Once the baby weight starts accumulating on our bodies, it's natural to start planning how to drop the pounds once the little one arrives. Here are some helpful tips for losing weight after pregnancy.
Here are guidelines to the calories and other nutrients you need daily for safe weight loss and good nutrition. (Calorie needs vary depending on age, metabolism, and activity level.)
If You're Breastfeeding:
If You're Not Breastfeeding:
"All these nutrients are vitally important if you've just had a baby," says Eileen Behan, R.D., a dietitian in Portsmouth, N.H., who specializes in weight management for individuals and families. "Folate is important for future pregnancies; vitamin D and calcium are vital for bone health; iron will help with anemia; vitamin C is necessary for iron absorption; and protein is crucial for building and repairing your tissues. You need even more of these nutrients during lactation for milk production and because they leave your body with the milk."
Eating too much sugar can send your blood-sugar levels on a roller-coaster ride, and when your blood sugar drops, you're more likely to eat the first thing you can get your hands on. To avoid temptation, keep only nutritious foods at your fingertips. Also stock up on low-fat milk and yogurt for snacks, as studies have shown that calcium from these sources can aid weight loss.
Here are some ideas for tasty, healthful snacks to help keep you on the right track:
Also, eat high-fiber snacks like figs and raisins or whole-wheat crackers with veggies, suggests Sheah Rarback, M.S., R.D., director of nutrition at the Mailman Center for Child Development at the University of Miami School of Medicine. These can fill you up and help with digestion and regularity.
As for timing, wait no longer than two to three hours between mini meals, and aim for no fewer than six a day. Try having a snack every time your baby breastfeeds or has a bottle. This will keep your metabolism revved up, which will ensure that you burn a maximum of calories for losing baby fat.
Say no to empty-calorie foods like sodas and chips, as well as fad diets that eliminate entire food groups. Instead, fill your diet with a variety of nutrient-rich meals containing lean protein, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and low-fat dairy products, says Tammy Baker, M.S., R.D., a Phoenix-based dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
Don’t strive to eliminate fat, though. It's a crucial nutrient. Make a conscious effort to include healthy fats (such as avocado, nuts, nut butter, and olive oil) in your meals. Studies suggest that omega-3s (the healthy fats found in salmon, walnuts, and flaxseed oil, among other foods) decrease abdominal fat. Fat can also help you feel more satisfied.
And try to spread out all those fresh foods. Eating small, frequent meals throughout the day will keep your blood-sugar levels steady and help prevent you from overeating, Baker says. Keep in mind that if your calories are distributed throughout the day, they're metabolized more efficiently and are less likely to be stored as fat. Between meals, "snack on fruits and vegetables and lean protein sources," says Doreen Chin Pratt, M.S., R.D., director of outpatient nutrition services at Women & Infants Hospital in Providence, R.I.
Here's why eating frequently is important for nursing moms: If you're breastfeeding, you need enough calories to fuel milk production. "It's very important for breastfeeding moms to get enough calories [to make] breast milk, the baby's sole source of nutrition," says Cheryl Lovelady, Ph.D., R.D., a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and an expert in breastfeeding and weight loss.
When you're breastfeeding, you need an extra 500 calories a day, or about 2,700 total. But since breastfeeding burns 600 to 800 calories a day, even if all you do is sit comfortably and feed your baby, you could still be losing baby weight.
Some lucky women can drop all their baby fat, and then some, through breastfeeding alone. That happened to Tiffany Tinson of Bronxville, N.Y. Six months after giving birth to her first child, Connor, Tinson had dipped to 10 pounds below her pre-pregnancy weight, even though she was eating more and not exercising much. "I attribute it all to breastfeeding," she says.
But be aware that as soon as you stop or taper off breastfeeding, or begin supplementing your baby's diet with solids, your calorie needs will plummet. You could really pack on the weight if you don't adjust your diet downward and/or your exercise routine upward.
Experts advise against going on a diet right after giving birth. "You have to think health first," Baker says. "Your body is working to repair itself." To lose a pound a week, you'll need to limit yourself to 2,000 to 2,200 calories a day if you're breastfeeding – 1,600 to 1,800 if you're not. You can add extra calories if exercising. But if you attempt to crash diet and eat significantly less than that, you'll quickly regain any weight you lost. Create a two- to three-day menu plan to serve as an initial guide to get a feel of what those calories feel like spread over the course of a day.
Foods high in water (fruits, veggies, soups, teas) fill you up with fewer calories. Water adds weight and volume without adding calories: It lowers the calorie density of foods. Research conducted by Barbara Rolls, PhD, nutrition researcher at Pennsylvania State University and an expert on appetite and appetite control, shows that people who have soup before a meal eat significantly less than those who have a calorically equivalent "energy dense" food. Also, warm foods are more filling than cold, so drink a hot cup of tea between meals.
We tend to get busier as the day progresses. By dinner most frazzled moms crave comfort foods, not broccoli. Set the tone for the day with a spinach and mushroom omelet for breakfast, or have baby carrots dipped in hummus as a mid-morning snack. Two benefits: You meet your vegetable requirement, and getting the day off to a good start means you'll be more likely to defend your success come nightfall.
It's high in protein, decreases cravings, and can help you feel satisfied. Dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt contain essential nutrients (including calcium and potassium), which may help you better manage your weight. If you think you're lactose intolerant, you can still eat Greek yogurt and cottage cheese without any trouble, as the whey has been strained away, removing all but a trace of the milk sugars (lactose).
