Losing the baby weight: Postpartum exercise and nutrition tips

After months of patiently waiting for your little one’s arrival, they’re finally here! You’re getting plenty of baby snuggles and cuddles. Baby is getting the hang of feeding and discovering new things every day. And hopefully you’re getting in naps whenever you can.

You’re starting to find your rhythm. And if you’re like many moms at this stage, you may be thinking about postpartum weight loss and how to lose extra baby weight.

The first thing you need to know is that there is no “normal” when it comes to losing weight after pregnancy. Everyone is different, and there are several different factors that contribute to postpartum weight loss, like how you delivered and how quickly your body is healing.

But there are some general weight loss norms as well as nutrition and exercise tips that can be helpful to know as you settle into this next chapter.

How long does it take to lose baby weight?

Even standard, non-baby-related weight loss is gradual and can take time. And after birth, your body needs extra time to recover, so be patient with yourself. It may take up to a year to return to your pre-pregnancy weight (if that’s your goal), but you can expect some weight loss up front.

  • Immediately after childbirth: Once baby has been delivered (along with their accompanying placenta and amniotic fluid), most women lose an average of 10 to 13 pounds.
  • First week after delivery: You’ll probably continue losing weight with the loss of retained fluids.
  • Six weeks after giving birth: Depending on whether you had a cesarean (C-section) or vaginal birth, weight loss will vary based on activity level and diet. However, it’s recommended that you don’t lose more than a pound or two per week. More than that may be unsustainable and can lead to health issues.

How much weight can you lose breastfeeding?

While breastfeeding, women burn an average of 500 additional calories a day. This may sound like a secret formula for weight loss, but it’s important to get those calories back. Maintaining a calorie deficit (burning more calories than you take in) can leave your body without enough energy to support recovery, milk production and other important functions. But with a healthy diet and exercise plan, it’s still possible to shed some baby weight while breastfeeding.

When can you start working out after giving birth?

In general, women should wait until after their postpartum checkup, which typically occurs about six weeks after giving birth. Taking walks during this time and doing gentle stretches or yoga can help you slowly ease back into a pre-baby exercise routine. But your doctor will want to make sure you’re ready before starting more intense exercises and activities.

Timing depends on a few different factors, including which type of delivery you had. Some women who have uncomplicated vaginal births are able to return to exercise within a few days. But if you’ve had a C-section, you’ll experience more limitations.

When can you start working out after a C-section?

Because a C-section is a major surgery, it generally means a longer recovery period before you can start physical activity. Depending on your doctor’s recommendations and whether you’re experiencing pain, you may be able to start light activity around six weeks after childbirth. But you may be instructed to avoid doing anything that puts strain on your stomach, like crunches.

Postpartum exercise: Four tips for creating your workout plan

Everybody is going to approach postpartum exercise at their own pace. Whether you were already consistently active before and during pregnancy or are getting active for the first time, here are some general guidelines:

1. Take it slow

Your path of recovery is yours alone, and your body will tell you what works. If you can comfortably take a long walk as soon as you leave your postpartum checkup, great. But if the most you can handle is going up the stairs one or two extra times per day, that’s fine too.

Just make sure to take things slowly and avoid pushing yourself too hard, too soon. It can be helpful to follow a guideline like the 10% rule for distance-based activities – increasing the distance or duration of your activity by 10% each week.

2. Work exercise into your new parenting routine

  • Exercise in small chunks. Three 10-minute periods of activity spread throughout the day are just as good as one 30-minute period. Find the times that work best for you and your family.
  • Exercise with your baby. You’ve probably figured out that even the weight of a baby can tire out your muscles after a while. Use this to your advantage by holding your baby for an extra lap through the house or while doing safe exercises on your back.
  • Exercise when your child is asleep It’s recommended that new moms try to sleep whenever their baby does. But if you’ve had some quality shut-eye, baby’s naptime might be a great time to do exercises that require more focus – or that simply require having both hands free.
  • Add exercises to routine activities. For example, do lunges while brushing your teeth or squats while the bottle warms up. And don’t worry if you forgot to get something upstairs – embrace the extra movement.
  • Make it fun. Do activities you love or make them social by inviting other friends or moms to go for walks. Or check out classes at a local gym if that works for you – some even have day care included with membership.

[See one mom’s story about how she returned to running after pregnancy]

3. Know the best postpartum exercises to do (and the ones to avoid)

Part of going at your own pace is choosing exercises that match it. Certain exercises and activities will complement different phases of recovery and help you get stronger more efficiently.

