Losing weight after having a baby can seem to take forever. A month after you give birth, you may still feel like you look six months pregnant. Patience is the answer, and a great skill to cultivate as a new parent. It often takes as long to lose pregnancy weight as it did to gain it – or longer – so cut yourself some slack and focus on being healthy, not necessarily dropping the number on the scale.
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It takes a lot of energy to raise a baby, which means that the postpartum period is not time to go on a diet or count calories. This is particularly true if you are breastfeeding – you still need to consume 400 to 500 extra calories a day compared to your pre-pregnancy nutritional needs – between 2,000 and 2,500 calories a day. It is also important to eat at least 75 grams of protein a day during lactation to give your body the support to continue feeding your baby. While decreasing the amount of food you eat is not feasible in the postpartum period if you are breastfeeding, you can focus your calories on nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and high-quality meat, dairy and fish. Avoid empty calories and processed sugar, as these foods don't provide you or baby with nutrition and will simply prevent your body from naturally dropping those pregnancy pounds.
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While breastfeeding isn't the answer for every mom, it does have immense value for both your physical health and that of your baby. During pregnancy, your body added extra fat to help you begin and sustain the process of breastfeeding. Skipping meals or exercising vigorously can help postpartum women to drop pounds quickly, but it also dumps a lot of toxins in the breast milk. The best plan for postpartum weight loss is slow and steady through a healthy diet and moderate physical activity. Exclusive breastfeeding does help many women to lose weight naturally through the postpartum period as your body converts the excess fat stores into food for baby.
Even if you were active up until the day of birth, you shouldn't do anything physically demanding for at least four weeks postpartum such as running or lifting heavy weights. After birth, the site where the placenta was attached to the uterus is a wound that causes bleeding for a few weeks – called lochia. If bleeding lasts longer than two to three weeks, it is a sure sign you are doing too much physically, according to midwife Sunni Karll. However, it is important to get some physical activity every day. Healthy exercise for the early postpartum period includes walking and gentle yoga. You want to be mindful not to engage the abdominal muscles too strenuously until after at least six weeks, and never exercise – except walking – while you are having any postpartum bleeding. As your body heals from the immense task of birth, you can integrate more demanding activities like weight training and Pilates. Don't forget to do your kegel exercises – while it won't help you to lose weight, kegels are extremely important for regaining tone in the pelvic floor, which can prevent issues like incontinence and improve sexual function.
Eat plenty of healthy whole foods and don't limit your calories unless your doctor recommends it. Remember to eat when you're hungry and not just out of boredom or for comfort. Keep junk food and other temptations out of the house, and stay stocked with your favorite healthy options. Postpartum weight loss isn't about deprivation -- focus on cultivating healthy eating habits and appropriate exercise and your pregnancy weight should come off naturally.
Amy Myszko is a certified clinical herbalist and nutritional consultant who has been helping people find greater health and balance through diet, lifestyle and natural remedies since 2006. She received her certification from the North American Institute of Medical Herbalism in Boulder, Colo. Myszko also holds a BA in literature from the University of Colorado.