Strategies for Postpartum Weight Loss

JanelMS, RD, LDN, CBS

Read time: 6 minutes

What should I know about losing weight after pregnancy?

  • Understand how long to wait before focusing on weight loss

  • Learn the best ways to lose your pregnancy weight

  • Tips for healthy eating postpartum

If you’re not feeling like yourself in your own body, you’re not alone. Many women feel anxious about when and how they’ll lose their baby weight after pregnancy. It helps to remember that it took 9 months to gain the weight and can take 9 months (or more) to lose it. Slow and steady weight loss works best to support your health and, if you are breastfeeding, your milk supply.9,22

Read on to learn the ins and outs of losing weight after pregnancy.

Quick initial weight loss postpartum

Immediately postpartum, you’ll see a drop in weight after delivering your baby, placenta, and releasing amniotic fluid.24 However, your breast tissue, increased blood volume, fat stores, and enlarged uterus will all still carry weight that comes off more gradually.23

While you may feel anxious about losing your baby weight, try not to think about it until your baby is at least 6 weeks old. Waiting until this point helps make sure your breastmilk supply is established, should you be breastfeeding, and allows your body to begin healing after pregnancy and delivery.22

The good news is that most women have lost about half their pregnancy weight by the time their baby is 6 weeks old simply from physiological changes in the body.22,23 Keep in mind the rest will take time.

Know that when the time is right you can and will lose the weight.

How to lose weight and keep it off

Evidence shows that women who choose both a healthy diet plus a moderate amount of exercise have more success with postpartum weight loss.1 Research indicates that it is safe to lose about 1 to 1.5 pounds per week.5,25,28

If you were overweight before becoming pregnant or if you gained an excessive amount of weight during pregnancy, it may be safe to lose more weight per week. Your healthcare provider can help determine what’s right for you.

Read more: Meal Plan: Getting the Right Nutrition while Breastfeeding

Can I lose weight while breastfeeding?

For the most part, it is safe to lose weight while breastfeeding. Gradual weight loss should not affect your breastmilk supply.4

In fact, exclusively breastfeeding for even 3 months may help with moderate postpartum weight loss, since producing breastmilk requires a tremendous amount of energy (calories).2,8 Nursing exclusively for 6 months or more allows your body to burn calories and mobilize fat stores accumulated during pregnancy.3

But note that unfortunately, not all breastfeeding women will lose weight from breastfeeding alone.

Aim to consume a minimum of 1500 to 1800 calories per day, depending on your individual needs.26,27 Any less than this and it may be more difficult to get all the nutrients you and your baby need while nursing.

Learn More:

How Much Should I Eat While Breastfeeding?

What to Eat While Breastfeeding

Do you have questions about the quality of your diet and calorie intake? Reach out to our team of registered dietitians and lactation consultants for free! They’re here to help on our free to live chat from Monday – Friday 8am-6pm (ET), and Saturday – Sunday 8am-2pm (ET). Chat Now!

Focus on a high-quality diet while losing weight

Breastfeeding or not, eating a high-quality diet is vital to maintaining your health during this physically and mentally demanding time of your life. Choosing a wide variety of whole foods as the basis of your diet will help you get the vitamin, minerals, and nutrients needed to continue your recovery from pregnancy, help provide energy to care for your little one, and help contribute to your health for the long run.7,8,9

Know that some women, even with diet, exercise, and breastfeeding, find postpartum weight loss slow going. Instead of letting this get you down, be patient with yourself and reach out for support. You’ll find many new moms going through this together.

Tips for postpartum weight loss

Take good care of yourself

Allow yourself time to rest and recover after giving birth and try to let go of any weight related stress. The weight loss will occur gradually by following healthy lifestyle habits: healthful eating, enough sleep (we know this is all relative!), plenty of water, some light to moderate exercise, and whatever helps you feel at peace.

Be realistic about your weight loss goals. Pregnancy changes the shape of our bodies and motherhood changes the shape of our lives, so keep noticing where your joy is.

