Postpartum Weight Loss: What To Know About Exercise And Diet After Birth – Forbes

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After approximately 40 weeks of pregnancy and then delivery, many people feel more than ready to get back to their ‘old’ selves. From finally getting to eat sushi to getting a break from the constant doctor’s appointments, there’s a lot about postpartum life to look forward to—and for a good amount of people, that includes an eagerness for their body to return to its pre-pregnancy state.
But what does the postpartum weight loss timeline actually look like? While this transition can be extremely personal, there are a few common milestones to keep in mind.
During the postpartum period—a time that can be emotionally and physically stressful—the most important thing to focus on is your health. For many people, fixating on a number on the scale may get in the way of this self care, so it’s important to take your time and prioritize yourself and your baby first, and your weight management second.
That being said, after delivery, most individuals should aim to lose the weight they put on during pregnancy sometime between the six and 12 month mark, and most people naturally lose half the weight they gained six months after giving birth, according to the National Library of Medicine[1]. Living with a lot of extra weight is often associated with health risks like diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and more, so it’s important to remember that postpartum weight loss isn’t just about the cosmetic factor—it’s about your overall health, too.
The one caveat to this kind of weight loss is that everyone is different, and postpartum weight loss is often contingent upon a variety of factors. “A lot of the speed of weight loss has to do with someone’s ability to have access to healthy food and the ability to be active. A lot of it also depends on their mode of delivery,” explains Jen Ludgin, M.D., a maternal fetal medicine fellow at Tufts Medical Center, adding that people who give birth via c-section often have to wait longer to get back to exercise.
Additionally, the speed at which someone loses their pregnancy weight depends on how much weight was gained during pregnancy, and any postpartum restrictions, adds Amy Roskin, M.D., a board-certified OB-GYN and chief medical officer of Seven Starling, a digital wellness company geared toward women’s health.
It’s also worth noting that it’s common to have difficulty losing all of one’s extra weight after pregnancy. A 2016 study that followed pregnant women living with obesity found that at one year postpartum, about 24% of people retained 10 or more pounds compared to pre-pregnancy[2].
Postpartum weight loss can vary based on your mental health status, too: Women reporting depressive symptoms after giving birth tend to deal with more postpartum weight retention[3].
The best time to start exercising after childbirth largely depends on the mode of delivery. “For someone who delivers vaginally and it’s uncomplicated, they can usually go for walks a few days postpartum, ” says Dr. Ludgin. After that, people are usually able to resume their usual exercise routine between six weeks and two months, she continues.
A c-section, on the other hand, typically requires more healing time. Individuals can usually resume activity “four to six weeks after surgery, but they can’t just jump back into what they were doing before, they have to work up to it,” explains Dr. Ludgin. For example, if you were a runner prior to pregnancy, it can be helpful to ease back in with a gentle, modified program.
No matter what delivery method you experienced, it’s important to get an all clear from your doctor before resuming exercise—especially vigorous exercise. “Once you get the all clear, you can start as soon as you feel ready,” says Dr. Roskin. “It’s really important to start slowly and be mindful of feedback from your body. Be sure to stay well-hydrated. Your endurance and exercise tolerance may not be what it was before, so be kind to yourself as you develop your fitness routine,” she continues.
Although more research on the topic is needed, breastfeeding may help with postpartum weight loss: For example, one 2014 study found that exclusively breastfeeding in the first three months led to a 2.7% greater weight loss at 12 months postpartum compared to those who did not breastfeed or did not breastfeed exclusively during this time.
“Breastfeeding burns calories,” explains Dr. Ludgin, noting that that’s one of the reasons why it’s important for people to consume more calories at the beginning, especially while establishing milk supply. “In the first six months or so you need an extra 330 calories a day, and then the second half of the first year you need an additional 400 calories a day,” she continues.
It’s not advised to try any extreme dieting in the weeks following delivery. “A diet where you’re being really calorie-restrictive can affect milk supply, especially in the first weeks and months when you’re establishing it,” says Dr. Ludgin.
After the first eight weeks, both Dr. Roskin and Dr. Ludgin agree that it’s okay to go on some sort of “diet,” especially if it’s full of healthy foods—just be careful not to become too restrictive, and always put the physical and mental health of you and your child first.
To put a number behind the idea of safely dieting while breastfeeding: A gradual weight loss of one pound per week (or four pounds per month) is what the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends.
If you’re looking for a jumpstart on your postpartum weight loss journey, read on for some specific tips recommended by experts.
As with any weight loss journey, slow and steady is the name of the game. “Focus on good nutrition with healthy choices and portions,” says Dr. Roskin. Eating foods high in fiber can help curb hunger and has been associated with weight loss. Mindfully incorporating protein into your diet has also been associated with decreasing appetite and improved weight loss, continues Dr. Roskin.
While it’s totally okay to occasionally indulge in a cookie or two, Dr. Roskin suggests avoiding refined carbohydrates, which are foods that contain high amounts of simple sugars and low amounts of fiber and other nutrients, such as desserts and white bread, when you can. “They can be associated with weight gain and don’t add much nutritional value,” she says.
Some alternatives to refined carbohydrates include whole wheat bread, brown rice and quinoa.
If you come up with an ambitious exercise routine that doesn’t actually spark joy, you likely won’t stick with it—so instead, find a type of exercise that really makes you happy. “New moms are going to be really tired,” says Dr. Ludgin. “If you’re not into running, I don’t recommend that, because it won’t make you happy. Go for walks with your new baby or go for walks on your own to give yourself personal time.”
While more research is needed to truly determine whether or not breastfeeding has a huge impact on weight loss, because it burns calories, it can often be a solid starting point. Even if you are unable to exclusively breastfeed, pumping may also provide a boost in calorie burning, as the two mechanisms are very similar.
When working to lose weight postpartum, remember to go easy on yourself. The first year with a baby can present a whole host of new challenges, so consider stepping into the weight loss process gradually, and with patience.
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Leigh Weingus is a New York-based freelance writer and former senior editor at HuffPost, Elite Daily and Mindbodygreen. Her work has been featured in Well+Good, Glamour, Parade, Bustle, NBC News and more. When she’s not writing, Leigh can be found taking a (virtual) yoga class, running in Central Park or whipping up her latest smoothie creation.
Dr. Rachel Adams Rachel is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist who practices at Metropolitan OB-GYN at Mercy Medical Center in Downtown Baltimore, Maryland. She evaluates and treats obstetric and gynecologic conditions for women of all ages, from adolescence through menopause. Dr. Rachel Adams is also a diplomate of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, as well as a member of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists.

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