Strategies for effective postpartum weight loss
What to Know
- Know when it’s safe to begin a weight loss plan
- Understand why forming healthy habits will take you further than a diet
- Create an effective postpartum weight loss plan using the Dietary Guidelines and My Plate along with light to moderate exercise
- Learn how breastfeeding may help you recover your pre-pregnancy weight
You’re not alone. Many women feel anxious about when and how they’ll lose their baby weight. 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 is best to support your health and, if you are breastfeeding, your milk supply.
Immediately postpartum, you’ll see a significant drop in weight after delivering your baby, placenta and releasing the amniotic fluid. However, your breast tissue, increased blood volume, fat stores and enlarged uterus will all still carry weight that comes off more gradually.
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, other than to reassure yourself you can and will lose the weight. Your body needs a little time to adjust to the new normal. Rather than focusing on a number on the scale, evidence shows that women who choose both a healthy diet plus a moderate amount of exercise have more success in postpartum weight loss.
And breastfeed! Exclusively breastfeeding for even 3 months can also help with postpartum weight loss, since producing breastmilk requires a tremendous amount of energy. Nursing exclusively for 6 months or more allows your body to burn calories and mobilize fat stores accumulated during pregnancy.
Just remember not to restrict your calories while breastfeeding, which can negatively impact the quality and quantity of your milk (Check out How much should I eat while breastfeeding for guidelines) as well as your own nutrient stores.
Breastfeeding or not, eating a high-quality diet is vital to maintaining your health during this physically and mentally demanding time of your life. Even as you work towards losing weight, you’ll want to focus on getting enough folate, iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin D, iodine and choline. If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll also need more vitamin A, B12 and B6. Check out the What to Do section for tips on getting these nutrients into your diet.
To support safe postpartum weight loss, the recommendation is to lose about 1-1.5 pounds per week. That’s the equivalent of a calorie deficit of 500-750 calories per day.
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 you determine what’s right for you.
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.
What to Do
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 will come off 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 (diets that restrict calories or certain nutrients), especially if you’re breastfeeding
Now is not the time to skimp on calories or essential nutrients – it’s not good for you or your baby. Losing the baby weight too quickly can lead to excess fatigue, poor mood, and a decrease in bone mineral density. Plus, eating too few calories can lead to a lack of energy to care for your new baby.
Moreover, research consistently shows that success with these types of diets is usually short lived. Instead, focus on healthier habits that will benefit you and your family for life.
Make nutritious food choices
Focusing on consistent healthy eating will allow you to lose weight over time gradually and sustainably.
- Eat plenty of whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, high quality dairy (and dairy alternatives), low mercury fish and lean meats
- Cook more of your own meals so you control what goes into your food
- Avoid 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.
- 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
Eat plenty of micronutrients
- Iron – Find iron in beef, white beans, eggs, spinach, lentils, and fortified grains. Iron from plant sources is best absorbed if taken with a good source of vitamin C (for example, pair iron-rich cereal with strawberries or beans with tomatoes).
- B12 – Meet your recommended B12 requirement with 3 ounces of tuna or sockeye salmon. Eggs and fortified breakfast cereals are other good sources of B12.
- Choline – Eggs, beef, salmon, and quinoa are all great sources of choline.
- B6 – Eating fish, starchy vegetables (like potatoes) and non-citrus fruits (like bananas) will help you reach your recommended B6 requirements.
- Vitamin A – Focus on dark leafy greens as well as orange and yellow vegetables (like sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots and cantaloupe) to meet your recommended vitamin A requirement. Other sources include milk, eggs and the always popular liver and fish oil!
- Vitamin D – It can be difficult to reach the recommended amount of vitamin D from diet alone, but the best sources are fish and fortified dairy products.
- Folate – Find folate in many foods such as vegetables (especially dark leafy green veggies), fruits, nuts, beans, dairy and meat.
- Calcium – Low-fat dairy, dark leafy greens, tofu, baked beans, almonds, sardines, sesame seeds and figs all contain calcium. Many cereals are now fortified with calcium too, so check the labels.
- Zinc – Get your zinc from meat, beans, nuts, whole grains and dairy.
- Iodine – Seafood, dairy, and iodized salt are your best sources for iodine.
Speak to your healthcare provider to get help evaluating your calorie and nutrient needs based on your specific circumstances. Chat a Happy Mama Mentor if you have any questions.
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).
Staying hydrated with unsweetened drinks can eliminate excess calories and prevent your body from confusing hunger and thirst.
Get moving—but in the right ways
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.
Very rigorous exercise can actually cause your body to recover more slowly from pregnancy. 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.
The recommendation for postpartum physical activity is 2.5 hours per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. Examples of moderate-intensity exercise are brisk walking or cycling. You can spread out the time however it works best for you, but be mindful of not overdoing it.
Exclusively breastfeeding for 6 months, and continued breastfeeding alongside complementary foods can help support weight loss.
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. And the Happy Mama Mentors are here to help too!
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