Postpartum Weight Loss: Tips for Losing Weight After Baby

You might be eager to return to your pre-pregnancy weight, but remember that it takes time. Here, experts explain what to know about postpartum weight loss.
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By Nehal Aggarwal, Editor
Updated August 19, 2022
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After pregnancy, you’re probably eager to enjoy certain things from your pre-baby life—like eating sushi, sipping wine or fitting into your favorite pair of jeans. While your dinner menu options basically open up the moment you give birth, postpartum weight loss takes time and patience—after all, it took nine+ months to grow baby! Give your body time to recover, credit for pulling off an amazing feat, and grace as you transition into a new phase of life. Here, experts break down how to lose weight after pregnancy in a healthy and safe way.

How Much Weight Do You Lose Right After Birth?

During pregnancy, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends women within a normal weight range gain between 25 and 35 pounds. You’ll lose some of this weight automatically after birth. “Most women lose about 10 to 15 pounds right away, due to the baby, placenta and water weight,” says Cynthia Flynn, MD, a Florida-based ob-gyn with JustAnswer. That said, you’ll likely still have a “bump” after childbirth due to excess fat, an enlarged uterus and stretched out abdominal muscles. It will take a few weeks for your uterus to shrink back down and your bump to go away.

How Long Does Postpartum Weight Loss Take?

While you’ll lose some weight right after birth, how long it takes to lose the rest of that baby weight will vary from person to person. According to Flynn, you might lose the weight over the course of a year or longer, depending on how much weight you gained during pregnancy. “Most women lose about half of the weight they gained in the first few months,” she says. “You may lose a pound a week early on and then about half a pound a week after that.”

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Still, that timeline is highly personalized and depends on many factors, including your natural body type and metabolism, diet, level of exercise, whether you’re breastfeeding, how much postpartum support you have and even what number pregnancy this was. “It becomes progressively harder to lose weight after each pregnancy,” according to Alan Lindemann, MD, an ob-gyn based in North Dakota. For one, you tend to gain more weight in a second pregnancy, he says. If you didn’t return to your pre-baby weight after your first pregnancy, you also start out at a higher pre-pregnancy weight the next time around. Plus, you’re a bit older with each pregnancy (and metabolism slows with age), and more children means more demands on your time, making postpartum weight loss more challenging. “It’s sometimes hard to eat right and exercise with two or three young ones in the home,” Flynn says.

Does Breastfeeding Help With Postpartum Weight Loss?

According to ACOG, your breastfeeding body burns around 500 extra calories per day, so yes, nursing can help with losing weight after baby.

Of course, that’s not always the case for everyone. Keep in mind that while your body is working hard and burning calories, it also needs additional calories to support the physical demands of producing breast milk. Plus, surging hormones can boost your appetite. “When you’re lactating, your prolactin levels are about 10 times higher than when you’re not lactating. Prolactin is a hormone that’s necessary for milk production, but it also increases feelings of hunger and decreases the hormone adiponectin, which helps aid in the breakdown of fat,” explains Sarah Bradford, a pre- and postnatal fitness specialist. “This is your body’s way of making sure it gets what it needs in order to produce milk.”

Another reason some breastfeeding moms may not see any weight loss after pregnancy could be due to hypoplasia. “[This] is when the breasts have less glandular tissue for making milk and can result in your body storing more fat in order to fuel milk production,” Bradford says. “It could be playing a role in why those pregnancy pounds don’t seem to be melting away.” This isn’t a reason to stop breastfeeding, she adds. “You should continue to do so for as long as you and your baby wish, and know that in time, the weight will come off.”

Worried you’ll see weight gain once you start weaning? Flynn says not to worry. “Most moms are not going to gain weight after they stop breastfeeding,” she says. “Our bodies are meant to lose the fat stored during pregnancy during a full year or more of breastfeeding.”

How to Lose Weight After Pregnancy

One key to losing weight after baby is to find a routine that works for you and your daily lifestyle—because when it comes to building healthy habits, consistency is critical. Below, experts offer some tried-and-true postpartum weight loss tips. Of course, you’ll need to tailor each of these to your specific needs, but it’s a good starting point.

Don’t skip meals

You may be trying to lose weight after baby, but it’s important to consume enough calories. Flynn cautions against doing any extreme diets, like keto or only eating one meal a day, as this could harm your health and also baby’s health if you’re breastfeeding. Cutting calories could also reduce your milk supply. In fact, breastfeeding moms should eat around 2,500 to 3,000 calories per day, Lindemann says, with three big meals during the day and three small meals in between. “Since making milk takes more energy, your body needs more calories for energy,” Bradford says. “The last thing you should do is try to cut calories in order to shed weight.”

If you’re not breastfeeding, you may need slightly less calories per day, but following a consistent eating routine is still important for your body’s recovery from birth. Plus, skipping meals may not have the postpartum weight loss benefits you might think. According to a 2021 study, participants who skipped meals, especially dinner, found their weight increased by up to 10 percent. Why? “When you’re not eating enough, your body will lower its energy levels and metabolism in an attempt to store fat,” Bradford says.

Eat a balanced diet

Along with eating consistent meals, make sure those meals are healthy and balanced, (especially if you’re breastfeeding!). Not only does this help keep up energy levels, but it also provides folic acid, calcium, omega 3 fatty acids and more nutrients that are essential to your recovery and baby’s health. ACOG recommends focusing on the following major food groups:

  • Protein: Protein helps repair your body’s muscles and tissue. It’s found in poultry, fish, lentils, eggs, soy and dairy products.

