How to Lose Weight after Pregnancy: Strategies and Recommendations
Many women expect to lose a significant amount of weight immediately after delivering their baby. True, you lose the weight of your infant at birth, placenta and amniotic fluid, totaling around 10 lbs. For normal-weight women, with a single pregnancy that stayed within the recommended weight gain range, that leaves, on average, 20 additional lbs. to lose. For those overweight pre-pregnancy, it can take at least a year to reach a healthy weight. Hanging on to pregnancy weight increases the likelihood that you will be overweight/obese 15 to 20 years later in life.
Breastfeed your baby
Lactation (milk production) requires a surprising amount of energy. Much of this energy comes from stored fat, aiding in weight loss. Breastfeeding generally requires 300 to 400 calories and 25 grams (g) of protein daily. An inadequate diet/fluid intake affects the quantity of milk produced. Use your rate of weight lost and the quantity of milk you produce to gauge your energy needs. If you are losing more than 2 lbs. weekly and/or are not producing about 25 oz. of milk daily, you may need to adjust your diet—increasing your calorie, protein and fluid intake.
Consume plenty of nutrient-dense foods but don’t ‘diet’
The goal during this time is to consume a nutrient-dense diet with plenty of protein. Aim for balance, variety and adequacy. Do not restrict calories. Choose whole, unprocessed, healthy foods most often and eat only when you are hungry. Try not to dip below 1,800 calories daily. Over-restricting calories can backfire, derailing your weight loss efforts.
Steer clear of calorie-laden beverages, added fats, empty-calorie foods and packaged ‘snacks’. Keep in mind that you need more of many vitamins and minerals during lactation, such as vitamins A, C, E, the B-vitamins, folate, magnesium, zinc, iron and selenium. Strive to eat three main meals daily, about 500 calories each and two healthy snacks, about 150 calories each.
Exercise and move as much as possible
In addition to breastfeeding and eating a high-fiber, nutrient-dense diet, exercise often and move more during the day. Once you get the ‘okay’ from your doctor, usually 6 weeks for a vaginal delivery, you can resume a regular exercise routine. The more you exercised during your pregnancy, the easier it will be to get back in shape. The most recent exercise guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) for weight loss are to engage in a minimum of 250 to 300 minutes or 4 & 1/3 to 5 hours of moderately-intense aerobic activity every week, such as brisk walking.
If you are doing vigorously-intense aerobic exercise, engage in a minimum of 150 minutes or about 2½ hours weekly. It is okay to break up your cardio segments into 10-minute intervals, if necessary. While cardiovascular exercise is essential for torching calories, resistance training (such as lifting weights) builds lean muscle, which increases the amount of calories you burn daily and tones your body. Aim to complete at least two sessions of resistance training, working all of the large muscles of your body, weekly. There are many free online and inexpensive downloadable toning workouts you can access from your computer. It might be impossible to spend time at a gym so have some light weights and/or resistance tubes at home.
Get enough sleep
While this is a challenge for new moms, adequate sleep is essential for weight control. The theory is that sleep deprivation disrupts the hormones that regulate glucose metabolism and appetite. This association is strongest in young to middle-aged adults. Your endocrine system regulates energy balance and sleep deprivation disturbs this, contributing to weight gain. In a research study, when sleep duration was restricted to 4 hours for two consecutive nights, circulating leptin levels decreased (hormone that regulates appetite and metabolism) while ghrelin levels increased (hormone that stimulates hunger). These alterations begin to occur even after a single night of sleep deprivation.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture – Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Weight loss during breastfeeding.
- University of Maryland Medical Center – Pregnancy Guide: Healing and Losing Weight.
- Donnelly JE, Blair SN et al. Appropriate Physical Activity Intervention Strategies for Weight Loss and Prevention of Weight Gain. Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise. 2009 Feb.
- Taheri S, Lin L, Austin D, Young T, Mignot E (December 2004). Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index. PLoS Med. 1 (3): e62.Pub med ID: 1560259.