A good friend reminded me to pack my maternity pants for the hospital stay after the birth of my baby, saying I’d be happy I had those for the trip home.
She was right – I was nowhere close to fitting into my pre-pregnancy jeans a mere two days after giving birth.
Wondering when and how you can fit back into your clothes? Here’s your complete guide to postpartum weight loss.
Where does your pregnancy weight come from?
Many women are shocked to realize that once they deliver they still look about 5 to 6 months pregnant. And that’s because the weight you’ve gained during pregnancy is a lot more than just baby.
Here’s a look at the total weight breakdown according to American Pregnancy Association (assuming you gained between 25-35 pounds)
7 1/2 pounds is about how much the baby will weigh by the end of pregnancy.
1 1/2 pounds is how much the placenta weighs.
4 pounds is attributed to increased fluid volume.
2 pounds is the weight of the uterus.
2 pounds is the weight of breast tissue.
4 pounds is because of increased blood volume.
7 pounds is attributed to maternal stores of fat, protein, and other nutrients.
2 pounds for the amniotic fluid.
Postpartum weight loss timeline
Now that you have a good understanding of the weight breakdown, you’re probably wondering when then weight will come off?
Besides the baby, most women typically lose around 13 pounds immediately following the birth of their baby – which is the baby itself, placenta, and amniotic fluid.
You’ll also gradually lose water weight that your body retained during pregnancy. This is why night sweats are so common in your first few weeks after delivery-your body is getting rid of all the excess fluids it no longer needs.
Some breastfeeding mothers experience weight loss from breastfeeding, as you do burn between 200-500 calories per day while breastfeeding.
Beyond that, the rest of the weight will come off when you’re watching what you eat and getting regular exercise. With proper diet and exercise you can expect to lose anywhere from .5-1.5 pounds per week.
Be patient with yourself: It can take anywhere from six months to a year to completely “get your body back.”
Below I’ll give you an in-depth plan on how to achieve your postpartum weight loss goals.
Before you get started: Check for diastasis recti
For many moms, it’s a complete shock to find out that your stomach will look quite pregnant for the days and weeks following pregnancy. But beyond the normal belly distention present right after birth, some moms experience a condition called diastasis recti.
Diastasis recti is a condition that is pretty common during pregnancy and happens when intra-abdominal pressure exerts itself on the linea alba (tissue that connects the rectus abdominis or “six pack muscles”) creating separation of the abdominal muscles.
You get rid of this issue by activating your transverse abdominis (your deepest core muscle) and your pelvic floor.
At home test for diastasis recti
- Lie down on your back, with your feet on the floor
- Place your elbows up towards the ceiling and your hands on your shoulders
- Take one hand and place two fingers (horizontally) above your belly button
- Lift your head or do a crunch, and under normal conditions you should feel the sides of your abdominal muscles closing in on your fingers
- If the gap between your rectus abdominis muscles is larger than 2 finger widths, you may have diastasis recti
- Repeat the process below your belly button
If the at home test reveals diastasis recti, make sure you confirm this with your doctor! You will want to modify your exercise routine if you have diastasis.
Because you’ll want to avoid putting any additional pressure on your core, exercises like running, planks and anything that involves twisting motions should be avoided.
Your postpartum weight loss plan
In the days and weeks following the birth of your baby you might be tempted to obsess over losing the extra weight, but rather than worry about baby weight, it’s best to allow your body to rest and recover those first few weeks.
You can immediately begin making smarter choices when it comes to eating, but you should avoid crash dieting and severely limiting your calories, especially if you’re breastfeeding.
Additionally, when your doctor gives you the green light, exercise is a great way to shed the baby weight and tone up muscles and loose skin.
The exercise plan to lose your postpartum weight
Pregnancy is a beautiful thing, but that’s not to say it doesn’t take a toll on your body. Stretch marks, cellulite, unwanted weight and varicose veins can all rear their ugly head during pregnancy.
The good news here is that with a little work, and some patience, these not-so-fun pregnancy side effects will eventually go away.
Here’s how to create a postpartum exercise plan that you can do at home to help you lose the baby weight:
Step 1: Start with core foundational exercises
Once your doctor gives you the green light, restoring your pelvic floor and innermost core muscles is completely safe and wonderfully beneficial for new moms.
It’s important do these foundational exercises first, and move on to more challenging exercises once you’ve mastered these.
Do these 4 exercises each day:
Transverse abdominis breath (TA breath)
Your transverse abdominis (TA) is your inner most core muscle that basically acts like a corset. A big key to getting a flat stomach post pregnancy is learning how to properly engage your TA. Activating your TA is the first step to a flat belly after pregnancy.
Here’s how to take a TA breath:
To complete this exercise you’ll do 30 seconds of TA breathing for each of the following positions:
- Lying on your back
- Lying on your side
Your pelvic floor essentially acts as a sling, supporting the organs in your pelvis. Throughout pregnancy, and during delivery (even if you have a c-section, your pelvic floor muscles can stand to be strengthened) the pelvic floor is weakened.
And as a result, many moms suffer from incontinence (urine leakage) when they cough, sneeze, laugh, exercise or lift something heavy.
