The most effective strategy for weight loss is a combination of maintaining a healthy diet and engaging in regular physical activity. You will lose fat rather than muscle if you engage in physical activity. When you are ready to begin losing weight, each day you should eat a little less and move a little more than you did the day before. It is possible that you will feel tempted to put yourself through a strenuous routine in order to achieve rapid weight loss.
If there is one thing that we are aware of, it is the fact that returning to a healthy weight after giving birth can be a challenge. Taking care of a newborn, adjusting to a new routine, and recovering from childbirth can all add up to a stressful situation. It’s quite a bit.
It is essential, however, to get back to a healthy weight after giving birth, and this is especially true if you intend to become pregnant again in the near or distant future.
In this section, we will discuss some effective methods that can assist you in achieving a healthy postpartum weight so that you can face the challenges of parenthood with vigour.
Take Your Time
Your body needs time to recover from childbirth. If you lose weight too soon after childbirth, it can take longer for you to recover. Give yourself until your 6-week checkup before trying to slim down. If you are breastfeeding, wait until your baby is at least 2 months old and your milk supply has normalized before drastically cutting calories.
- Aim for a weight loss of about a pound and a half a week. You can do this by eating healthy foods and adding in exercise once you are cleared by your health care provider for regular physical activity.
- Women who are exclusively breastfeeding need about 500 more calories per day than they did before pregnancy. Get these calories from healthy choices such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.
- Do not drop below the minimum number of calories you need.
If you are breastfeeding, you will want to lose weight slowly. Weight loss that happens too fast can make you produce less milk. Losing about a pound and a half (670 grams) a week should not affect your milk supply or your health.
Breastfeeding makes your body burn calories which helps you lose weight. If you are patient, you may be surprised at how much weight you lose naturally while breastfeeding.
Eat to Lose Weight
These healthy eating tips will help you lose weight safely.
- Do not skip meals. With a new baby, many new moms forget to eat. If you do not eat, you will have less energy, and it will not help you lose weight.
- Eat 5 to 6 small meals a day with healthy snacks in between (rather than 3 larger meals).
- Eat breakfast. Even if you do not normally eat in the mornings, get into the habit of having breakfast. It will give you energy to start your day and stop you from feeling tired later.
- Slow down. When you take your time eating, you will notice that it is easier to tell that you are full. It is tempting to multitask, but if you focus on your meal you will be less likely to overeat.
- When you reach for a snack try to include foods with fiber and protein to help keep you full (such as raw bell pepper or carrot with bean dip, apple slices with peanut butter, or a slice of whole-wheat toast with hard-boiled egg). Drink at least 12 cups of fluid a day.
- Keep a water bottle near the spot where you usually feed the baby, that way you’ll remember to drink when they do.
- Limit drinks like sodas, juices, and other fluids with added sugar and calories. They can add up and keep you from losing weight. Avoid products with artificially sweeteners.
- Choose whole fruit over fruit juice. Fruit juices should be taken in moderation because they can contribute extra calories. Whole fruit gives you vitamins and nutrients and contains more fiber, which helps you feel full with fewer calories.
- Choose broiled or baked rather than fried foods.
- Limit sweets, sugar, saturated fat and trans-fats.
Do Not Crash and Burn
Do not go on a crash diet (not eating enough) or a fad diet (popular diets that limit certain types of foods and nutrients). They will probably make you drop pounds at first, but those first few pounds you lose are fluid and will come back.
Other pounds you lose on a crash diet may be muscle instead of fat. You will gain back any fat you lose on a crash diet once you return to normal eating.
You may not be able to return to your exact pre-pregnancy shape. For many women, pregnancy causes lasting changes in the body. You may have a softer belly, wider hips, and a larger waistline. Make your goals about your new body realistic.
A healthy diet combined with regular exercise is the best way to shed the pounds. Exercise will help you lose fat instead of muscle.
Once you are ready to start losing weight, eat a little less and move a little more each day. It may be tempting to push yourself into a hard routine for fast weight loss. But rapid weight loss is not healthy and is hard on your body.
Do not overdo it. Just a quick walk around the block with your baby in the stroller is a great way to start adding exercise to your daily routine.
You should set a goal to get back to the weight you were at before you got pregnant within six to twelve months after giving birth. Within the first six weeks after giving birth, the majority of women have lost half of their baby weight (postpartum). The remainder is typically shed over the course of the subsequent few months.
