Many women often are eager to lose their pregnancy weight as quickly as possible post-birth. But it’s important to do it the right way, to keep both mom and baby healthy and safe.
“Carrying a baby for nine months – that whole process is taxing on the body,” says Dr. Carrie Jaworski, director of primary care sports medicine at NorthShore University HealthSystem, Evanston, Ill. “Trying to overdo it is usually not recommended just because then you could be more at risk for injury.”
Doing too much too fast also carries significant risks for women who had any type of complication during pregnancy or birth, she adds.
Instead, new moms should focus on exercising to decrease stress and boost their energy levels. “If you’re over-exercising, you’re going to work against all those positive effects that exercise can have,” Jaworski adds.
But while staying active is important for new moms looking to lose weight, sticking to a plan can seem impossible when they are inevitably feeling tired. “For moms, exercising is huge,” says Tami Conway, owner of the Dailey Method barre studios in Chicago and the mother of three children. “When you are tired, it’s going to give you more energy.”
Conway found that being active before and during her pregnancies helped her to quickly lose pounds postpartum. “I feel like gravity pulls you down when you’re pregnant,” Conway says. “Then afterward, it was just like everything came back. I worked hard at it – I took three classes a week.”
Jaworksi agrees: “If you go into the pregnancy already exercising your body, it’s going to rebound a lot faster.
Exercise isn’t the only method for losing stubborn baby weight. Studies have shown that breast-feeding burns hundreds of calories a day – a real boon for nursing moms. Jaworski, who breast-fed both of her children, calls it a “natural assist in terms of losing weight.”
“If a woman has just had a baby and she’s breast-feeding, she’s actually burning more calories to produce breast milk,” she explains.
Jaworski notes that sleep, elusive as it might be with a newborn, also is a key component to regaining pre-baby form. “We’re all told as new moms to get enough sleep,” she says. “Lack of sleep changes your hormone levels and hinders your weight-loss goals.”
Of course, a key component to any weight-loss initiative is nutrition. Aleks Kadzielawski, a certified wellness coach in Chicago, suggests a well-balanced diet for new moms, such as one with plenty of protein and fresh fruits and vegetables.
“I would not suggest strict dieting because that actually is interfering with milk production for new moms that are breast-feeding,” she notes.
But weight loss can be encouraged by the way food is consumed throughout the day. Kadzielawski recommends a focus on snacking. “It’s eating often, a couple times a day to keep boosting that metabolism – eating larger meals for the first half of the day with maybe having your last meal two to three hours before bedtime.”
Over-exercising and rapid weight loss can carry risk factors. Losing too much weight too quickly can have an effect on the ability to maintain a milk supply, according to Jaworski.
In addition, it could become more challenging to get back on a regular menstrual cycle. For women hoping to eventually have another child, that process could be impaired, too, she notes.
New moms can expect much of their pregnancy weight to come off right away but to struggle to reach the finish line. “After the first month, all the fluids that have been increased during pregnancy re-equilibrate and obviously the weight of the baby helps,” Jaworksi says. “But I think it’s usually that last five or 10 pounds for people that gets frustrating. Realistically, you should expect to lose one to two pounds per week if you’re doing it the healthy way.”
Some frustration is to be expected, but Jaworski suggests seeking assistance from a health care provider to moms who gained an excessive amount of weight during pregnancy. “They may have some sort of endocrinologic abnormality that kind of crept up during the pregnancy that could be affecting their ability to lose the weight,” she said.
Ultimately, the key is to set realistic goals, not be too hard on yourself and make smart and healthy choices for you and your baby.
“As long as you’re healthy on the inside, the weight will come off, it really will,” Kadzielawski says.