As wonderful as being pregnant and giving birth to your bundle of joy is, it still comes with certain physical changes than many women find uncomfortable at the very least.
A woman’s body goes through incredible hormonal changes, along with many physical ones due to a little baby growing inside. It’s only understandable that a future mother will face some challenges when it comes to how she looks or feels at some points.
So it’s no wonder that once a woman gives birth, she will want to go back to her former body as soon as possible. However, the weight gained during the pregnancy is not that easy to get rid of. In order not to feel frustrated and helpless, it’s necessary to understand first what has been happening to the body all that time and why it will take some time to lose weight.
What is “baby weight” actually?
It is recommendable by doctors that a woman should gain between 25 and 35 pounds (11.5-16kg) during her pregnancy. These extra pounds are added by the baby, placenta, amniotic fluid, breast tissue, increased amount of blood, larger uterus and additional fat stores (energy reserve for birth and breastfeeding).
Sometimes women gain too much fat, which then ends up being called “baby weight”. More precisely, almost 50% of women gain more than the recommended weight during their pregnancy, so baby weight is a common issue.
It’s important to get rid of the baby weight (gradually, of course); otherwise, you are at a higher risk of diabetes, heart diseases and complications in later pregnancies.
Realistic goals depend on several factors
To prevent frustration and disappointment, you need to be aware of the realistic pace at which you are able to lose weight.
So, the first thing is to lose weight gradually, meaning 1.5 pounds is all you should lose every week.
Next, you should know that every woman loses weight at her own pace, so even though many women lose the excess weight after 6 months, it doesn’t have to be true for you.
Your metabolism slows down by 2% every decade after the age of 25, so keep your age in mind, too.
Your diet will also affect the speed, so if you eat more protein than carbs and eat larger portions earlier in the day, it will also speed up the process.
Your lifestyle is an important factor too – the more active you are, the more calories you burn.
Your pre-baby body shape affects the speed of weight loss, too. That’s why there are some women who can fit into their skinny jeans a few months after their birth while others need more than a year.
It took you nine months to get through the process of pregnancy, so give yourself at least the same time to deal with the excess weight.
Lastly, if you gained more than 35 pounds during your pregnancy, it will take you between 10 months and 2 years to reach your weight before the pregnancy.
“Weight loss plateau” is a real thing
This may not happen to everybody – that’s why some women think of it as a myth and get angry when they can’t get rid of the last 10 pounds. The hormonal changes, the metabolism and a different lifestyle can be the ones to blame for hitting the weight loss plateau. So, maybe you have lost most of the excess weight quite fast, just as you have expected, but then you start having troubles with the last 10 pounds even if you’re doing everything right.
After a few weeks or even a few months, it’s possible your body will simply say “no” to losing more weight – sometimes our metabolism slows down after we lose weight. In other words, you may be eating the same number of calories but your organism won’t burn the same amount but less than that. So, you will have to make peace with the fact that the last 10 pounds will take you the most to get rid of.
Two myths busted
Although weight loss plateau is not a myth, there are two myths you need to be aware of before you get on to losing the baby weight.
The first one is that breastfeeding alone is enough to lose the excess weight, with just a bit of low-impact exercise. Even if you hear that some new mum lost her baby weight after 2 months due to breastfeeding, don’t be fooled.
Although breastfeeding truly burns calories, it still means you need additional 400-500 calories every day to keep the milk production on. It’s roughly two-thirds comprised of the foods and snacks you eat while one-third comes from burning the weight you’ve gained during the pregnancy. So, you are bound to lose weight gradually but it doesn’t mean you should speed up the process by breastfeeding and cutting back on additional calories because it could hinder your milk supply and make you feel exhausted.
The second myth is about your “mom belly”. Others may have told you that there’s nothing you can do about it because it’s your uterus that has been stretched out during the pregnancy. Well, it’s not the uterus. Your uterus is made of very smooth muscle which doesn’t contain any fat at all. After 6 weeks or so, it will have contracted to its original size (roughly the size and the shape of a pear). So, your “mom belly” is actually the fat gained during the pregnancy which your body is still holding onto.
Breast issues after giving birth
Your breasts go through a great change during the pregnancy – they get bigger because the body is preparing for milk production. The breast tissue enlarges, the glands too, as well as the skin tissue. They are a different issue from your “mom belly”. In time, the fat stored in your belly will go away but your breasts may end up changing their shape for good even when you stop breastfeeding. You may not like the new shape they have but there’s not much regular exercise can do here. If you feel strongly about their new look, it’s ok to try to improve the situation by getting a consult on breast cosmetic procedures to know your options.
