Gaining weight is essential during pregnancy, but once the baby arrives, most moms can’t wait to lose the extra weight. But losing weight after giving birth is different from losing weight at other times, especially if you are breastfeeding your baby.
To get professional advice on how to lose baby weight the healthy way, WebMD turned to Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, an expert in pregnancy, lactation, and kids' nutrition, and author of Expect the Best. Here’s what she had to say.
How much weight is OK to gain during pregnancy?
It takes lots of calories and good nutrition to support the growth and development of a new life, so it is very important that you eat a healthy diet when you are pregnant. But you also need to be careful not to gain too much or too little weight.
Most doctors base their recommendation of weight gain on the weight of the mom before pregnancy. Women with a normal BMI (body mass index) should gain anywhere between 25 and 35 pounds, and up to 45 for twins. Overweight women may be able to safely gain between 15 and 25 pounds, but should not use pregnancy as a time to diet or lose pre-pregnancy weight.
Check with your doctor to determine if it is safe for you to gain less or more than the recommended range. Pregnancy is a very personal journey, and what is most important is to take care of yourself, eat a healthy diet, and make sure you take your prenatal vitamins to ensure you get all the nutrients you need for you and your baby.
What’s wrong with gaining too much weight during pregnancy?
There will be more to lose after the baby is born, and studies show that if you don’t get it off within a year, the extra weight is more likely to become permanent. And if you are thinking about getting pregnant again, it is best to return to your healthy baseline weight before conception.
Does gaining too much weight result in a bigger baby?
That is a myth. Gaining too much weight will not necessarily cause the baby to be larger. Just because you are "eating for two" doesn’t mean you should eat twice as much. Gaining beyond 25-35 pounds for a single birth just makes it harder to lose after the baby is born.
How long should it take to lose the baby weight?
Forget about dieting for at least six weeks postpartum and focus on eating a healthy diet. Most women are sleep-deprived, tired, and lack the energy to exercise, prepare healthy meals, and do what it takes to lose the weight during this stressful time.
Losing the baby weight can take upwards of a year. Ideally, you should take the weight off gradually, aiming for 1-2 pounds per week.
What’s wrong with getting in shape right away like the celebrities?
I am not sure how they are losing the weight so quickly, and it may not be the safest way. More than likely, the financial resources of the celebrities enable them to hire help with the baby and personal trainers to get them back into shape quickly because looking good is their business.
Restricting calories and going on a crash diet to fit into your jeans is not going to help. Good nutrition is essential, as are sleep and physical activity -- but those issues are harder to control than diet when you have a newborn. A healthy diet can help you overcome some of the fatigue associated with newborn care.
Going on a low-calorie diet may help you get the weight off quickly, but it can lead to the loss of lean muscle tissue and zap your energy level. Losing muscle mass lowers your calorie needs and can make it even harder to lose weight. New moms need diets that give them energy to cope with the demands of a newborn and any other children at home.
And, if you are a nursing mom, you can’t restrict calories - otherwise, it will affect the quality of your breast milk.
What is the best diet plan for losing the baby weight if you are not breastfeeding?
Calories count throughout pregnancy until the fourth trimester (or 3 months after giving birth), because your body needs good nutrition for the growth of the baby. Six weeks after the baby is born, you can start curbing a few hundred calories a day. Consult [the U.S. Department of Agriculture's web site] mypyramid.gov to determine the right number of calories for you, and shave up to 500 calories, making sure to get a minimum of 1,600 calories per day. Keep in mind: When you trim calories, it is important to make sure every calorie counts by eating a nutrient-rich diet.
You need balanced meals at least 3-4 times a day for your stamina and energy. Stock your kitchen with healthy foods so junk food, sweet temptations, and your trigger foods won’t derail your healthy diet. Cut back on extra fats and oils, where calories can creep up. Snack on fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and high-fiber foods that will help fill you up without filling you out. Drink plenty of water and nutritious beverages, but be careful of alcohol calories that can add up quickly.
What is the best diet plan for losing the baby weight if you are breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding moms should not go on weight loss diets because they need plenty of calories to lactate and provide the sole source of nutrition to their infants. Even if the weight doesn’t come off as fast as if you were not breastfeeding, take comfort in knowing you are doing the best thing for the baby. Breast milk is designed by Mother Nature to give your baby everything they need for growth and development for the first several months of life.
Good nutrition is imperative. Your diet affects the quality of the breast milk, whereas the quantity is based on how much you nurse.
Does breastfeeding promote weight loss?
Breastfeeding should not be used as a weight loss method because you could actually gain weight while nursing if you don’t pay close attention to your diet. It is it a myth that breastfeeding burns up lots of calories making milk. You will burn some stored body fat, but your body protects some fat for the purpose of breastfeeding. Many women don’t lose all the baby weight until they completely stop nursing. Typically, many moms breastfeed their babies for about six months, which gives them another six months to get their bodies back in shape before the one-year mark.
Do you recommend exercising to help shed baby weight?
When it comes to exercise, think "slow and gradual" to work yourself back to your pre-pregnancy fitness level. Physical activity is a huge component of safe and healthy weight loss, and most moms can go back to exercising within weeks of a normal vaginal delivery. C-section deliveries require additional rest and wound healing before regular physical activity. Check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
By six weeks, most moms are ready to walk. Taking your baby for two 15-minute walks each day and gradually increasing your activity level is a great way to build up your stamina and burn calories. If walking doesn’t work, use the baby’s naptime to plug in a video, or sign up for a fitness program designed for mothers and babies.
Does lack of sleep affect weight loss?
Studies show that at six months after giving birth, moms who got less than six hours of sleep per night had more difficulty losing weight than moms who slept more than six hours. There are lots of adjustments when you bring a baby home, and even more if there are other little people who need you. Getting rest is important for you to be able to focus on eating healthy and find time to be physically active. Do everything you can to get enough sleep, and try not to be a superwoman until you’re got your energy back because weight control takes a lot of energy.