Combining a nutritious diet with regular exercise will assist you in achieving your weight loss goals. Breastfeeding may also facilitate weight loss in the postpartum period.
Here’s some background on what “baby weight” is, why it happens during pregnancy, and why it won’t be needed after baby makes their appearance in the world.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that women within a healthy weight range who are carrying one baby gain 25 to 35 pounds (11.5 to 16 kg)Trusted Source during pregnancy.
Recommended weight gains for expectant people who are underweight, overweight, or carrying multiple babies are different. Check out the interactive calculators at the Institute of Medicine/National Academies to determine your individual recommended weight gain.
Your healthcare providers may also have a different recommendation based on your own needs.
According to research published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & GynecologyTrusted Source, pregnancy weight gain consists of:
- the baby
- amniotic fluid
- breast tissue
- uterus enlargement
- extra fat stores
The extra fat acts as an energy reserve for the birth and breastfeeding. However, excess weight gain can result in too much fat. This is what people generally refer to as “baby weight,” and it’s very common.
Nearly half of all pregnant women gain more than the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy, according to the CDCTrusted Source.
The consequences of keeping on some of this extra weight after pregnancy include:
- increased risk of being overweight
- heightened risk of diabetes and heart disease
- greater risk of complications during pregnancy
- higher health risks for women with gestational diabetes
The following list provides evidence-based tips to help you lose the extra pounds.
1. Keep your goals realistic
Despite what magazines and celebrity stories would have you believe, losing weight after pregnancy takes time.
In one 2015 study, 75 percent of women were heavier 1 year after giving birth than they had been before pregnancy. Of these women, 47 percent were at least 10 pounds heavier at the 1-year mark, and 25 percent had kept on 20 more pounds.
Depending on how much weight you gained during pregnancy, it is realistic to expect that over the next 1 to 2 years you could lose around 10 pounds (4.5 kg). If you gained more weight, you may find you end up a few pounds heavier than you were pre-pregnancy.
Of course, with a good eating plan and exercise, you should be able to achieve any healthy level of weight loss that your doctor gives the thumbs up.
2. Don’t crash diet
Crash diets are very low calorie diets that aim to make you lose a large amount of weight in the shortest amount of time possible.
A low calorie diet is likely to be lacking in important nutrients and will probably leave you feeling tired. This is the opposite of what you need when taking care of a newborn, and when you’re likely sleep-deprived.
Assuming your weight is currently stable, decreasing your calorie intake by about 500 calories per day will stimulate safe weight loss of about 1.1 pounds (0.5 kg) per week. This amount of weight loss is considered safe for breastfeeding women, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
For example, a woman eating 2,000 calories per day could eat 300 fewer calories and burn an extra 200 calories through exercise, making a reduction of 500 calories in total.
3. Breastfeed if you can
The World Health Organization (WHO)Trusted Source, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the CDC all recommend breastfeeding. Breastfeeding your baby during the first 6 months of life (or much longer) has many benefits for both you and your baby:
- Provides nutrition: Breast milk contains all the nutrients a baby needs to grow and thrive in the first 6 months of life, according to the WHOTrusted Source.
- Supports the baby’s immune system: Breast milk also contains important antibodiesTrusted Source that help your baby fight viruses and bacteria.
- Lowers the risk of disease in infants: Breastfed infants have a lower risk of asthma, obesity, type 1 diabetes, respiratory disease, ear infections, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and gastrointestinal infections.
- Reduces the mother’s risk of disease: People who breastfeed have lower risksTrusted Source of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer.
Additionally, research has shown that breastfeeding can support your postpartum weight loss.
However, in the first 3 months of breastfeeding, you may experience no weight loss or even some weight gain. This is due to increased calorie needs and intake, as well as reduced physical activity during lactation.
4. Monitor your calorie intake
We know, calorie counting isn’t for everyone. But if you’re finding that eating intuitively just doesn’t seem to be working, monitoring calories can help you work out how much you are eating and where any problem areas in your eating plan may be.
It can also help you ensure you are getting enough calories to provide you with the energy and nutrition you need.
You can do this by:
- keeping a food diary
- taking pictures of your food as a reminder of what you have eaten
- trying a mobile calorie tracking app
- sharing your daily calorie intake with a friend who is also monitoring calories for accountability
Using these techniques can help you reduce your portion sizes and choose healthier foods, which helps with weight loss.
