I’ll be honest – I hate the phrase “losing the baby weight”, it makes my skin crawl. I do not want to be another blogger who makes women feel like there’s something wrong with them if they haven’t lost every pound of pregnancy by 6 weeks out, or even 6 months out. I’m 16 MONTHS out and haven’t lost every pound.
There are lots of “gurus” out there who claim that if you do exactly what they did to lose the baby weight, you will have the exact results they have. In fact, they may even unknowingly cause you to feel guilty, assuming that those who did not get their same results must be doing something wrong, or are lazy, or have “no excuses”. But that is not how bodies and hormones and metabolism work, EVER, but ESPECIALLY after having a baby. Add nursing into the equation and you’ve really got a wild card (read more about breastfeeding and fat loss here).
However, so many of my coaching clients say “I just don’t feel like myself.” I have felt this way and I am so empathetic to feeling like life has changed SO drastically, why does my body have to be so different too? I hate that women are so hard on themselves and I REALLY hate that there is this crazy pressure to look like we never had a baby.
In the year after this fourth baby was born, I tried everything that worked for me in cutting fat pre-pregnancy, and have learned that either because of hormones or aging, those same techniques are not working. What IS working is a) changing my mental state about post-pregnancy bodies, and b) eating more than I think I need. I’ve detailed these lessons I’ve learned in the 10 steps below.
If you eat a healthy, balanced diet and continue exercising during your pregnancy, science says you will likely lose the majority of your baby weight pretty soon after birth. Staying in shape during pregnancy sets the stage for a faster postpartum recovery, although it isn’t a guarantee. Even if you’re not making big gains or improving strength, you’re maintaining your previous level of fitness, and you’re also bridging your habits from pre-pregnancy to postpartum so that you don’t lose them. Grab my Fit To Be Pregnant Ebook here.
Relax and take a deep breath. You JUST HAD A BABY. You formed another human being and then birthed that child into the world, and now you may be feeding that child from your body. You now have a whole new person in your home, a new sleep schedule (if you’re lucky, you’ll sleep at all), and your relationship with your partner will take new shape as well. This is a major, major event in your life. Give yourself an entire year to just do your best and adjust to it, whatever form that takes. Don’t put any added pressure on yourself – anything you do should be from a place of self-love and self-care. If running that marathon by 6 months postpartum is what is going to make you feel good about yourself and training for it won’t push you over the edge, then that is what you should do. If waiting until your baby is older and has a more regular schedule is what you can handle, then do that. You’re the only one who knows what you can handle.
Not eating enough calories sends your body the signal to reserve the fat on your body, which of course, is the exact opposite of what you want. This is especially true if you are nursing, and your body wants those fat reserves for the baby. Eat enough calories and your body leaves “danger” mode, giving the signals to drop the fat as the energy demand increases.
Eating enough calories also means cravings and binges will cease (low calorie diets always end in a jar of Nutella for me), you’ll have the energy you need to function as a new mom, and you’ll feel great.
If you don’t want to count calories, eat whole foods as often as possible, and eat when you are hungry. I recommend the book Intuitive Eating for anyone not wanting to count calories – this was a life changing book for me.
So many women who are trying to lose weight jump into exercise full force, burning themselves out and overtraining until they start to experience negative effects (lowered energy levels, depression and anxiety, insomnia, irritability, hormone changes). I was in top shape when I became pregnant, worked out through my entire pregnancy, and it still took me 5 months to work back up to my pre-pregnancy exercise routine, and another 6 months until I reached the level I had previously been at. In reality, most adults only need 2-3 strength training sessions (or HIIT, etc) per week, and can add additional cardio as needed or to stay active. This can be walking, running, biking, anything that you enjoy.
Your diet should always consist of:
Giving your body the nutrients from whole foods will help stave off hunger, will make your metabolism more efficient, and will give you the energy you need to be a new mom.
But that 20% is important too. Being too extreme in any direction is not healthy or sustainable. Just make it fit into your weekly calorie budget and you will still lose weight.
If you need help with these steps or creating your own plan, I can help you.
If you’re like most of the world, you think that to lose weight, you have to slash calories. But slashing calories rarely works and if it does work, the results are temporary. I know all of us want to get our bodies back like, yesterday, but slashing calories is actually counterproductive. If you’re eating at more than a 15% deficit, ESPECIALLY after childbirth when hormones are fluctuating, your body will likely go into starvation danger mode, holding onto whatever fat is on your body for energy reserves. Your metabolism will downgrade, making it less effective. You won’t have any room left to cut calories when you hit the inevitable plateau. You will also be more likely to binge-eat, have more cravings, and feel like you’re struggling all the time. Who needs that, especially right after having a baby?