  • Carbohydrates: You’ll want to eat complex carbs, which are found in high-fiber vegetables, fruit, leafy grains and whole grains. These offer more nutrients and fiber and digest more slowly than simple carbs, helping you feel full for longer.

  • Healthy fats: Focus on eating mostly unsaturated fats, which are found in plant- and vegetable-based products, like nuts, olive oil and avocados, as well as fatty fish. Saturated fats, which are found in meat and dairy products, are also okay when consumed in moderation. Tray to stay away from trans fats, which have been chemically processed.

As you target the important food groups, be mindful of which ones to limit. Indulging in a sweet treat every now and then is a-okay, but Lindemann recommends minimizing foods with “empty calories,” such as cookies, cake, sugary drinks and chips. Flynn also advises staying away from processed foods as much as possible and limiting beverages to water, coffee and tea.

Get into an exercise routine

When it comes to losing weight after pregnancy, a healthy diet and exercise go hand in hand. Exercising can help increase your metabolic rate (aka how many calories your body burns at rest) and boost weight loss after pregnancy. Of course, you’ll want to wait until your ob-gyn clears you for postpartum exercise, which typically happens six to eight weeks after delivery but may take longer depending on your individual circumstances (like if you delivered via c-section).

Once you’re cleared, know that exercises to lose baby weight aren’t as intimidating as they might sound. “Start by walking, and increase how far you walk,” Lindemann says. “Then consider if you want to add work on an elliptical bike or swimming.” Plus, don’t forget about babywearing, which can be a wonderful way to build core strength, Bradford notes. Wondering how much you need to exercise to lose weight after pregnancy? According to ACOG, new moms should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. You can split this up into 30-minute workouts for five days or 15 10-minute workouts throughout the week. The exercise doesn’t have to be intense to achieve postpartum weight loss, but it does have to be consistent. Find workouts you enjoy and work them into your daily routine.

Get as much sleep as you can

It’s no secret that getting enough sleep plays an important role in your health—including in weight management. Several studies have shown that a lack of sleep can increase appetite and decrease fat-loss. Some studies have even linked the rising obesity rates in the U.S. to a decrease in sleep among the general population. A lack of sleep can “increase your cortisol level and make it hard to lose weight,” Flynn says. “In addition, it’s harder to prepare healthy meals and exercise if you’re already tired.”

The cruel irony? Getting a good night’s rest with a newborn can be a near-impossible task. Below, Rachel Mitchell, a maternity and pediatric sleep specialist, shares a few ways to get as much shut-eye as possible:

  • Go to sleep early. “If you’re a new mom, you have probably realized that the evenings might be one of the only times you get to yourself,” Mitchell says. It might be tempting to use that time to watch TV or complete some chores, but it’s more important to catch up on sleep. Bonus: According to Mitchell, early evening sleep is one of the most restorative periods of sleep.

  • Split shifts with your partner. If it’s an option for you, have your partner take turns tending to baby. “Break up the night in three hour shifts or split the night in half,” Mitchell suggests. This allows you to get longer chunks of sleep and helps maintain your energy levels.

  • Find a healthy bedtime routine. Practicing good sleep hygiene (no screens before bed, sleeping in a dark room, etc.) is crucial to getting enough rest. “So many of us follow a strict routine and sleep environment for our babies, but not for ourselves,” Mitchell says. “While postpartum life might feel a bit chaotic, it’s still important that you’re following a routine or schedule of some kind.”

Try not to stress

When you’re learning to care for your newborn and adjust to parenthood, it’s natural to stress over every little thing. But all that stress can hinder your postpartum weight loss goals. According to a 2014 study, higher levels of stress and depression strongly correlate with postpartum weight retention. So what’s a new parent to do?

A big way to decrease stress is to accept offers of help, and ask for help when you need to. Find ways to calm yourself down in moments that are extra hard—like when you’re up to your elbows in diapers and baby won’t stop crying. If you’re having a hard time managing your stress levels or feel like you might be struggling with postpartum depression, getting help is key. Reach out to a mental health care provider who can help you move forward and get back on track.

Set realistic postpartum weight loss goals

The most important tip to keep in mind for losing weight after baby? Set realistic goals, and be patient with yourself and your postpartum weight loss timeline. Growing a baby takes nine+ months, so it’ll take time for your body to recover, lose weight after pregnancy and reclaim a new normal. “It’s not beneficial from a physical or emotional standpoint to try to lose the weight too fast,” Flynn says. “It’s so much more important to be healthy and to enjoy the first year with the baby. Take a walk, do an exercise video and just keep going. There is no set timeline.”

About the experts:

Cynthia Flynn, MD, is a board-certified ob-gyn based in Florida with over 20 years of experience. She is also an expert with the online platform JustAnswer. She received her degree from the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.

Alan Lindemann, MD, is an ob-gyn based in North Dakota with over 40 years of experience. He is a member of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association, and is co-author of Modern Medicine: What You’re Dying to Know. He received his medical degree from the University of North Dakota.

Sarah Bradford, CPT, CNC, is a certified pre- and postnatal trainer, as well as a diastasis recti and core rehabilitation specialist. She received her certifications from Fit For Birth in 2016. In 2020, Bradford launched LUNA Mother Collective, a virtual fitness platform and mobile app, and serves as the company’s CEO.

Rachel Mitchell is a certified maternity and pediatric sleep specialist, founder of My Sweet Sleeper and mom of seven. She has been working with families all over the world for nearly 10 years, helping them implement practical tips and approaches with their children to help them get better sleep. She earned her maternity and infant sleep certification from International Maternity Institute in 2013.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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