Your Guide to Postpartum Weight Loss

Looking for a tried-and-true postpartum weight loss plan? Here are the best tips for losing extra pounds after delivery.

Once the pregnancy weight starts accumulating, it's natural to wonder how you’ll drop the pounds once Baby arrives. In actuality, there's no magical postpartum weight loss calculator, and the idea that you should be able to “bounce back” to your pre-baby body is only a myth. Here are some tips, tricks, and guidelines for losing the baby weight.

Postpartum Weight Loss Diet

To begin your postpartum weight loss plan, you’ll need to consume the right amount of calories and other nutrients. These factors vary depending on age, metabolism, and activity level—but here are some guidelines to get you started.

Postpartum Nutrition

Experts advise against going on a diet right after giving birth. "You have to think health first," says Tammy Baker, M.S., R.D., a Phoenix-based dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "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. (Breastfeeding burns about 600 to 800 calories each day). You can add extra calories if exercising.

Certain nutrients are important vehicles in any postpartum weight loss diet. "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,” says Eileen Behan, R.D., a dietitian in Portsmouth, N.H., who specializes in weight management for individuals and families. You need even more of these nutrients during lactation for milk production, and because they leave your body with the milk."

Postpartum Nutrition for Breastfeeding Moms

  • Calories: 2,200–2,400
  • Calcium: 1,000–1,300 mg
  • Folate: 280 mcg
  • Iron: 15 mg
  • Protein: 65 g
  • Vitamin C: 95 mg

Postpartum Nutrition for Formula-Feeding Moms

  • Calories: 1,900–2,200
  • Calcium: 1,300 mg
  • Folate: 180 mcg
  • Iron: 15 mg
  • Protein: 44–50 g
  • Vitamin C: 60 mg

What To Eat for Postpartum Weight Loss

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.

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 Baker.

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.

Foods high in water (fruits, veggies, soups, teas) will also 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.

How Often Should I Eat?

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.

If you’re worried about timing, try prepping your meals and snacks in advance. 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.

Best Postpartum Snacks

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 postpartum weight loss.

Here are some ideas for tasty, healthful snacks to help keep you on the right track:

  • Celery, carrots, and peppers with hummus
  • Egg or chicken salad on whole-grain bread
  • Whole-grain cereal with milk
  • Whole-grain bread with nut butter
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Apples with almond butter
  • Fruit smoothies

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.

Still struggling with postpartum weight loss? 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.

Lifestyle Changes for Postpartum Weight Loss

It can take a year or more to lose the pregnancy weight, so there’s no need to maintain a meticulous postpartum weight loss chart. "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." Here are a few more tips to encourage your postpartum weight loss.

Have an Exercise Plan

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—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 further 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. Weight training will go a long way toward speeding up your metabolism, making postpartum weight loss easier.

Get Enough Sleep

"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 the 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.

Meet With Other New Moms

Chances other, other new moms are wondering about their postpartum weight loss plan, 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.

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.

Updated by Suz Redfearn
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