After months of preparing for baby arrival, most new moms are ready to shed the maternity clothes and leave pregnancy behind. But one of the unspoken truths of the early postpartum period is that during those first few months, sometimes called the “fourth trimester,” the majority of women still hang on to a lot of their baby weight, and many even feel as though they still look pregnant.
While shedding the post-pregnancy pounds can be a process, Expect the Best author Elizabeth Ward, M.S., R.D., warns women to take their time and be patient waiting for the weight to disappear. In an interview with WebMD, Ward advised waiting until the baby is at least 6 weeks old before even considering a diet. During this time, she said, “Most women are sleep-deprived, tired, and lack the energy to exercise, prepare healthy meals, and do what it takes to lose weight.”
Understanding where the pregnancy weight comes from can be helpful. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists published a pamphlet explaining where this “baby weight” comes from. During pregnancy, about 7.5 pounds of weight gain comes from the baby itself. Increased breast size accounts for about 2 pounds, the placenta weighs about 1.5 pounds, and the growing uterus and amniotic fluid each account for about 2 pounds. Blood flow increases during pregnancy, and blood alone represents about 4 pounds of pregnancy weight gain, as do increased body fluids. Finally, a pregnant woman’s body protein and fat stores, necessary to carry a baby, can weigh up to 7 pounds.
Once the baby is born, much of the “baby weight” disappears immediately. It’s the extra weight that can present a challenge, and unfortunately, that weight is not always easy to shed.
Though it can be hard to accept, dropping baby weight can take a year or more. Of course, studies have also shown that baby weight that sticks around longer than a year is more likely to become permanent. The best target for postpartum weight loss, according to Ward, is 1-2 pounds per week.
Aspiring to lose weight as quickly as a celebrity is not necessarily the best choice. Remember that these moms probably have a lot of help with their babies as well as their fitness routines since their appearances are what brings in the money. Unless you have full-time help to care for your child, and a personal trainer to create your daily exercise routine, set your sights on something a little more realistic. Plenty of sleep and a well-rounded, balanced diet are the main ingredients new moms need to keep up with all that parenthood demands.
Moms who breastfeed need to keep up caloric intake in order to maintain high-quality breast milk. While many women claim to lose weight more rapidly due to breastfeeding, this is not universally the case. Exclusive breastfeeding does burn more than 600 calories a day and can help some women lose weight around their hips and buttocks. In any case, breastfeeding is tremendously beneficial to the baby and not a bad idea even if it isn’t a magical weight-loss tool. Any breastfeeding mother needs to be sure she eats enough to maintain her supply of milk and, more importantly, the quality of the milk she’s producing.
Combining breastfeeding with regular, moderate exercise can indeed help get rid of some baby weight. “As a nursing mom, I found that simply meeting mine and my babies’ nutritional needs and engaging in regular, light exercise helped me get back to my pre-pregnancy weight and shape within the first 2 to 3 months with each of my pregnancies,” said Christy Jenkins, a mom of 3 living in Virginia. And exercise doesn’t have to be a hard-core kickboxing class or running a marathon.
“My version of exercise,” explained Jenkins, was taking an hour-long walk with the stroller each day. It was easiest to do with my first child, because I didn’t have to cart anyone else along with me.”
In addition to exercise, paying attention to nutrition certainly proves beneficial. Jenkins’s diet included an egg or bowl of oatmeal in the morning, small snacks when the babies napped, and a single helping at dinnertime. For moms who are not breastfeeding, Ward noted that a decrease of a few hundred calories a day is appropriate once the baby is 6 weeks old. A minimum of 1600 nutrient-rich calories per day is recommended.
Perhaps most importantly, Jenkins stressed that her focus wasn’t solely on losing the baby weight. “I wore comfortable, elastic-waist pants,” she admitted, “and I didn’t get on a scale or even look too closely at my body. It is so easy to get caught up in body image, and I wanted to have a relationship with the mirror or the scale.”
Perhaps that is the most important lesson: motherhood is about nurturing a child and a maternal relationship, not about appearances or impressing anybody on the outside. Still, it is important for a mom to feel good about herself, and for some women that means losing the baby weight.
To safely approach a postpartum weight loss routine, wait for an okay from your health care practitioner. You can begin some simple yoga exercises (pelvic tilts, for example) almost immediately after birth. Once you’re ready to delve into a more regular routine, take a couple of short walks each day with your baby, slowly rebuilding your strength and endurance. Most importantly, take your time and listen to your body. Practicing patience with yourself—the same way you do with your child—will prove most beneficial in the long run.
Personal interview with Christy Jenkins
Reviewed July 28, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Shannon Koehle