Pregnancy marks a new chapter in your life. A bundle of joy arrives and brings so much happiness your way. However, many women experience the same struggle – they find it difficult to slim down after giving birth. Returning to a healthy weight after delivery is important for the quality of life, confidence, energy to take care of your baby, among other factors. This is especially important if you plan to get pregnant again. Although a challenging task, it’s entirely possible to lose baby weight and slim down after delivery. Your goal is to do it safely and effectively. We’re going to show you how to make it happen.
Healthy Weight Gain During Pregnancy
Weight gain during pregnancy is inevitable. It consists of the baby, placenta, amniotic fluid, breast tissue, blood, enlarged uterus, and extra fat stores. The latter is an energy reserve you’ll need for birth and breastfeeding. That being said, excess weight gain results in excessive fat i.e. “baby weight” and it’s a common problem for millions of women.
Healthy weight gain during pregnancy is not the same for every woman. Your current weight has a lot to do with the number of pounds you can gain during pregnancy. The CDC recommends the following healthy weight gain for women pregnant with one child based on their current weight status (1):
- Underweight women (BMI < 18.5) – 28-40 lbs
- Normal weight (BMI 18.5-24.9) – 25-35 lbs
- Overweight (BMI 25-29.9) – 15-25 lbs
- Obese (BMI ≥ 30) – 11-20 lbs
However, as CDC reports, nearly one-third (32%) of women gain the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy. On the other hand, 21% of women gain too little while 48% gain too much weight during this time. In other words, nearly half of all pregnant women gain more weight than recommended.
Why is it difficult to lose the baby weight?
Losing weight after pregnancy is easier said than done for most women. Factors that make post-baby weight loss more difficult include (2):
- Consuming more calories than you burn
- Unhealthy diet
- Lack of sleep
- Not drinking enough water
- Stress and exhaustion
- Starting with workouts too soon after giving birth
- Being overweight before pregnancy
- Lack of organization
- Mom guilt
- Lack of support
- Insufficient physical activity levels
Most pregnant women struggle with weight loss after giving birth. Difficulty to slim down takes its toll on confidence and motivation, especially when you go on social media and see photos of celebrities who drop baby weight within a few weeks. All the above-mentioned factors are real obstacles for many women. Although they’re tough, it’s possible to overcome these obstacles. Below, you’re going to see how to make it happen.
1. Have realistic goals
The biggest obstacle on the road to a safe weight loss after giving birth is the unrealistic goal or expectation from the process. You go on social media and see photos of celebrities who appear slimmer a few weeks after giving birth than they were before it. These posts put a lot of pressure on new mothers because they depict post-baby weight loss as an easy and quick endeavor. They also lead to unrealistic goals and expectations. You expect to slim down quickly and when it doesn’t happen the confidence and self-esteem decrease, motivation drops.
A study from the Obstetrics and Gynecology found that 75% of participants were heavier one year postpartum than they were prior to the pregnancy. Of these, 47.4% retained more than 10lbs and 24.2% over 20lbs (3).
At the very beginning, you need to define your goals. Make sure they are realistic. Having vague goals is a major contributor to confusion and irrational expectations. For example, saying you want to lose weight is a vague goal. It puts you under pressure to lose as much as possible within a short timeframe. Instead, you need to divide that big goal (weight loss) into smaller milestones that are easier to achieve. It can be to lose a few pounds in a month or so. Each time you complete a milestone you’ll be more motivated to continue.
2. Don’t compare yourself to others
While it seems easy, almost natural, to compare yourself to others you should avoid doing so. Just like with celebrities described above, these comparisons lead to unrealistic goals and disrupt your journey. Always keep in mind that every woman’s body is different. Your metabolic rate is different from someone else. So is general health, physical activity levels, pre-baby weight, and postpartum weight.
All these factors play a role in weight loss and how quickly you’re going to achieve it. Instead of comparing yourself to friends and other women, focus on the weight loss endeavor and acknowledge you’re doing your best.
3. Avoid fad diets
Fad diets take the internet by storm. They become instantly popular as social media users promote them as the only solution that helps them lose weight. Crash diets seem simple and easy. Just eat a certain type of food, ditch everything else, and you’ll lose weight. At least that’s what they claim. However, these diets bring more harm than good. How? Fad diets are low in calories and highly restrictive programs that you need to follow for a few weeks to drop a large amount of weight in the process.
Since they advocate complete omission of various food groups and limit you to certain ingredients only, you may be deficient in important nutrients. Keep in mind that proper nutrition is important for postpartum recovery. You also need more calories and proper nutrients if you’re breastfeeding (4).
Moreover, fad diets often produce a yo-yo effect. This means that you keep losing weight during the program, but end up regaining everything or even more after the diet is over. In other words, crash diets are not a healthy way to slim down after giving birth.
You don’t need to lower calorie intake drastically to slim down. If your weight is stable now, lowering calorie intake by 500 calories a day could promote a safe weight loss of approximately 1.1 lbs (0.5kg) a week. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a gradual weight loss of 1lb a week or 4lbs per month is a safe goal for breastfeeding women who want to return to their pre-pregnancy weight (5).
For instance, if you eat about 2000 calories a day, you may want to decrease the intake by 300 calories and burn an extra 200 through exercise. That way, you’ll achieve a reduction of 500 calories during the day and remain on the right track to a safe and healthy weight loss.