In the meantime, focus on breastfeeding to get rid of the excess weight. Even though breastfeeding means you’ll need additional 400-500 calories a day, it also means your body will burn up to 500 calories more because it will use that energy to produce milk.
What’s more, breastfeeding stimulates the release of hormones that help the uterus shrink to its original size, so your belly will look smaller faster. Don’t be fooled by a misconception that you need to hold onto to an extra five pounds as a reserve just because you breastfeed. Those extra pounds will have to be lost in the gym probably.
After you stop breastfeeding, your body will burn fewer calories because it won’t have to produce milk anymore. But don’t be alarmed – it will also mean your appetite will decrease because your body will naturally try to go back to your natural diet – listen to it when it starts happening. You will also feel more active and comfortable enough to exercise, so don’t deprive yourself of that. The change in your lifestyle will also mean your metabolism will become faster, so no need to restrain yourself.
Foods and nutrients to focus on
Your diet will play a significant role in both keeping your baby healthy and losing excess weight.
Food rich in soluble fiber may help you with weight loss because it makes you feel full for longer. It also regulates your appetite hormones, reducing your cravings.
Protein-rich foods are another must. They boost your metabolism, reduce your appetite and make you feel full. Add more eggs, fish, meat, nuts, seeds, legumes and low-fat dairy products to your diet.
On the other hand, you should definitely avoid processed sugar and refined carbs. They are usually found in processed foods and are high in calories but poor in nutrients. Not only will they interfere with your weight loss but they also contribute to developing diabetes and heart diseases. Whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, meat, fish, dairy products, brown rice and whole-wheat bread are a much better choice.
High-processed food like chips, cookies, candy, ready meals and baked goods should also be avoided. They are full of salt, fat, sugar and excessive calories – nothing that your body truly needs.
Alcohol is also on the “no list” because it could lead to more fat being stored around your belly and it provides extra calories without nutrition. Not to mention the fact that a small amount of alcohol can be passed on to your baby through breastfeeding.
In the process of losing weight, water is also highly important. Drinking plenty of water will keep you hydrated and prevent cravings. It will also boost your metabolism and help you burn more calories. If you’re breastfeeding, you will need more water for milk production, too. It’s ok to drink between 1 and 2 liters a day but you should still check your urine color. If you’re drinking enough water, it should be light yellow and you will need to urinate every 3 to 4 hours.
It’s very important for you not to start with physical exercise too soon after the delivery. It could lead to unnecessary injuries. If you had a vaginal birth without any complications, then you may be able to start with light aerobic exercises a few days after giving birth. It won’t help you lose the weight but it will speed up your metabolism tone the muscles. Light aerobic activities like walking, jogging, swimming or cycling are perfectly fine for this period after the delivery. Walking is the easiest activity of all because it will be a good intro into a more intense routine afterwards.
Postnatal yoga is mild enough for you to start with shortly after the delivery and it also provides a stress-free environment. It will increase your flexibility, improve your posture and your energy levels.
When it comes to getting back your flat stomach, consult with your doctor first before you start doing some of the following exercises:
- pelvic tilts
- ab and oblique curls
In case you had regular workouts before and during your pregnancy, you may want to wait for a while before you go back to your usual intensive routine. CrossFit, intensive cycling, running and HIIT (high-intensity interval training) are too much to do just after the delivery. Your doctor might recommend you to wait at least for a month before you start with proper workout. Alternatively, you could try modified exercises that include holding your baby. It’s an excellent post-pregnancy ab workout.
Lastly, don’t forget about Kegels. As much as they were important during pregnancy, they are equally important after the delivery. You may experience some pelvic floor weakness, so Kegels may be the quickest way to deal with the issue. You can start doing them immediately after birth even if you don’t feel yourself doing them at first.
In case you had a C-section or tore during birth, you will need to wait a few weeks before you start with the workout. Your doctor will let you know when you have recovered enough to be able to exercise.
You need to be especially careful with tummy exercises because your abdominal muscles have stretched a lot during pregnancy. So, you need to wait for your doctor’s approval before you start performing them.
Realistic expectations and realistic goals after giving birth come only after understanding what’s normal and what your body is going through. Losing the excess weight will definitely take longer than usual simply because your body gained the excess weight through a special state that is pregnancy. So, don’t expect it to behave as usual – it has gone through the greatest change so far.
About the author
Helen Bradford is a journalism student who always seeks new ideas to write about. She enjoys blogging about beauty, health and style trends for women. When she’s not writing, she spends her spare time being active through fitness and travelling.