5. Eat foods high in fiber
It’s time to get those healthy grains and veggies on your shopping list. Eating foods that are high in fiber has been shown to help with weight loss.
For example, a 2019 studyTrusted Source of the 345 people found that an increase of 4 grams of fiber over what participants had eaten before the study led to an average additional weight loss of 3 1/4 pounds over 6 months.
These effects on digestion may help reduce calorie intake, though results of studies overall are mixed.
6. Stock up on healthy proteins
Studies show that protein has a greater “thermic” effect than other nutrients. That means that the body uses more energy to digest it than other types of foods, which results in more calories burned.
ResearchTrusted Source also shows that protein is also able to suppress appetite by increasing the fullness hormones GLP and GLP-1, as well as reducing the hunger hormone ghrelin. Less hungry hormones means less hangry-ness!
Healthy protein sources include:
- lean meats
- low mercury fish
- nuts and seeds
Check out these portable high protein snacks to take on the go.
7. Keep healthy snacks handy
The foods you have around can have a big effect on what you eat. And when you’re searching the pantry for something to munch, a healthy alternative is just the ticket.
By stocking up on healthy snacks, you can ensure you have something close at hand when the mood strikes. Here are some to keep on hand:
- cut vegetables and hummus
- mixed nuts and dried fruit
- Greek yogurt and homemade granola
- air-popped popcorn
- string cheese
- spiced nuts
- seaweed snacks
Likewise, a comparative study showed that having unhealthy foods out on the counter is associated with increased weight. Pro tip: Keep processed foods and sweets out of the kitchen, or even better, out of the house.
We’re loving these healthy snack ideas for the office, the pantry, or wherever you go.
8. Avoid added sugar and refined carbs
Though they may be tempting, sugar and refined carbs are high in calories and usually low in nutrients. And there are healthy and delicious alternatives.
Research associates a high intake of added sugar and refined carbs with an increase in weight, diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, and even cognitive decline.
Common sources of added sugars include:
- sugary drinks
- fruit juice
- any type of refined sugar
- white flour
- sweet spreads
When you’re choosing food at the grocery store, read the food labels. If sugar is one of the first ingredients on the list, that product is probably better to avoid.
It’s easy to reduce your sugar intake by avoiding processed foods and sticking to whole foods such as vegetables, legumes, fruits, meats, fish, eggs, nuts, and yogurt.
Here are some examples of low sugar breakfast ideas to get your wheels turning.
9. Avoid highly processed foods
If you’ve been taking note so far, a lot of these tips are made far easier when you’re eating whole, unprocessed foods. They’re usually full of protein, fiber, and less sugar.
Processed foods, on the other hand, are often high in sugar, unhealthy fats, salt, and calories, all of which can counteract your weight loss efforts, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH)Trusted Source.
These foods include:
- fast foods
- prepackaged foods
- cookies and baked goods
- ready meals
- boxed mixes
- processed cheeses
- sugary cereals
Plus researchTrusted Source has associated consumption of processed foods with more addictive eating behavior.
Unfortunately, these foods make up a large part of many people’s nutritional intake, according to research published The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
10. Avoid alcohol
Research has shown that small amounts of alcohol, such as a glass of red wine, do have some health benefits.
However, when it comes to weight loss, alcohol provides extra calories without much in the way of nutrition.
Additionally, alcohol may be related to weight gain and may lead to more fat being stored around the organs, also known as belly fat.
According to researchTrusted Source, there is no known safe level of alcohol for infants. The CDCTrusted Source advises that the safest option for infants is for breastfeeding mothers not to drink at all.
When you’re in the mood to celebrate, we’d recommend something low sugar and bubbly like an unsweetened flavored sparkling water.
11. Get moving
Moving your body has tons of benefits in general, but can especially supercharge weight loss. Cardio, such as walking, jogging, running, cycling, and interval training, helps you burn calories and has numerous health benefits.
According to the CDCTrusted Source, exercise improves heart health, reduces the risk and severity of diabetes, and may reduce the risk of several types of cancer.
Although exercise alone may not help you lose weight, an analysis of eight studies showed that exercise will help if you combine it with good nutrition.
For example, the analysis showed that people who combined diet and exercise lost an average of 3.7 pounds (1.72 kg) more than those who just dieted.