Start by finding your maintenance calories. Use this calculator, then choose the recommended 15% deficit. If you are nursing (at least every 3-4 hours), add 500 calories to this number (or use our Breastfeeding Calorie Calculator). This number is probably shockingly high to you, but please trust me and START here. You will be amazed at the energy you feel, and if you’re nursing, your milk supply will be safe. You won’t feel hungry and have the urge to binge nearly as much. Next, every week that you don’t lose weight or inches, lower your daily calorie intake by 50 calories, no more than 100, in the form of fat or starchy carbs. This is a slower approach, but the most effective and permanent way to lose fat.
Again, anything extreme is NOT sustainable. Think of your diet as a pendulum – if you swing it really high in one direction, it will inevitably swing back with just as much velocity in the other direction, at some point. Deprivation never leads to anything good.
Thanks to popular diets and celebrity testimonials, you might look at a certain food group as “the devil”. It sometimes feels empowering to have a food group to blame for your weight loss issues. But I promise, it only boils down to calorie balance and food quality (mostly whole foods), and creating a small, sustainable deficit. I am currently losing the last few pounds of pregnancy weight by eating 50% carbs, 25% fat and 25% protein. I used to believe that starches and dairy were off-limits if I wanted to be lean, and I’m just now realizing how much grief I caused myself.
I have been a size 8 and 125 pounds, and I have been a size 2 and 135 pounds. How is that possible? Weight is not an accurate measurement of fat. Lean body mass increases when you begin a workout program or increase workouts, eat certain foods, put on muscle, or have hormone fluctuations. It’s all about body composition, which is why if you’re going to weigh yourself, you should also take tape measurements or body fat measurements (pick up a pair of body fat calipers here). Take pictures of yourself and notice how your clothes are fitting. Recently, over the course of 1 month, my weight stayed exactly the same, but my body fat decreased by two full pounds. I know this because I took body fat measurements. The two pounds of lost fat was offset by a two pound increase in lean mass (I had just started running long distances and was likely holding on to glycogen/water). The scale is not the whole story, so don’t let it upset you.
Looking good is a by-product of fitness and nutrition, but it is NOT an instant gratification. You won’t look in the mirror the day after you begin a new fitness routine and see outward changes, and that sucks because the inward changes are infinite and immediate. Internally, you are what you eat RIGHT NOW (not yesterday or last year), and you also reap the benefits of exercise immediately. You will feel better, your body functions will improve and begin working just as they should, you’ll have more energy, and you’ll be preventing future illness. And these are just the physical changes. Mental health is also immediately improved – confidence, strength, and a natural high that combats anxiety and depression.
Focusing on your appearance is setting yourself up for failure. It’s normal to think about it, but let it go when it enters your mind and shift your focus back to how you feel.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to start looking at your body in a completely new light. This body brought you your baby, it’s stronger than you ever imagined. Try gratitude and everything will change for you.
Another way to set yourself up for failure is to compare yourself to others. The problem with this is that we’re comparing our behind the scenes selves to the “best self” that others are putting online, on tv, for photoshoots, etc. The truth is that no two lives are the same even though they may appear to be. No one knows what it’s like to be you, no one has your body or your brain or the same family and friends. Our DNA is different, our circumstances are different. You can strive to be the best version of yourself but you also need to remember that you are enough, right now, no matter what.
I could have run my half marathon last month and come home and thought about all the people I know who run full marathons and completely wiped out my own sense of accomplishment. F- that. I worked hard to get there and I deserved to be proud of myself, and so do you.
I hope these No BS tips helped you feel better about your postpartum journey and give you guidance for your future.
“Nurse your baby!” the experts say, “You’ll burn so many more calories! The baby weight will just melt right off.”
Ever since my very first baby was born years ago, I’ve been suspicious of these experts who advised that breastfeeding would cause me to lose the baby weight faster. It sure never helped me. As a matter of fact, it was only after weaning that I would lose any fat at all, but then again, I was super unhealthy back then and not eating well. (Read my comparison of my healthy and unhealthy pregnancies here.)
