How to lose baby weight the healthy way

Now that your baby is out, you might be wondering when you’ll be able to fit in your skinny jeans again. With a little patience and the right approach, you’ll be rocking them in no time.

Is it just me or is that first glance of your postpartum body a little shocking? On the one hand, it’s a thing of beauty that just brought life into the world. On the other, how come it looks like there’s still a baby in your belly and where did all the flabby bits come from?! Yikes.

Fear not, brave mama. Over the next few weeks, your uterus will shrink back to its original size and you’ll lose a lot of the water weight you’d been carrying. But you’ll also have to be patient – it will take your body a few months (or longer) to get back to its pre-pregnancy shape.

If you’ve been wondering exactly how many calories breastfeeding burns, what kind of diet you should follow in the postpartum period and when you can start exercising again, our guide to losing baby weight the healthy way has all the answers.

BREASTFEEDING

You’ve probably heard that breastfeeding burns “a ton of calories” and will help you lose the baby weight fast, but is there any truth to this claim? According to the American Pregnancy Association, breastfeeding burns between 425 and 700 calories a day, while more conservative estimates hover between 300 and 500 calories.

Several factors can influence how much energy you torch while feeding your baby, including how often they feed and how much milk they drink at each sitting. A study of 26,000 Danish women found that the more a mother breastfeeds, the less pregnancy weight she retains six months postpartum.

But when it comes to weight loss, let’s not forget the old “calories in, calories out” equation. Although you’ll need to consume more calories to keep up with the energy demands of making milk, you won’t shift any weight if you become a little too heavy-handed in the chocolate-chip cookie department. And that brings us to…

DIET

Forget going Paleo or giving intermittent fasting a whirl – diets are not your friend in the postpartum period. Your body needs plenty of energy to recover from childbirth, deal with the exhaustion of the newborn stage and produce milk if you’re breastfeeding. Crash diets will only leave you feeling exhausted and frazzled – and you’re very unlikely to keep the weight off in the long-term. According to leading experts in the fields of eating habits and dieting, biological changes that happen in your body after you diet make it literally impossible to keep it off. So, you never have to “diet” again… it’s kind of liberating, right?

Instead, focus on eating foods that are rich in all the nutrients your body needs to heal and cope with the demands of parenting. Your post-partum diet should include plenty of lean protein (chicken, fish, dairy products and beans), healthy carbs (wholegrain bread and pasta, potatoes and brown rice), healthy fats (salmon, avocado and nuts), fruits and vegetables. If you’re breastfeeding, you should also make sure to eat five servings of calcium a day (because nursing depletes your stores), at least one serving of iron-rich foods (lean beef and spinach), two servings of foods containing vitamin C (red peppers and oranges), three to four servings of green leafy and yellow vegetables or fruit, and two to three servings of omega-3s (salmon or DHA-enriched eggs). See more in our article on Foods to eat while breastfeeding.

If you’re adamant about counting calories, do it the smart way. Don’t even consider doing so until AT LEAST six weeks postpartum – and make sure to get the OK from your doctor first. The average moderately active woman should eat about 2000 calories to maintain her weight, but you should tack on another 500 calories if you’re breastfeeding. To lose one pound, you need to cut 500 calories per day. So, if you’re breastfeeding that brings you back down to 2000 calories a day to lose one pound per week. Whatever you do, don’t go below 1800 calories a day when you’re nursing.

Not breastfeeding? You may find that slashing 500 calories for a total of 1500 calories a day doesn’t provide you with enough “mom energy”, so increase your intake to 1700 or 1800 and accept that it’ll take you a little longer to lose the weight. No matter which approach you adopt, try not to become too obsessed with numbers – you’ll get there eventually.

EXERCISE

A much healthier way to create the calorie deficit that’s required to lose weight is to move your body. If you weigh 155 pounds, walking at 4mph for 30 minutes will burn 167 calories and weightlifting for 30 minutes will burn 112 calories. But as with everything else in the postpartum period, the key is to take it slow and steady to avoid injuries and complications.

If you had a C-section, you shouldn’t be doing anything more strenuous than gentle walking for the first four to six weeks or until your scar is completely healed – but chances are you won’t feel capable of doing much more than that anyway.

Had a vaginal birth? You might feel like everything is “back to normal” a couple of weeks later and that a short jog won’t hurt, but DON’T DO IT. Remember that hormone known as relaxin that loosened all the ligaments in your pelvis to allow your baby to pass through your birth canal during delivery? Well, it takes at least three months after giving birth for those ligaments to return to normal, so going out too hard could lead to pelvic organ prolapse (when the uterus, bladder or rectum drop and press into or out of the vagina) or urinary incontinence.

Whether you had a caesarean or a vaginal birth, your exercise routine in the first six weeks postpartum should consist of walking, Kegels to reinforce your pelvic floor (squeeze the muscles you would use to stop your flow of urine, hold for five seconds, release and repeat), and gentle abdominal exercises to begin strengthening your deep core muscles. Try this one while sitting or standing: Keeping your lower back flat, draw your bellybutton in toward your spine and breathe lightly to the count of 10. Release and repeat up to 10 times. See more on How to care for your pelvic floor.

At your six-week postpartum check-up, talk to your doctor about whether you’re ready to return to your pre-pregnancy workout routine or start a new exercise program. But even if you do get the all-clear, start slowly to avoid injury or exhaustion. Steer clear of abdominal exercises that push the ab muscles outward (such as crunches and leg lifts) as they could aggravate abdominal separation (diastasis recti) caused by pregnancy. Wait until your gap has closed up before resuming those exercises or consult a physiotherapist if your separation is severe. You should also avoid heavy lifting until your perineum tear or C-section scar has fully healed.

If you experience any discomfort, pain, dizziness or bleeding during your workouts, stop what you’re doing and consult your doctor. You might just need to scale it back for a few weeks until you’ve fully healed.

Listen to your body and try to be patient and kind to yourself. It may feel like you’ll never get your old body back, but you will get there (or close to it) in due time. Until then, focus on the awesomeness of what your body has recently accomplished and try to embrace it with all its beautiful battle scars. You’re a rock star, mama!