The CDCTrusted Source indicates that aerobic exercise is especially important for fat loss and heart health. So even just going for a walk is a good step toward improving your weight and health.
After delivery, your pelvic and stomach areas need time to heal, especially if you have had a cesarean delivery.
How long after childbirth you can safely start exercising depends on the mode of delivery, whether there were any complications, how fit you were before and during pregnancy, and how you feel generally. Your healthcare professional will help you decide your timing.
After your healthcare professional gives you the go-ahead to start exercising, the CDCTrusted Source recommends that postpartum people do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, such as brisk walking, spread throughout the week.
After you get the go-ahead to start, find an activity you really enjoy and can continue long after you get to a healthy weight.
12. Don’t resist that resistance training
Resistance training like weight lifting will help you lose weight and retain muscle mass.
Research has shown that a combination of diet and resistance training has been found to be the most effective method for reducing weight and improving heart health.
Finding time to exercise with a baby can be difficult, but there are gyms that offer classes for mothers and babies (in person and online!), as well as YouTube videos and mobile apps that can help you out.
Simple bodyweight exercises at home are free and can be modified to your skill level.
13. Drink enough water
Stay hydrated, friends. Drinking enough water is vital for anyone trying to lose weight. The CDCTrusted Source points out that choosing water over just one 20-ounce sweetened beverage can save you 240 calories.
According to a 2016 study, drinking water may increase your sense of fullness and stimulate your metabolism, leading to weight loss.
However, not all researchers agree. Another study suggests there is no conclusive correlation between water consumption and weight loss.
However, for breastfeeding women, there’s no question that staying hydrated is important to replace fluids lost through milk production.
A common recommendation from health authorities is to drink eight 8-ounce glasses, which amounts to half a gallon, or about 2 liters. This is easy to remember as the “8×8 rule.”
The 8×8 rule is a good goal that can assist with weight loss and keep you hydrated. However, women who are breastfeeding or exercising strenuously may need more.
Plain water is best, but unsweetened sparkling water once in a while can add some variety.
14. Get enough sleep
You already know this is a tough one. That little one wants you around the clock. But doing whatever you can to get adequate sleep will benefit you.
This association may also be true for adults in general. A review of 11 studies found a significant correlation between short amounts of sleep and obesity.
For new mothers, getting enough sleep can be a challenge. Strategies that may help include asking for help from family and friends and limiting your caffeine intake
Don’t forget: Your health is just as important as baby’s health, so ask for help to get the sleep you need.
15. Seek support
Group-based weight loss can be beneficial for some people. A research analysisTrusted Source showed that people who engage in group-based weight loss tend to lose more, or at least as much, weight as those who lose weight alone.
Both face-to-face weight loss groups and online communities may be helpful.
However, another research review that included 16,000 people found that group weight loss had no significant effect compared to other weight loss interventions.
Finding a method that suits your lifestyle and preferences is probably the best option. Here are some ways to find your people.
16. Ask for help
Being a new parent can be a daunting role and a lot of work. Sleep deprivation and stress can be overwhelming, and 1 in 9Trusted Source new mothers also experience postpartum depression.
While achieving a healthy weight after pregnancy is important, it shouldn’t add undue stress and anxiety. Making small changes that you can maintain for the long haul is key.
If you are feeling depressed or anxious, or you’re simply struggling to cope, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Ask friends and family for help around the house, preparing meals, or taking care of the baby for a few hours to allow you to rest or get some exercise.
If you need more help, your doctor, dietitian, family nurse, or a psychologist can offer you support. Also consider the Postpartum Support International Helpline: 800-944-4773.
Carrying some extra weight after pregnancy is very common and nothing to get down on yourself about. Your body did an amazing thing.
But getting back into a healthy weight range is beneficial for your health and any future pregnancies so it’s definitely worth working at.
Being healthy will allow you to enjoy time with your baby and get the most out of being a new parent.
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Lawrence RA, Lawrence RM. Maternal nutrition and supplements for mother and infant. In: Lawrence RA, Lawrence RM, eds. Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 9.
Newton ER, Stuebe AM. Lactation and breastfeeding. In: Landon MB, Galan HL, Jauniaux ERM, et al, eds. Gabbe’s Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 25.
U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. www.dietaryguidelines.gov/resources/2020-2025-dietary-guidelines-online-materials. Accessed March 31, 2022.
Review Date 10/17/2021
Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.