Love pizza? Order one with whole wheat crust. Ask for extra veggies and half the cheese. Don't worry, the pizza guys have received stranger requests! If you want spaghetti, opt for high-protein pasta such as Barilla Plus. Use reduced-fat dairy. Don't deprive yourself, as you'll be likely to rebel in spades. But if a substitute just won't do, have a small portion of the real thing after filling up on a healthy snack of veggies and lean protein, which will make you feel satisfied and prevent further cravings for junk.
Wash, chop, and steam several days' worth of vegetables for snacks and salads; divide portions of cereal and nuts into sandwich bags. It's not enough to have the salad fixings in the fridge. They should be ready to go so you don't make a bad choice in a moment of weakness. When friends offer help, this is a perfect task to hand over, or they can play with the baby while you do it. As a side note, if pals want to make you a meal, tell them you'd love fruit, soup, or salad instead of the traditional casserole.
Debra Waterhouse, R.D., M.P.H., a dietitian in Orinda, Calif., and the author of Outsmarting the Female Fat Cell After Pregnancy (Hyperion, 2002), suggests that you ask yourself the following questions when you feel the urge to munch: Am I really hungry? If so, give yourself permission to eat. If not, are you just tired or bored? Rest, call a friend, take a walk, pick up a bestseller—just don't eat because you can't think of anything else to do. What am I hungry for? Sometimes it's better to satisfy a craving instead of trying to distract yourself with other foods, Waterhouse says.
"If you crave ice cream but pick something healthier, you'll eventually break down and have the ice cream—after you've already eaten the yogurt, then the nuts, then the cheese." Is my hunger satisfied? "Most people don't check in with themselves—they eat what's on their plate, and that's that," Waterhouse says. "Pause every five to 10 bites and see if you're satisfied and if your stomach is full but not overly so."
Most new moms are too sleep-deprived and overwhelmed to even think about exercise. That's perfectly OK, says exercise physiologist and postpartum-fitness expert Renee M. Jeffreys, M.S. Most women's bodies aren't ready for serious exercise until six weeks after giving birth, anyway—longer if they've had a Cesarean section.
Start by walking around the block, Jeffreys says. If it feels good and doesn't cause or exacerbate bleeding, walk a little farther the next day. Do this until your six-week checkup, after which you should be ready to do 20 to 30 minutes of cardio 3 to 5 times a week. You don't even have to leave your neighborhood: The Surgeon General says that pushing a stroller 1-2 miles in 30 minutes burns 150 calories. So does walking up and down stairs for 15 minutes.
Weight training will go a long way toward speeding up your metabolism, making postpartum weight loss easier. However, instead of going to the gym or investing in a set of dumbbells right away, Jeffreys suggests incorporating your baby into your routine. Hold the baby to your chest and do lunges, say, or do lunges behind the stroller as you walk. Or lie on your back, holding the baby above your chest, and slowly press her up toward the ceiling several times. If you're unsure about what you're doing, hire a personal trainer with a certification in prenatal and postnatal fitness for a few weeks to get you on the right track
"Getting plenty of sleep has been shown to help losing weight after pregnancy because you're not compelled to binge on high-calorie, high-sugar foods for energy," says Rarback. Strange sleep cycles like those forced on you by a newborn can upset your metabolism and make it harder for you to lose baby weight, Rarback says. Take a nap anytime the baby does, housework be damned. That way, you won't end up with a long-term sleep deficit, and you'll keep your energy levels and your potentially naughty cravings in check.
Whatever you do, don't sacrifice sleep for exercise time in those early weeks. If you don't sleep enough, you won't have enough energy for satisfying workouts, anyway.
Chances other, other new moms are wondering how to lose baby weight, too. It can be helpful to connect with them for regular exercise. Carolyn Pione of Baton Rouge, La., just didn't feel she had the energy or the time to exercise after she had her baby. Then, some pals who had formed an early-morning running group showed up on her doorstep urging her to join.
At first Pione, who had gained 38 pounds during her pregnancy, couldn't keep up. But before long she felt compelled to catch up, and besides, she didn't want to miss out on the friendly conversation. She lost all of her baby weight and now runs in 5k's, something she never would have worked up to without the help of the group. "Alone, it would have been impossible," she says.
After you find a group of moms, take turns trading recipes and hosting healthy lunches. And gather occasionally for a potluck picnic in the park (everyone brings one healthy item). A support system all but guarantees success
It can take a year or more to lose the pregnancy weight. "You need to think of pregnancy as an 18-month experience: nine months of gestation, nine months postpartum," Behan says. "This is a time when there's a lot happening—you're adjusting to your new life, your body is trying to replenish itself after pregnancy, you've gone through labor and delivery, and you may be breastfeeding. It's a lot to adjust to, so don't beat yourself up if you're not bouncing back as quickly as you'd like."
Soy chips and hummus
Greek yogurt and honey, walnuts, and a sprinkle of granola
String cheese and an apple or pear
Sliced turkey and avocado in a whole wheat wrap
One package plain instant oatmeal and one scoop of vanilla protein powder (you can carry this to work easily in an empty baby-food jar)
Omelet stuffed with avocado
Homemade trail mix made with unsalted dry-roasted nuts or soy nuts, dried cranberries, and sunflower seeds
Low-fat yogurt mixed with a high-fiber cereal such as Fiber One
One cup cottage cheese mixed with a banana and one tablespoon almond butter (tastes like cookie dough -- you must try it to believe it)
Smoothie made from any combination of the following ingredients: dairy milk, soy milk, almond milk, yogurt, banana, berries, almond or peanut butter, wheat germ, flaxseed oil. Use frozen fruit for the best texture.