If you’re new to motherhood, there may be a few things you’ve been taken aback by: the never-ending feedings and diaper changes, the distant memory of a good night’s sleep, the unpredictability of a newborn’s schedule—not to mention a body that is constantly changing. But chances are you’ve also been amazed by the delightfully unexpected things: the tiny toes, the sweet breath, the little sighs of contentment. And of course, a pure, deep love so powerful it can take your breath away.
Amidst it all, your body has been recovering from the rigors of pregnancy and childbirth while undergoing dramatic hormonal changes. And if you’re breastfeeding, it’s been working hard to produce enough milk to nourish another human being. You—and that miraculous body of yours—are working hard and going through a lot.
Still, you may be wondering if the pregnancy pounds—and your post-pregnancy body—are here to stay. We’re happy to say that returning to your pre-pregnancy weight is possible. Read on as we discuss when it’s healthy to start trying to lose the extra pounds … and the healthy way to approach post-baby weight loss.
1. Keep your weight gain (and loss) in perspective.
As alarming as the relentless creep of the scale was throughout pregnancy, you may not have as much weight to lose as you think. According to the March of Dimes1, most women lose about 10 pounds right after birth and a bit more in the first week as they shed the placenta and other artifacts of pregnancy. Weight loss often continues in the following days and weeks; according to the National Institutes of Health2, most women lose half of their pregnancy weight by about six weeks after delivery. If you are breastfeeding, this may also increase postpartum weight loss, as you use stored fat, along with calories from your diet, to make milk.3
2. Don’t try to lose the weight right away.
According to experts, you’ll need to wait six to eight weeks after delivery to start your post-pregnancy weight loss plan.4 Your body needs that time to recover from pregnancy and childbirth; plus, if you lose weight too soon, it may take your body longer to fully recover. And if you are breastfeeding, you need time to establish a healthy milk supply before starting to limit calories.2
Even though you may be itching to fit back into your old jeans now that you're no longer pregnant, you need to plan on losing weight gradually. Dropping pounds too quickly can not only lower your energy level at a time when you’re already fatigued, but it can also cause you to lose lean muscle.5 Also, if you’re breastfeeding, losing too rapidly can put your milk supply at risk and potentially affect your baby’s health and growth.6
Aim to lose up to 1 to 2 pounds per week if you aren’t nursing and ½ to 1 pound per week if you've chosen to breastfeed.6 Since breastfeeding requires an extra 450 to 500 calories daily7, try not to dip below 1,800 calories per day, or your calorie deficit could cause your milk supply to suffer.6
Ensure your eating habits follow a well-rounded plan and steer clear of fad diets or ones that overly restrict calories; instead, focus on a plan that is balanced and emphasizes a healthy rate of weight loss, such as Jenny Craig. Follow these other important postpartum weight loss tips:
- Steer clear of higher-mercury fish such as king mackerel, orange roughy, shark and swordfish if you are breastfeeding. Use lower-mercury seafood such as catfish, pollock, salmon, shrimp and canned light tuna instead, but limit to 12 ounces per week.8
- Include extra protein and calcium in your diet if you are breastfeeding. The RDA for protein during lactation is 71 grams9; calcium is 1,000 milligrams10. Jenny Craig follows expert guidelines that meet or exceeds the recommendations for breastfeeding mothers on the program
5. Don’t skip meals.
It can be a challenge to take proper care of yourself with a new baby in the house and even more of a challenge if you're sleep deprived. Be sure to make time to eat healthful meals and snacks—especially breakfast, as research has shown that regularly skipping breakfast not only puts you at higher risk for gaining weight, but for developing dangerous visceral belly fat.11
6. Load up on fluids.
Drinking ample fluids is important for all people, but particularly breastfeeding moms, as it helps to keep your baby hydrated.12 Aim to drink about 6 to 8 cups of fluids per day—water is best if you’re watching calories—and even more if the weather is hot or you’re feeling thirsty. (Experts refer to this as “drinking to thirst.”) If the demands of taking care of a newborn are making it hard to drink enough, keep a glass where you feed the baby so you can sip on it every time she eats (which is often!).
7. Ask your doctor about exercise.
While experts used to recommend not returning to your usual physical activity routine until six to eight weeks after giving birth, that’s no longer the case. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists13, you should be able to return to your workout routine and start exercising soon after giving birth, or whenever you feel ready—as long as you had a healthy pregnancy and a normal delivery. (If you had a Cesarean section or other complications, wait until your doctor gives you the go-ahead.) Chances are you won’t have the same stamina as before pregnancy, so be sure to start back slowly and not overdo it—taking a walk with the baby in a stroller is a great way to start.
Remember to always consult your physician before starting a new exercise routine.
8. Be realistic.
Just as it took nine-plus months to gain your pregnancy weight (and to grow that sweet baby), it can take some time to lose it. Keep in mind that your body has changed, so you may need to ease into a new diet and exercise routine. Losing weight is a journey, so be patient, be kind to yourself, and be realistic. Most women are able to return to their pre-pregnancy weight by six to 12 months after delivery.12
Above all, remember that while those lingering pounds may be discouraging, they’re a reminder of what your body was able to do: grow and nourish your beautiful baby. So take it slowly, be kind to yourself, and treasure these days with your growing baby. They’ll be gone before you know it—and so will the extra weight!
Want to take something off your plate as a new mom? Leave the meal planning and prep to us! The Jenny Craig program is a safe and effective way to meet your postpartum weight loss goals—you just need to be at least six weeks post-delivery to participate. Book your free appointment to get started today!
6 Lauwers, J; Swisher, A: Counseling the Nursing Mother: A Lactation Consultant’s Guide. Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2011: pg. 171
12 Lauwers, J; Swisher, A: Counseling the Nursing Mother: A Lactation Consultant’s Guide. Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2011: pg. 169
Carole Anderson Lucia
Carole is an award-winning journalist based in Southern California who specializes in health and wellness topics. Her work has appeared in Parents, Fit Pregnancy, Mom & Baby, Yahoo News, Viv magazine and Lifescript. She's won several national awards for her work including a National Science Award and two National Health Information awards. A frequent contributor to Jenny Craig’s Blog, Healthy Habits, she enjoys gardening, spending time at the beach and adopting far too many rescue animals in her spare time.
Favorite healthy snack: jicama dipped in homemade hummus.
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