  • When you’re starting out, low-impact activities like yoga, tai chi or walking will usually be the way to go. Work your way up to five to six days of activity per week. And limit your heart rate to 60% of your maximum heart rate (in beats per minute). You can estimate this by subtracting your age from 220, then multiplying that number by 0.60 to estimate 60% of your max heart rate. During exercise, you can track your heart rate with a smart watch or other activity tracker, or by counting how many pulses you feel in your wrist over one minute.
  • Two of the places that you’ll have lost the most strength during pregnancy are your core and your pelvic floor. Because of this, they’re especially important to focus on, but you’ll also need to be careful. With your doctor’s approval, you can start doing exercises like Kegels, bird dogs, leg extensions and pelvic tilts. Core exercises can also help correct diastasis recti, a separation of the abdominal muscles that’s common in women who have just given birth.
  • Doing a combination of cardiovascular activity, strength exercises and stretching will give your body the best all-around conditioning. A good initial goal is 10 to 15 minutes of each throughout the day, and aiming to add no more than five to 10 minutes every week or two.
  • Unless you are experienced with high-intensity training and kept up with it during pregnancy, it’s best to avoid it now. And even if you are, talk to your doctor before you start. Stop your workout immediately if you feel pain or excessive fatigue.

4. Remember that rest is as important as everything else

You just delivered a baby, which is a herculean feat! It’s more than okay to rest and sleep – in fact, it’s necessary. Your body repairs itself while you sleep, making solid, deep sleep (when you can get it) very important for recovering from exercise and sustaining your weight loss efforts.

How to eat to lose baby weight and stay energized

While you may want to return to your pre-baby body, remember that maintaining a healthy diet won’t just help you lose weight. Focus on foods that will also keep you energized and provide you with key nutrients postpartum. This includes:

  • Healthy protein: Adequate protein intake can help you stay full while breastfeeding and support your post-exercise recovery. Fish, chicken, nuts and beans are all excellent options.
  • High-fiber foods: Whole grains, fruits and vegetables are all sources of fiber, which helps with postpartum constipation. Plus, they’re great sources of quick-burning carbohydrate energy.
  • Nutritionally dense fruits and vegetables: The vitamins and minerals in fruits and veggies will help support your recovery, and those with higher water content can help you feel fuller and avoid cravings.

Foods that are important to avoid include:

  • Sugar and refined carbs: As tempting as they may be, it’s best to avoid or limit sweets and refined carbs. If you like breads and pasta, opt for wholegrain over white. Try to soothe that sweet tooth with a dessert that includes fruit, nuts, whole grains or dark chocolate. A small treat once in a while isn’t going to hurt, but too much sugar and refined carbs can easily start to work against your weight loss goals.
  • Highly processed foods: Fast food and other processed snacks are generally high in calories and low in nutrients, making them relatively useless for supporting recovery, exercise and breastfeeding.

Nutrition tips while breastfeeding

Although breastfeeding burns calories, you want to make sure you don’t deplete yourself of essential nutrients so you can stay energized and feeling good to care for baby. Here are a few things you can do to create more harmony between breastfeeding and your nutrition habits.

  • You’re going to need to drink more liquids while breastfeeding. Drink an extra five cups (1183 mL) to eight cups (1893 mL) of noncaffeinated liquids each day. A good rule to follow is to have a glass of water, milk or juice each time you nurse.
  • An occasional glass of wine or a cocktail is okay and may help you relax. Remember, the alcohol can collect in your breast milk and pass to the baby, so don’t overdo it. Waiting at least two hours after having a drink before breastfeeding can help minimize the amount of alcohol in your breast milk.
  • As you reduce or eliminate breastfeeding or pumping, you won’t need as many calories. Consider nixing your afternoon snack or decrease the size of your meals.

How to stick to your postpartum nutrition goals

Adjusting to life with a baby can be chaotic, and it can be easy to let things fall by the wayside. But there are some things you can do to make eating healthy easier.

  • Don’t skip meals: There are plenty of reasons why you might find yourself skipping (or just forgetting about) a meal or two right now. But your core meals account for a lot of necessary fuel, so going without them could result in cravings and unhealthy choices later on.
  • Stick to a routine: If you feel too tired to prepare meals and find yourself snacking throughout the day, the calories can add up quickly. Stick to routine mealtimes and portions, and set aside designated healthy snacks that you know fit your nutrient and calorie needs.
  • Take shortcuts: Consider purchasing a meal kit subscription service to take the stress off meal planning and grocery shopping. Many grocery stores also offer pre-cut vegetables and pre-cooked meats that make it easy to whip up a quick recipe.
  • Ask for help: Having a baby is a huge life change, so don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and family for help. They can help you prepare meals ahead of time or go grocery shopping for you.

Your body is already normal, but if you want to change it, talk to your doctor

Your body looks exactly how it’s supposed to right now. You just gave birth! But you get to decide how you want your body to be from this point forward. Your doctor will want to see you for a checkup around six weeks after delivery unless otherwise recommended. This will be a good time to ask about what exercise options, foods and drinks are right for your personal goals.

If you’re looking for more resources, check out our pregnancy and parenting resources guide. It can connect you with helpful information no matter where you are in your experience.

Parenthood comes with a lot of new experiences and changes. No matter how prepared you feel, it’s perfectly normal for things to surprise you. We’ll be here for you any time you have questions or need help. Our nurse lines are staffed with experienced nurses who are available 24/7.

HealthPartners patients can call 800-551-0859. Park Nicollet patients can call their clinic directly during business hours and 952-993-4665 after hours. And if you have questions or need advice about taking care of your new baby, our BabyLine is also available 24/7 at 612-333-2229.

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