Never mind what celebrities, diet gurus or self-help books would have you believe about getting back to your post-pregnancy body. There’s really only five factors that play into safe, healthy weight loss—plus one virtue, patience.
“I am finally right around my pre-pregnancy weight three years after giving birth,” says Kara, who was “very surprised at how hard it was.” Sometimes your body just needs time to adjust and lose weight according to nature’s timetable, and not yours. For starters, let go of the idea that you can control everything, and try not to put pressure on yourself. “In the post-partum period, moms shouldn’t feel any pressure to lose weight,” advises Erica Charpentier, IBCLC, RLC. (Charpentier is also the founder and executive director of BEBO (Birth Education Beyond the Ordinary), an organization that provides women and families with affordable and comprehensive pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding education and support. (BEBO is also a Spanish term of endearment for baby.) With that in mind, you can begin to explore these Five Factors.
It seems like a no-brainer, right? But first off, you need your doctor’s okay for exercise after childbirth. “Postpartum women can gradually resume an exercise program after they are cleared by their health care provider at their 6-week postpartum checkup,” says Nancy Kraus, LM, a midwife with Downtown Women OB-GYN Associates in New York City. Keep in mind that your body’s been through a lot, so cut yourself a lot of slack if you have a hard time getting into an exercise routine. If you’re having trouble motivating—if you’re exhausted, experiencing some baby blues, or feeling self-conscious about your post-pregnancy body—you’re not alone. And you shouldn’t have to work out alone, either. See if any of your friends want to hit the treadmill, too, or run a few laps with you around the local reservoir. Working out with a friend can provide incentive in the form of company and support (and, if your workout buddy is a new mom too, the two of you can exchange notes!).
So maybe you’re not feeling up to exercising at the local gym for one reason or another (perhaps the idea of working out at a gym doesn’t appeal to you or there isn’t one close by—or maybe you just don’t feel ready to hit the treadmill or yoga mat). But that doesn’t mean you can’t be on the move (although again, you’ll need your doctor’s okay). A great activity for mother and child? “Going for walks with your baby in a wrap or sling,” says Charpentier. It’s a great way to get back on your feet—and it’ll be relaxing for both of you (not only does a walk often put Baby to sleep, but repetitive, steady walking has been known to induce a meditative state in adults, as well as aiding in reducing a variety of ills, such as heartburn).
Like it or not, skinny genes don’t always equal skinny jeans. If your mom or sister dropped those pregnancy pounds muy rapido and you’re still struggling a year later, relax. “It’‘s not the woman’s mother, but the metabolism of the woman herself that may be significant,” explains Nancy Kraus. “If someone has always struggled with weight, they are likely to struggle with postpartum weight loss. If someone normally can eat almost anything she wants, breastfeeding alone will probably help her lose the weight.”
While there’s a little more leeway when it comes to the foods (and drinks) that were forbidden during pregnancy, it’s important to remember that if you’re breastfeeding your baby, you’re still eating for two. “We don’t recommend calorie restriction for the first 3 months of breastfeeding,” says Kraus. Learn the facts about what’s safe and what’s not (What To Expect offers great tips for eating healthy as well as a general weight loss guide). But breastfeeding isn’t the only reason you should be eating well. Staying healthy, keeping up your energy, and maintaining (or starting) a tradition of healthy eating in your newly expanded family are great reasons, too. Your standard should be “a varied diet of whole foods, and drinking to thirst,” advises Charpentier. Indeed, “women are really thirsty when breastfeeding and need to drink several liters of water a day to help with milk production and to flush out waste,” says Kraus. As far as losing weight goes, the safety and health of mother and child is the top priority. Focusing on weight loss at this time can be dangerous for both you and Baby. Concentrate on eating healthy and staying active, and your body will lose the baby weight according to its own natural timetable. A program like Weight Watchers can help too, says Kraus. “[Women] are given a larger point allowance if they are breastfeeding,” she says.
There’s a multitude of benefits when it comes to nursing, which also just happens to burn 500 calories a day. Some women, however, don’t find breastfeeding to be the key to post-pregnancy weight loss. “When I stopped breastfeeding, the weight came off more easily,” says Kara. Maggie, who breastfed her daughter exclusively for a year, also had difficulty. “After hearing the wonders of breastfeeding and weight loss I thought this would be my golden ticket. Sadly, it wasn’t so.” If you’re nursing but still carrying your baby weight, try not to stress. Know you’re doing something wonderful for both you and your baby, and keep it up. Combined with other sensible approaches to losing your post-pregnancy weight, nursing will pay off in the long run in a variety of ways.
And remember—it takes time. Some risks involved with rushing to lose that baby weight? “Taxing mom’s body or endangering her milk supply,” warns Charpentier. And not only do you want to avoid those risks, you should be treating that body right. After all, the body that’s the focus of this post-pregnancy scrutiny is the same one that conceived, carried, and nourished your cherished little baby. And that’s a feat deserving of your faith, trust, and patience.