35 percent).
Still, there’s no point in beating yourself up about how much you gained when you were pregnant. Instead, try to focus on getting healthier as you move forward. “My son is 8 months old, and I’m just 7 pounds away from my pre-pregnancy weight (and that’s after my 52-pound weight gain!), so it can be done,” one mom told us. “It just may take a little time and patience.”
The mommy metabolism myth
Losing weight is harder after a baby – but not for the reason you might think.
“I feel like my body has a new set point now,” one of our survey takers complained. “Before, I never had to watch my weight. I was always the same, no matter what. That hasn’t changed – except that I’m 15 pounds heavier.”
85% of the moms who were overweight one to two years later blamed pregnancy for their weight problem
The notion that having a baby fundamentally changes a woman’s metabolism was common among the new mothers we surveyed. Eighty-five percent of the moms who were overweight one to two years later blamed pregnancy for either triggering or worsening their weight problem. Among moms with two or more kids, 43 percent had a harder time peeling off the pounds after their second pregnancy, versus 18 percent who had a harder time with their first.
But according to Fernstrom, it’s not your metabolism that slows down in the postpartum months – it’s you. (When was the last time you had an hour to spend at the gym?) Also getting in the way of good intentions are the stress and fatigue that come with caring for a baby, both classic triggers for repeated trips to the cookie jar.
Nor does your body hang on to excess fat more stubbornly with each child, Fernstrom says. Metabolism does gradually slow with age, but the real reason veteran moms are less likely to get back into their old jeans: They retain baby weight from each pregnancy. “If you’ve got 60 pounds to lose versus 20, it feels harder, and it is,” she says. “But there’s no biological reason it’s harder to lose the weight after your third child than after your first.”
New Hampshire survey mom Sheena Harte, who has six kids, is living proof that trimming down doesn’t have to get more difficult each time. After struggling to get back in shape after her first two pregnancies, she’s lost all her baby weight within a month or so the last four times. “I finally learned to tune in to my body,” she says, “and now I eat only when I’m hungry.”
Uncomfortable in the skin I’m in
All the changes can take a major toll on your self-esteem.
“When my body didn’t bounce back, as I had been told it would by well-intentioned friends and family members, I was devastated,” one new mom told us.
64% of survey takers confessed that their body image has gotten worse since they became a mother
Unfortunately, a majority of our survey moms can relate. Sixty-four percent confessed that their body image has gotten worse since they had a baby.
If anything, the Ironmom-next-door can be harder on the ego than Gisele, Heidi, or Nicole. “I ran into someone who had twins six weeks ago, and she was wearing low-rise jeans with a perfectly flat tummy,” moans 40-year-old Ray Caldito of Los Angeles, who had her twins nine months ago and is still 10 pounds heavier than she’d like to be. “With a celebrity mom, you can attribute it to a tummy tuck or a personal trainer. But with regular moms, it seems more like willpower.”
What’s more, as time passes and the pounds come off – perhaps not as quickly or completely as anticipated – a new mom’s body image doesn’t really get any better. Sixty-three percent of brand-new moms say they don’t like their body versus 62 percent of all moms we surveyed.
Even the lucky few who lose the baby weight quickly may have a rough time accepting themselves. Kimberly Benkwitt of Pelham, New York, has lost all her pregnancy weight plus another 25 pounds and has more energy than ever – a good thing, since the 34-year-old is chasing after two toddlers as well as caring for 3-month-old Finleigh. But her pregnancy pooch leaves her feeling anything but beautiful. “I’m at the lowest weight I’ve ever been at as an adult,” she says, “yet I’m the least comfortable with my body.”
All in the family
But chances are your mate still thinks you’re sexy.
“My husband has been phenomenal,” says Kara Jones, 27, a mother of two who lives in British Columbia. “He notices that I’m losing weight and firming up and gives me lots of compliments and encouragement. But at the same time, he’s happy with who I am. He’s always told me that I’m beautiful and has never once pressured me to lose weight.”
45% of our survey moms said they got negative comments on their post-baby body from their parents
Jones is lucky, but she’s hardly the exception. Only 8 percent of new moms reported hearing complaints from their partners about their postpartum weight or shape.
Joan Chrisler, a body image expert who teaches at Connecticut College, isn’t surprised. “Lots of studies have shown that women think men want them to be thinner than men really want them to be,” she says. “Researchers will show women sketches of female figures and ask, which do you think men believe is the ideal? Men always pick significantly bigger sizes than women think they want.” So if your mate says you look great, believe it.
On the other hand, plenty of other people seem to feel free to offer their critiques of your postpartum body. Nearly half of our survey moms said they got negative comments from their parents, and a quarter got them from an in-law. Even strangers seem to feel entitled to put in their two cents, with 18 percent of moms saying they got hurtful comments from people they didn’t even know. (On a more positive note, our survey moms have received more compliments and encouragement than criticism from people in all these groups.)
No matter what the intentions, all that public interest in the state of your waistline can leave moms feeling pressured. One survey taker told us, “I felt so self-conscious in the first few weeks after delivery. People would look immediately at my abdomen and I felt like I could hear them think, ‘Has she lost the baby weight?'”
Free to be me
You can get to a weight you feel comfortable with even if you’ve packed on the pounds
Thirty-year-old Amanda Denn of Montgomery, Texas, gained 75 pounds right before and during her first pregnancy. Although she lost 20 of them soon after her daughter’s birth, her weight plateaued for the next ten months. Then her sister-in-law encouraged her to sign up at a new Curves location with a set routine she could fit into her lunch break. “Six months later, I’ve lost 45 pounds and am very happy with how I look,” she says. “And with the healthy way I lost the weight, I have a better chance of keeping it off.”
Just as pregnancy inspires some women to eat more healthfully, motherhood can provide an opportunity to forge a new identity around food. That’s what onetime yo-yo dieter Susan Olsen of Riverside, California, has discovered. By the time she got pregnant, the 28-year-old had been struggling to lose the same 30 pounds since college. But it wasn’t until her daughter, Madelyn, now 7 months, arrived that she found the inspiration to change how she ate for good.
“I grew up with a mom who was about 100 pounds overweight, and I didn’t want to be like that,” Olsen says. “I want to be able to run around and play with Madelyn.” So she joined Weight Watchers (again), started exercising, and this time, her resolve has stuck. So far, she’s lost 41 pounds – 14 more than she gained during her pregnancy. She proclaims proudly, “I can now say I’m in better shape after bringing my beautiful baby into the world.”