Avoid going on restrictive diets

Restrictive and fad diets promise quick and dramatic results; but they often cut out large amounts of calories and/or limit your food choices dramatically.11

Now is not the time to make drastic cuts to your calories or essential nutrients – it’s not good for you or your baby. Just like in pregnancy, during breastfeeding your body prioritizes the baby’s nutrient needs over your own. If you’re not getting enough nutrients, often your baby gets what they need, leaving you depleted.10 But for some key nutrients, if you are deficient there also won’t be enough to pass on to your little one.27

Even if you’re not breastfeeding, eating too few calories can lead to a lack of energy to care for your new baby.

Research consistently shows that success with these types of diets is usually short lived.11,22 Instead, focus on healthier habits that will benefit you and your family for life.15

Speak to your healthcare provider to get help evaluating your calorie and nutrient needs based on your specific circumstances.

Make nutritious food choices

Focusing on consistent healthy eating will allow you to lose weight over time, gradually and sustainably.15

Tips to help you make healthy food choices:

  • Eat plenty of whole colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, high quality dairy (and plant-based dairy alternatives), low mercury fish, and lean meats

  • Cook more of your own meals so you control what goes into your food

  • Meal plan on a daily or weekly basis

  • Avoid too many processed foods

  • Eat regularly throughout the day. Eating at regular intervals ensures you’re eating enough calories and prevents you from becoming too hungry, which can lead to overeating.

  • When figuring out your meal plan, make half of your plate vegetables and fruits (with an emphasis on vegetables), a quarter of your plate whole grains, and a quarter of your plate lean protein at each meal. This will help you fill up on high nutrient, high fiber, low calorie foods: veggies!9,16,17,20

Read more:

8 Tips for Simple, Quick, Healthy Cooking

Meal Plan: How to Eat more Fruits and Vegetables

Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water

Ditch the soda, fruit juice and other sugar sweetened drinks and stick with water, seltzer and unsweetened tea and coffee (if you’re breastfeeding, be mindful of your total caffeine intake).9

Staying hydrated with unsweetened drinks can eliminate excess calories and prevent your body from confusing hunger and thirst.9

Read More:

Can I have Caffeine while Pregnant and Breastfeeding?

Can My Baby Drink Juice? How Much Juice Should My Family Drink?

Get moving, but in the right ways

When your health care provider gives you the green light, start adding in physical activity to your days. Try making small changes at first, like adding a daily walk with your new baby into your routine, rather than jumping into a rigorous exercise program. Once your baby is out of the newborn phase, check out programs in your area that incorporate exercise with your baby, such as baby and me yoga or stroller walking clubs.

There is no one-size-fits all approach to exercise in the postpartum stage. If you did vigorous physical activity pre-pregnancy (like running) and slowed down during pregnancy, talk to your healthcare provider about safe ways to incorporate it back into your routine when you’re ready.12

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommendation for postpartum physical activity is 2.5 hours per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise.14 Examples of moderate-intensity exercise are brisk walking or cycling. You can spread out the time during the week however it works best for you, but be mindful of not overdoing it.13,14

Learn More:

Postpartum Exercise: Avoid Overdoing It

Tips For Postpartum Exercise When Short on Time

Be patient and get support

While returning to a healthy weight postpartum is important to your long-term health, it can take a considerable amount of time. Go easy on yourself and try to find ways to keep yourself motivated and on track with your healthy eating and exercise habits. Look for a mom group to join online or, better yet, in person if you’re able.

Let's Chat!

We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.

Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitians certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday - Friday 8am-6pm (ET), and Saturday - Sunday 8am-2pm (ET).Chat Now!

Read more about the experts that help write our content!

For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Why Does Vitamin A Matter for Babies, Tots, and Mama?,

Why Does Vitamin B12 Matter for Babies, Tots, and Mama?

Why Does Choline Matters For Babies, Tots, and Mama?

Why Does Iodine Matters: For Babies, Tots, and Mama?

Why Does Vitamin D Matters: For Babies, Tots, and Mama?