After your baby is born, you might be eager to pack up your maternity clothes and get back into your pre-pregnancy outfits. But all the baby weight doesn’t disappear when you give birth. It can take some time to lose the pounds.
Amy Snell, a Banner women’s health nurse practitioner at Banner Health Clinic in Page, AZ, said, “The biggest mistake I see with women wanting to lose weight after giving birth is the idea that their body will quickly bounce back to their pre-pregnancy weight. This process takes time.” She explained how your body changes postpartum and what you can do to return to your pre-pregnancy weight and wardrobe.
Here’s the breakdown of pregnancy weight gain
On average, women gain 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy in two main areas:
- 35 percent is directly related to the baby. That amount includes the weight of the baby, placenta and amniotic fluid.
- 65 percent is related to other factors, such as more blood, water retention, increased breast tissue and additional weight in the uterus.
That means when you deliver your baby, you’ll lose about 35 percent of the 25 to 35 pounds you gained as part of your pregnancy.
You should lose most of the remaining 65 percent over roughly six weeks as your body slowly returns to its pre-pregnancy state. For example, after birth, your uterus is about the size it was when you were six months pregnant. It slowly shrinks back to its pre-pregnancy size. “Expect to remain in maternity clothes for some time after delivery,” Snell said.
You’ll likely carry extra weight in your breasts until you stop breastfeeding.
Of course, not everyone gains 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy. Some women gain less, and others gain more. If you’ve gained more, you shouldn’t expect the weight to disappear in six weeks. “The process of losing excess pregnancy weight takes time,” Snell said. With the right lifestyle changes, you can expect to lose 1 to 1.5 pounds per week.
Here’s what you can do to lose weight after giving birth
Snell said exercise is essential, both for weight loss and to increase your general health and wellness. She recommends 30 to 60 minutes of activity most days. But she concedes that making time to exercise can be challenging when you’re caring for a new baby. “You don’t have to fit in exercise all at one time,” she said. “Short spurts of exercise, like 10- to 20-minute increments a few times a day, might be more manageable. Ask others to help with the baby so you can find time to exercise.”
Making good food choices can also help with weight loss after your baby is born. You want to watch the number of calories you’re consuming. If you’re not breastfeeding, you should get back to the calories you were eating pre-pregnancy. For most women, that’s around 2,000 a day.
If you’re breastfeeding all or most of the time, you need an extra 450 to 500 calories per day. “The quote, ‘eating for two’ is not accurate,” Snell said. “Most breastfeeding women need 2,500 calories per day.”
You also want to choose a diet loaded with vegetables, fruits and whole grains, rounded out with lean dairy and meat. “Proper nutrition is managed one bite at a time,” Snell said. “Pre-planning food and cutting up fruits and vegetables for quick snacks can help.”
If you’re breastfeeding, choose foods high in calcium, protein, vitamins and minerals for your extra calories and avoid fish that’s high in mercury.
How breastfeeding factors into weight loss
Breastfeeding can help you lose weight since it increases the number of calories you need every day. And it’s safe to lose weight while breastfeeding if you’re overweight or obese. In fact, it can be good for your health—losing weight can help you lower your blood pressure and your risk for diabetes and heart disease.
One dietary problem to watch out for when breastfeeding is dehydration, Snell said. That’s because your breast milk contains a lot of water, and breastfeeding can make you constipated. “Monitor the color of your urine, and if it’s dark yellow, drink more water,” she said.
The bottom line
After you give birth, weight loss takes time. “Be kind to yourself throughout the process,” Snell said. “Slow progress is great progress—you are making changes for the better for yourself, your new baby and your family.”
If you could use some help managing your postpartum weight loss, Banner Health can help. Connect with a health care professional today.
Learn more about caring for yourself and your baby after you give birth:
- Stretch Marks: What Are They and Can I Get Rid of Them?
- What Should I Avoid Eating or Drinking When Breastfeeding?
- Can My Postpartum Depression Come Back Again?