It’s every woman’s dream to lose all the extra pregnancy pounds the moment baby finally arrives — but the fact is no one (not even celebs!) snaps back to her pre-baby body so quickly. It’s important to keep your expectations in check: Depending on the size of your newborn (usually between five and 10 pounds) and precise weight of your amniotic fluid and placenta (which you deliver at birth), most pregnant women can lose up to 12 pounds during delivery. Considering the average pregnancy weight gain is between 25 and 35 pounds, that’s a healthy start!
So where do the rest of those pounds come from? Your breast tissue, blood supply, fat stores and enlarged uterus. In fact, giving birth might not shrink your baby belly very much at all — at least for the first six weeks, until your uterus shrinks back to around its pre-pregnancy size.
There are lots of things you can do to get into shape again. But it’s really important to give yourself a break: Your body just birthed another being. Things moved around, stretched and grew to make that happen. Don’t focus on “getting your body back” (it actually didn’t go anywhere!) but on creating a healthy, happy, and — possibly slightly differently shaped — you.
YOUR WEEKLY WEIGHT-LOSS GOAL
After you deliver, you will slowly lose weight. You may want to speed things along by working with your doctor to set a safe, reasonable goal. A good rule of thumb is to lose no more than one and a half pounds per week (that is, a calorie deficit of 3,500 to 5,250 calories per week, or 500 to 750 a day). While many new mothers ditch the bulk of their pregnancy pounds by baby’s 6-month birthday, everyone sheds weight at their own pace. Many factors have been proven to affect your weight loss journey — including your age (your metabolism slows down by about 2 percent every decade after age 25, so you burn fewer calories at rest as you age), your diet (when you eat more protein than carbs and eat larger meals earlier in the day, your body burns more calories and works more efficiently), activity level (the more you move, the more calories you burn), and your natural metabolism, which is determined by your genes. Keep in mind, too, if you gained more than 35 pounds during your pregnancy, it could take extra time (from 10 months to two years) to bounce back.
BREASTFEEDING AND WEIGHT LOSS
Although shedding 10, 20 or more pounds post-baby might seem insurmountable, it may take less “work” — or at least hours pounding it out on the treadmill — than you might think. That’s because, as many new moms will attest, breastfeeding helps melt off the pounds in record time. In fact, depending on how much milk you produce, breastfeeding can burn up about 500 calories per day. What’s more, it stimulates the release of hormones that help shrink your uterus (and your post-baby belly). Unfortunately contrary to what you might have heard, you don’t need to hold on to an extra five pounds of weight as a reserve while you breastfeed (so those last few stubborn pounds might actually require some extra sweat sessions at the gym).
After you stop breastfeeding, your body has less work to do — which means it burns fewer calories than it did when you were nursing. However at the same time you may notice that weaning naturally decreases your appetite — your body’s natural way of putting you on the right kind of diet (so listen to it!). You’ll likely feel more free (and comfortable) to increase your activity level, too. So when you stop nursing, don’t worry too much about packing on the pounds you lost. Lifestyle changes can help keep your metabolism churning — and while you’ll need to scale back on food a bit, you can prevent those numbers on your bathroom scale from creeping back up.
YOUR POST-BABY DIET
Since your body needs ample rest and nutrition to recover from delivery, fend off infection and feed your baby, you shouldn’t even think about dieting until your baby is 6 weeks old — no matter how anxious you are to squeeze back into your pre-pregnancy clothes.
Once you feel ready to start a post-baby diet (and you’ve gotten the OK from your doctor), make sure you’re still eating enough calories. Crash dieting isn’t just risky for you: If you’re breastfeeding and don’t eat enough calories, your body ends up producing less milk — which means you’re hungry, growing baby goes on a diet with you. What’s more, burning fat too quickly can trigger the release of toxins that end up in breast milk. Even if you’re not nursing, eating too few calories can make your body think you’re starving. This confusion can cause actually slow down your metabolism, making it harder to shed those extra pounds in the long run.
Remember, if you’re nursing your calorie needs are even greater during the first six months after delivery than they were during the last trimester of pregnancy. Your doctor can help determine exactly how many calories you should be eating, since the number will vary depending on your BMI before pregnancy and your activity level. To put things in perspective, the average woman needs about 2,000 calories a day, and breastfeeding women should tack on an extra 500 calories to maintain their current weight. To lose one pound, though, you need to create a calorie deficit of 3,500 calories per week (or 500 calories less per day) by eating less or exercising more (which means the average breastfeeding woman would be back at 2,000 calories per day to lose about a pound a week). Make sure the foods you do eat are packed with the proper nutrients (for tips on what to eat, check out the postpartum diet and/or breastfeeding diet). Also remember that the less you weigh, the fewer calories your body needs — so you may need to adjust your calorie intake as you slim down.
One other thing to keep in mind: Exercise does a body good, especially one that has a few too many love handles. And even though you’re super busy, you can always find ways to start exercising with baby (it can be as simple as taking out the stroller or using a baby carrier). Just make sure you’ve gotten the green light from your practitioner before starting back on your exercise routine, and never exercise to the point of exhaustion (you’re probably exhausted enough from the lack of sleep!). Find an activity you enjoy — jogging, yoga, cycling, swimming, walking — and plan it into your week. Besides helping you with your weight loss after delivery, a brisk walk with the baby in a nearby park or playground is a great way to meet other moms who are no doubt on the same weight loss mission as you are.
THE DREADED WEIGHT-LOSS PLATEAU
You might have heard that many new mothers reach a weight loss plateau. And while it’s hard to say exactly if and when weight loss slows, experts say that many women do retain 10 pounds for good. That said, it likely has nothing to do with being pregnant but is more related to changes in your diet and activity levels after baby is in the picture: Caring for a new baby leaves a lot less time to take care of yourself — especially as you struggle to cope with a lot more work and a lot less sleep! But while losing the last few pounds might be tough, diet and exercise really can get your body back to its pre-baby shape.
TIPS TO SHED THOSE FINAL POUNDS
No matter where you are on your post-baby weight loss journey, patience is the key. Sticking to a diet can be tricky with a baby, but these tips can help you stay on track:
- Team up. You need all the support you can get — so get your partner on board. Take a walk instead of watching TV after dinner, and make a commitment to sticking to a post-baby diettogether. Start by ridding your fridge and pantry of high-fat and processed foods, then stock up on fruits, veggies, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, poultry and fish — and keep an eye out for each others’ eating habits.
- Don’t discount the small stuff. Squeeze even a little extra activity into your daily routine. Every step counts, so don’t discount the little things: You’d be amazed by how many calories you’ll burn from a number of everyday mommy activities.
- Stay positive. Focus on what you’ve accomplished so far and the weight you’ve already lost. If your skinny clothes are still too skinny, buy a couple of fun things that you’ll enjoy wearing, get a new haircut or try new makeup to perk you up as you slim down.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Even mothers are bound to the standard rules of weight loss: less calories in than out. Remember that it took you nine months to gain the weight, and slimming down will likely be as challenging as it was before you began to pack on pregnancy pounds. And even when the scale hits a number you like, you may find your body’s shape is somewhat different than it was before birth. That’s OK — and a great reason to splurge on some new clothes that flatter the new you!
So no matter how long it takes you to retire your pregnancy jeans, try not to get frustrated. While pregnancy might leave you with permanent stretch marks on your belly and slightly less perky breasts, healthy habits can help you shape up otherwise. And keep motivated by reminding yourself that you have created a fabulous human being who adores you — all of you…so instead of staring at your tummy, take a peek at your beautiful baby and cut yourself some slack.