Baby #4 was my real test. I stayed active throughout pregnancy, performing my last workout of squats and burpees just days before he was born. I was a nutrition coach and followed a highly nutritious diet. Postpartum, I have followed my pre-pregnancy workout schedule and diet, and I have made great progress, losing all but the last 5-10 pounds within the first 6 months postpartum. And so with those last few pounds not budging no matter what I do (I’m still nursing at 12 months postpartum at this writing), I have to wonder:
If you burn so many calories from nursing, about 500 on average per day, then why in the world do some mothers have such a hard time dropping the last few pounds? And why do the experts tell us the opposite is true? Here is what I found in the latest scientific studies.
If you’re a breastfeeding mom, you’ve probably heard that nursing will burn 500 calories a day. This is surely the reason the experts tell us that breastfeeding will help us lose the baby weight, that’s like a killer workout!
However, so many other factors that come into play when discussing ANYONE’S metabolism, but especially a woman during her postpartum period. Like:
So the number that is typically thrown out there, 500 additional calories per day, can be way off and totally misleading, depending on the preceding factors.
Even with all of these factors at play, studies found that breastfeeding moms tend to start to lose more weight around the 4 month mark, and even more when they finally wean. Why is this?
One word: hormones.
During breastfeeding, hormones are very different than any other time in life. Breastfeeding mothers experience a drop in testosterone and estrogen, which are both fat burning, and an increase in prolactin.
Prolactin is the hormone that causes your body to produce breastmilk (prolactin = pro-lactation). It is elevated during pregnancy, but is kept in check by progesterone and estrogen levels, which both drop right after the baby is born. This allows the effects of prolactin to begin and the milk to come in for the baby. Prolactin levels rise every single time the baby nurses, signaled by nipple stimulation. So what does this have to do with fat loss?
Prolactin hormone is – TA-DAHHHH – also linked to fat storage. It makes sense that our bodies would put some sort of safeguard into place to protect baby’s milk supply, and it seems that prolactin may be that safety net. Prolactin seems to keep the nursing mother from mobilizing fat stores, so that there is always an energy reserve in case of famine.
Sometime between the 4-6 month postpartum mark, breastfeeding mothers experience a drop in prolactin. Suddenly, metabolism may begin to increase, and studies show that these mothers will generally start to see more fat loss at this point. Again, once the baby weans, within 24 hours prolactin levels drop again, and this might explain why those stubborn final 5-10 pounds suddenly disappear as fat metabolism returns to pre-lactation/pre-pregnancy levels.
Interestingly enough, prolactin also affects sex drive and fertility, usually causing a low libido, and cessation of periods and ovulation. After the sixth month mark, your periods may return and you might be feeling like your old sexual self – this is a sign that your fertility has returned and prolactin has dropped.
I went through dozens and dozens of studies for this article, trying to find a definitive answer to give you: Is it truly more difficult to lose fat while you’re breastfeeding? The truth is that the studies all contradicted each other, and at this time there is no real scientific answer, only my (semi) educated opinion: It can be for some women.
It’s important to remember that EVERYONE is different. We all live our day-to-day lives quite differently, have different hormone profiles and genetics. This is why we all have that one friend who seemed to nurse away all the baby weight and then some with little effort while you worked your butt off with frustrating results. How your body reacts to the changes that come along with nursing will most certainly be different from my body.
However, you can see that the breastfeeding mother does have a different scenario on her hands than the average woman when it comes to fat loss. We are working against hormones, stress, lack of sleep, and exhaustion.
If you’re dead-set on getting off those last few pounds or have an aesthetic goal to reach, then you’ll be happy to know that breastfeeding is not a death sentence to losing the last few stubborn pounds. You CAN lose fat while nursing, it just won’t be the same game as before.
Here are a few fat loss tricks you can try if you want to try and get past the “Prolactin Plateau” (I just made that up and would like to copyright it, please) 🙂
So, yes, breastfeeding did in fact put a little bit of a damper in my plans to get my pre-baby body back, visible abs and all. It became clear to me around the 5 month post-partum mark that while I COULD do it, I just didn’t freaking want to.
I realized that I could work out harder or longer, eat less starch and sugar, follow my own “get ripped plan” that I have written about here, be more strict about my calorie intake, skip the birthday cake at parties, and really focus hard on getting back that body. No excuses, right?
My focus during this first year was on SURVIVAL, people. And most of the time, survival for me meant SELF-CARE. Self-care meant:
And the fact is, it’s FIVE POUNDS, maybe 10 from my leanest. I’m in the same pre-pregnancy clothes, I feel great, I am healthy and stronger than ever.
Maybe the experts do think that if they tell us that nursing might make losing the baby weight more difficult, we won’t do it. I made the decision to continue anyways, but that is an individual choice for everyone and one that should be informed. Now that you know (well, kind of), will you continue to breastfeed?