To strengthen your pelvic floor all you need to do is simply contract the pelvic floor muscles by using the same muscles that stop the flow of urine.
At first, you’ll hold these muscles for 2-3 seconds. Over the next few weeks, you can work your way up to 20-30 second holds. Do these several times a day. You can even do them while you’re doing your TA breathing exercises!
Bent knee fall out
- Lie on your back with your feet on the floor.
- Engage your transverse abdominis (navel to spine) and slowly lower one knee towards the ground.
- Bring knee up and repeat on the other side
- Lie on your back with your feet on the floor.
- Engage your transverse abdominis (navel to spine) and bring one foot off the floor, and slowly lower.
- Repeat on the other side.
Step 3: Start an exercise routine
As you begin a good postpartum workout routine, you’ll want to include your foundational core exercises into your overall workout. Here’s a sample workout routine you can follow:
Warm Up (5-10 minutes)
- Functional stretching is best – squats and lunges using a small range of motion, chair pose, etc.
Foundational core exercises (4 exercises held for 30-60 seconds each)
- TA breath
- Bent knee fall out
- TA marching
- Dead bug
- Bridge with leg extension
Cardio and strength training (30 minutes)
I recommend starting strength training as soon as you are physically able. Aim to do strength training every other day and focus on completing 10-15 reps. If you’ve never lifted weights, start with small hand weights or simple use your body weight and work your way up.
Squeeze in 10-15 minutes of cardio. Walking is really great, gentle exercise for new moms.
Don’t skip this section! A cool down reduces your heart rate , cools your body and allows muscles to return to their optimal length.
Don’t forget to change up your workout
In order to prevent plateaus and continue reaching your postpartum weight loss goals, you must change up your workout every 4-6 weeks. You can choose a new plan altogether or modify your existing one by changing the weight, reps, and intensity of the workout.
What you should be eating for optimal postpartum weight loss
The best post pregnancy diets focus on choosing the right foods, over counting every single little calorie. Chose to eat 4-6 small meals a day and fill your plate with the right balance of good carbs, fats and proteins, using these suggestions:
Carbs get a pretty bad wrap. Most people associate carbs with sugary treats and pasta, but carbs are actually good for you and your body needs them, you just need to understand which carbs you should consume.
Did you know 45-65% of your daily intake should come from carbs? Here’s some simple guidelines to follow when it comes to incorporating carbs in your diet:
Stay away from simple carbs. These are things like brown sugar, white sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, molasses. Work to eliminate any treats that contain simple sugars--cakes, cookies, bagels, muffins, etc.
Good sources of complex carbs
- brown rice
- whole wheat bread
- whole oats
- fruits and veggies.
Between 10-35% of your dietary intake should come from protein, but just like with carbs, not all forms of protein are created equal.
Good sources of healthy protein:
- chicken (look for minimall, processed organic)
- lean cuts of beef
- dairy (consume cheese in moderation)
Another crucial element to your diet that makes most people run in fear. Fats are responsible for stored energy, releasing hormones that control your metabolism and transporting vitamins within the body.
But just like carbs and proteins, you have to understand which fats to avoid and which ones to consume.
Examples of fats you should avoid:
- Processed meat
- Hydrogenated oil
Examples of healthy fats to incorporate into your diet:
- Salmon, Cod
- Flax seed oil
- Olive oil
What about postpartum weight loss and breastfeeding?
Extreme dieting while breastfeeding isn’t advised, but most moms find that the fastest way to lose weight while breastfeeding is by simply watching what they eat and getting a moderate amount of exercise in each week.
To avoid compromising your milk supply, you don’t want to consume less than 1800 calories a day.
Yes, it’s totally true that breastfeeding burns calories, but don’t think that means you can eat whatever you want. Stick with complex carbs, lean protein and healthy fats for optimal weight loss.
To make it easy on breastfeeding moms, here’s an article I wrote that has a sample breastfeeding meal plan.
Additionally, many new mothers who are breastfeeding worry about the effects of exercise on milk supply. To set your mind at ease, a recent study from the Journal of New England found that mothers who engaged in cardio 4-5 times per week experienced no negative effect on lactation.
The importance of sleep and weight loss
For a new mom, sleep is a rare luxury. And because of this, during those first few months of your baby’s life you should sleep as much as you can. This includes sleeping when your baby naps during the day.
Let the chores wait! Did you know that lack of sleep can totally thwart your weight loss efforts?
If you’re not consistently getting 7 hours of sleep you could be hurting your weight loss goals. Squeeze in some rest any time you can and don’t apologize for it. You’re doing your mind, and your body a world of good!
Don’t underestimate the importance of water when trying to lose baby weight
Did you know your body actually retains water when you don’t get enough water on a daily basis/ Shed extra water weight by making sure you get enough water each day.
Women need at least 64 ounces of water a day, and should really aim for 72 ounces. Additionally, if you’re attempting to lose weight, it’s a good idea to consume an additional 8 ounces of water for every 25 pounds you’re carrying above a healthy weight.
Don’t forget about replacing fluids you lost from exercise, too! Aim for at least 8 ounces for every 20 minutes of exercise.