NOTE: If you are breastfeeding, please refer to the Getting Back to Your Pre-Pregnancy Weight While Breastfeeding article. This information in this article applies specifically to women who are NOT breastfeeding.
The Basics of Pregnancy Weight Gain
During pregnancy, gaining weight is normal and healthy for you and your baby, but the key is to strike a balance gaining a healthy amount of weight--not too much, not too little. If you gained weight according to your health care provider's guidelines, about five to 12 pounds of it is maternal fat stores that you won't need after pregnancy (if you're not breastfeeding). However, if you gained more weight than recommended during pregnancy, your might have larger maternal stores. The larger the maternal stores you have at the end of pregnancy, the harder your weight loss will be after delivery.
These fat stores serve as the body's insurance plan for available energy. The human body is designed to protect itself from starvation during times when food isn't readily available. When you eat too little, especially during times that your body requires more energy, such as pregnancy, breastfeeding or illness, your body perceives itself as starving. Regardless of whether it is perceived or real starvation, your metabolism will slow as a coping mechanism if you don't eat enough calories (generally 1,200 calories per day for women).
Fat reserves are necessary for your body to continue to function 24/7. Fat reserves ensure energy is always available, even when we are not supplying it through regular meals and snacks. Slowing your metabolism when it's not getting enough fuel is your body's way of rationing those stores of precious fat.
The First 4-6 Weeks after Delivery
So how does this affect post-partum weight loss? When your body needs to dip into your maternal fat stores for energy, you lose weight. The goal after pregnancy is to encourage the body to use those maternal energy stores so you return to your pre-pregnancy weight. Even if you are not breastfeeding, your body still needs more energy (and thus burns more calories) during the first few weeks as the body heals from pregnancy and delivery. (Our Post-Pregnancy Eating 101 article provides important nutrition information for specific nutrient needs post delivery.)
For the first 4-6 weeks after a normal delivery, weight loss should not be your primary focus; repair and recovery should be. This is especially true if you experienced a cesarean delivery, an episiotomy, or tearing during delivery. It is important to get enough protein so the body can heal and repair tissue and ward off any potential infections. it is equally important to consume adequate a calories so that your body can use the protein you eat to repair your body (instead of burning it an energy source). Similarly, a mother's body was designed to produce milk after delivery. Although you may not intend to breastfeed, your body is still going to go try to produce milk. Cutting calories immediately after delivery to lose weight at a time that your body's needs for calories are higher than normal will likely send your body into a perceived state of starvation, which can then slow down your weight-loss efforts in the weeks ahead.
BabyFit calculated your pregnancy nutrition needs using your pre-pregnancy weight, height and age, with the assumption you were also mildly active each day. We then added a buffer of 300 calories for pregnancy. During the first few weeks after delivery, you no longer need those extra 300 calories that you consumed during pregnancy, but you do not want cut calories too low, either. If your medical provider has not provided you with a specific calorie range after delivery, subtract 300 calories from each end of your BabyFit pregnancy calorie range to use as your guideline for how much you should be eating during the first few weeks post-partum. This article will help as well.
Typically, only casual walking and light strengthening moves (for your abs, lower back and pelvic floor) are encouraged until you meet with your medical provider for your postpartum wellness check (usually around 6 weeks after delivery). Your medical provider may have provided you with guidelines that are specific for you after your delivery, and those should be followed closely. This is a time of healing and recovery as well as bonding with your new little one--not a time to push yourself to work out or focus on the scale. If you experience any pain or an increase in bleeding or pass any blood clots, these are signs that you are doing too much. Contact your health care provider and spend more time resting. These articles can help you with detailed descriptions and guidance for beginning activities:
Postpartum Recovery: The First Six Weeks
Rebuilding Your Core After Pregnancy
After Your Postpartum Wellness Check
Once you have been cleared for exercise, you can begin to focus on weight loss. Cutting your calories too drastically in the face of sleep deprivation and the stress of a new lifestyle can cause your body to enter "starvation mode" and force it to hold on to maternal fat reserves instead of using them. This is especially likely if you are also working out. The best option to prevent that from happening in the first few months after delivery is to reduce your calories as you increase your activity. (Read this article for information on your post-partum nutrition transition.) Reducing your calorie range to maintenance needs (which you did above) was your first step. Now you are ready to reduce it slightly more for weight loss. Subtract 200 additional calories from each end of your calorie range (this will be a total of 500 calories from each end of your pregnancy nutrition range). Use this range for several weeks as you are getting back into an established fitness routine that gradually increases to 3 or 4 days of cardio at 30 to 40 minutes each workout, and strength training that focuses on your core. Post-Pregnancy Core Rebuilding is a useful article.
Try to include your baby when possible. Strollers or front-of-the-body baby carriers provide wonderful resistance to help get your heart rate up while walking. Get outside or to a mall to walk and spend time with baby. Your little one can also be a great partner for strength training as well. These demos will help you learn how.
Remember that you gained weight slowly and you will lose weight slowly. Don't try to do anything drastic to lose weight quickly. Instead, work on establishing healthy diet and fitness habits that will allow you to gradually return to a healthy weight without dieting. Remember it is important to include a variety of foods in your healthy eating plan. (Use the Dietary Guidelines for Americans for help.)
It is also important to note that during this stage, stress can have a negative effect on your weight-loss efforts. Your body's normal "fight or flight" mechanism responds to perceived danger by releasing adrenaline and cortisol to speed up your heart rate, slow digestion and move blood flow to major muscle groups and away from those of the digestive system. If you are rushing through your meals, live under a great deal of stress and/or get very little sleep, your weight-loss efforts could suffer. Here are some ways to recognize chronic stress and help reduce it.
12 Weeks Post Pregnancy and Beyond
Your little one is now about three months old, and by now we hope your family has eased into new routines that include regular exercise, healthy eating for gradual weight loss, and a balanced and low-stress life. If you are not back to your pre-pregnancy weight at this point, don't worry. Over the next several months, you can increase your weight loss efforts to help you reach your pre-pregnancy weight while also working to further tone your core. Now is an appropriate time for you to visit our sister site, SparkPeople.com to set up a personalized weight-loss plan designed to meet your needs and lifestyle. Once you have reached your pre-pregnancy weight, BabyFit will remain a useful site for you. We have plenty of wonderful information and resources to help you continue your healthy lifestyle and raise a fit and healthy family.