4. Track calorie intake
Lowering calorie intake, as seen above, is helpful for weight loss. Some people eat mindfully and manage to decrease the amount of calories they consume. For others, it’s difficult to do so. If you also struggle to reduce calorie intake through mindful eating, you may want to track your calories. That way, you can modify your diet and avoid overeating. Various methods help us track how much we eat. Some examples include a food diary, taking photos of food so you know what you’ve eaten, downloading a calorie calculator. You can also pair up with your friend or coworker who’s trying to lose weight (it doesn’t have to be baby weight necessarily) and share your calorie intake every day. This will allow all people involved to improve accountability and stay on the right track.
5. Breastfeed your baby (if you can)
Studies show that women who breastfeed exclusively for at least three months have a 1.3lb (0.59kg) greater weight loss at six months postpartum compared to their counterparts who don’t breastfeed at all or do it non-exclusively. At nine months postpartum, exclusive breastfeeding for at least three months may lead to 3.7lb (1.68kg) greater weight loss. In other words, women who breastfeed their babies for at least three months exclusively have 2.7% greater weight loss at 12 months postpartum than their counterparts (6).
Breastfeeding is recommended by the WHO, American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the CDC (7,8,9). The benefits of breastfeeding for both the mother and the baby are numerous. Not only it provides proper nutrition to a baby, but it also helps boost their immune system and lower the risk of disease. Mothers who breastfeed also have a lower risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, and other health problems.
Keep in mind that during the first few months of breastfeeding you may no experience weight loss and may notice a slight weight gain. Don’t let it discourage you, though.
6. Exercise properly
A well-balanced diet and regular exercise go hand in hand and are both equally important for safe weight loss. However, the body changes after delivery and requires a certain recovery time. You may be able to start exercising six weeks after vaginal delivery and eight weeks after C-section. That being said, you do need to consult your doctor about this subject. Do not start working out on your own, without a doctor confirming it’s okay. You want to ensure your body has recovered properly.
Regular exercise can help you slim down, especially when you combine it with good nutrition. In fact, a combination of exercise and diet works best for weight loss (10). Aerobic exercise is particularly important for weight loss (11), and it also improves heart health and boosts the immune system. Even a simple activity such as a nice walk could contribute to your weight loss. You should go for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio a week (12). This can include brisk walking or light jogging. The goal is to find an activity you truly enjoy. That way, you’ll be more likely to stick to it.
While aerobic training is crucial for fat loss, we can’t underestimate the importance of resistance workouts. Strength training helps you lose weight and retain muscle mass i.e. it can help tone your body. A combination of diet and resistance training is considered effective for reducing weight and improving cardiovascular health (13).
You don’t have to go to the gym to get enough exercise. Plenty of exercise videos and apps can help you complete workouts in your home and save time.
7. Eat the right foods
As seen above in this post, regular exercise should be in combination with a proper diet. The best way to eat mindfully and reduce your calorie intake is to eat the right foods. For example, you may want to consume fiber-rich foods. Fiber is important for digestion and helps suppress appetite by making you feel full for longer. In one study, increased fiber intake led to an average additional weight loss of 3 ¼ lbs over six months (14). Good fiber sources include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Besides fiber, your diet should also consist of healthy protein. Protein, a macronutrient, can accelerate metabolism, reduce appetite, and decrease calorie intake (15). You can get plenty of protein from eggs, lean meats, low-mercury fish, dairy, nuts and seeds, and legumes.
8. Choose your snacks wisely
Everybody loves snacks and we’re usually told to avoid them. However, snacking isn’t the problem. What you choose to snack, plays the role here. Instead of chips and other snacks, you may want to opt for healthier alternatives. Mixed nuts, dried fruit, carrot sticks, celery sticks, and other similar options can help you turn your snacking into weight loss support. Just make sure you don’t eat too much-dried fruit.
It’s useful to place healthy snacks such as fruits where you can see them. Put away unhealthy foods, or better yet don’t keep them in your home at all. This can help you slim down. Keeping fruits where you can see them is linked to decreased weight while unhealthy options do the opposite (16,17).
9. Avoid processed foods
Successful weight loss after giving birth is all about healthy lifestyle modifications and a well-balanced diet. Processed foods don’t fit in there. These foods are high in sugar, salt, trans fats, and are high in calories all of which can lead to weight gain. Processed foods deliver empty calories that leave you feeling hungry shortly after. Then you eat more and the cycle continues.
In addition to processed foods, you may also want to ditch sugar and refined carbs which are low in nutrients and high in calories. These can include sugary drinks, store-bought fruit juices, refined sugar, white flour, sweet spreads, cakes, biscuits, and pastries. Opt for healthier alternatives to these foods to support your weight loss.
10. Get enough sleep
This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s difficult for new moms to get enough sleep. In fact, sleep deprivation is common among moms across the globe. That being said, lack of sleep can lead to weight gain. Studies show it can also make you retain more weight after pregnancy (18). After all, lack of a good night’s rest increases stress, lowers energy levels, makes you more sedentary, and increases calorie intake. Your health is crucial because your baby needs you. That’s why you need to get enough sleep. The general rule is that you should sleep when your baby is asleep as well. But you can also get support from your loved ones and friends who can look after the baby for several hours while you’re catching up with sleep.
Other Things You Can Do
For a safe weight loss after giving birth you may also want to:
- Avoid alcohol
- Manage stress
- Drink enough water
- Avoid weight-loss teas and other products
- Join mom groups who are also trying to lose weight
- Don’t be afraid to seek help and support
- Don’t skip your meals
- Be patient
Losing weight after giving birth can be tricky, but it’s possible. You need to be patient and motivated. Gradual weight loss is the safest for new moms. That means you need to modify your diet but avoid crash dieting. Incorporate exercises you can do at home, but when your doctor says it’s okay. Remember, seeking help and support from your circle of friends and family members is incredibly important. Don’t underestimate the power of support groups where you can start weight loss endeavors with other moms and share your experiences.