Losing weight after pregnancy doesn't need to be—and can't be—a full-time job. These health pros share the safest and healthiest ways to lose baby weight without sacrificing your sanity.
Losing weight after pregnancy is a hot topic. It's a headline that gets splashed across magazine covers and becomes immediate fodder for late-night talk shows as soon as a celeb delivers. (See: Beyoncé, Kate Middleton, Chrissy Teigen.) And if you're like most women who, according to the Centers for Disease Control, gain more weight than what's officially recommended (25 to 35 pounds for those within a healthy BMI range), then it's likely you feel pressure to figure out how to lose weight after baby, pronto.
But if you don't have a celebrity trainer and want to consume more than just juice, all the advice being thrown at you may be confusing. That's why we tapped medical and fitness experts (who also happen to be moms) to learn the top tips for losing weight after pregnancy. Because if anyone's going to "get it," it's someone who's been there, done that—and has the education to back it up.
Start with walking.
In an ideal world, "women with healthy pregnancies should never stop exercising pre-delivery," says Alyse Kelly-Jones, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn with Novant Health Mintview in Charlotte, North Carolina. Doing so can help you have a safer delivery and improve your well-being, she says. Plus, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that prenatal exercise reduces the risk of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia while improving mental health.
Regardless of your pregnancy fitness, though, Dr. Kelly-Jones says that once the baby is delivered, you need to wait at least two weeks before starting any form of exercise again. But that's only a general guideline: It's imperative that you talk to your own doctor for personalized recommendations and timelines.
Once you've been cleared, Kelly-Jones says it's smart to put walking at the top of your postpartum weight-loss plan. It's low impact, gets you outdoors, and for the first eight weeks, walking for 10 to 15 minutes is more than enough for your body, she says. (If you're feeling up for it, you can add in foam rolling and stretching.) Remember, you're still healing and getting used to life with a newborn—there's no need to rush.
Take a breath.
This is a critical part of post-pregnancy weight loss that you may be missing, says Sarah Ellis Duvall, a physical therapist and founder of CoreExerciseSolutions.com. "While breathing may seem simple, when you're pregnant the baby pushes out and up on the diaphragm, which is the main muscle involved in breathing," she says. "This throws most women into a shallow breathing pattern that makes recovery take longer, because it causes the diaphragm to flatten out instead of maintaining its dome-like shape." That makes it tough for the diaphragm to contract, she adds, and since the diaphragm and pelvic floor work together for each breath, decreasing the natural diaphragm function also lowers your pelvic floor function.
Not sure if you're experiencing this shallow breathing pattern? First, Duvall says to stand in front of a mirror and take a deep inhale. When you do, watch where the air goes: If it flows to your chest and abdomen, great—you're doing exactly what you should. But if it stays in your neck and shoulders (you don't see your chest or abs move), practice deep breathing exercises at least twice a day for two minutes, suggests Duvall.
Give your pelvic floor time to heal.
A lot of women are so focused on how to lose baby weight fast that, without even realizing it, they forget about their pelvic floor. That's a mistake, because studies show that 58 percent of women who deliver vaginally and 43 percent by cesarean section will have some type of pelvic floor dysfunction. (P.S. Are opioids really necessary after a C-section?)
It makes sense: To deliver a little one, the pelvis opens up. While that's great for preparing to get a baby out, Duvall says it's not-so-great for stopping leaks and supporting our reproductive organs post-delivery. So if you don't allow for proper recovery time and literally "jump" into losing weight after pregnancy, research shows it's way more likely that you'll have bladder issues down the road.
The solution: Rather than leaping into high-impact exercise like running or jumping rope, stick to low-impact activities, like walking, for the first two months—then add in other options (think swimming, biking, yoga, or Pilates) for month three, two to three times per week, says Duvall. "It's easy to put too much pressure on the pelvic floor when hunching over a bike, bending in yoga or Pilates, or holding your breath in the pool, " she explains. "Those things are fabulous to add in after the initial core and pelvic floor healing period has passed."
Don't go ham on cardio.
A lot of women fall into the trap of going balls-to-the-wall on cardio to help them lose the baby weight. But it's actually not as critical a component as you might think: Fitting in 20-minute sessions three to four times a week after you've hit the three-month mark is plenty, says Duvall. The rest of your exercise time should zero in on rebuilding your strength—especially core strength, which Duvall says takes a major hit during delivery.
Don't ignore diastasis recti.
This separation of the large abdominal muscles, which Dr. Kelly-Jones says is "caused by the uterus growing and pushing forward," occurs a lot more often than you might think: Research shows that 60 percent of new moms are dealing with it six weeks postpartum, and that number only drops to 32 percent a full year after birth. And it doesn't matter whether you had abs of steel before baby, either. "Think about this as a core coordination issue more than core strength," says Duvall. "It can happen to anyone, and all women heal at a different pace."
Before you can get to healing, though, you need to know whether or not there's a problem. The good news is that you can check at home (though, it's not a terrible idea to have your doctor check for you). Follow the three-step test from Duvall below, but remember: A soft, gentle touch is key. If you have diastasis recti, your organs are exposed, so poking around aggressively won't do anyone any good.
Lie flat on your back with knees bent. Gently place your fingers in the middle of your abs, about an inch above your belly button.
Lift your head an inch off the ground and carefully press down with your fingers on your stomach. Does it feel firm, like a trampoline, or do your fingers sink in? If it sinks and the space is more than 2 1/2 fingers wide, that indicates diastasis recti.
Move your fingers to halfway between your ribcage and belly button, and check again. Do the same halfway between your pelvis and belly button. Diastasis recti can also occur at these points.
If you think you might have diastasis recti, talk to your doctor so she can recommend a course of action, as it can lead to back pain and pelvic floor-related issues, like incontinence. Most cases can be healed through exercise, and your doctor or a physical therapist can provide in-depth info about what exercises to avoid (like crunches) and which to regularly work into your routine.
More crucial than post-pregnancy weight loss is the strength of your post-pregnancy body, as you need to use that bod daily to care for your newborn, says Dr. Kelly-Jones. And it's no easy job. "Life with a newborn makes us lift heavy things postpartum," says Duvall. "Car seats now have amazing safety features, but they can feel like they weigh the same as a baby elephant. Add a kid and a diaper bag on the shoulder, and a new mom might as well be at the CrossFit Games."
That's why Dr. Kelly-Jones suggests sprinkling exercises like lunges, squats, and push-ups into your daily routine. Each one builds core strength, which will be the base of where all your power comes from whenever lifting these newborn essentials. Then, whenever you do pick something up, Duvall says to keep proper form in mind: Bend your knees, shift the hips back, and keep your lower back flat as you lower closer to the ground. Oh, and don't forget to exhale as you lift—that'll help make the movement feel easier.
Make playtime work.
Having a newborn can be overwhelming, which can easily make losing weight after baby feel like total overload. That's why Duvall suggests multitasking. "Join a moms' fitness group with a certified postpartum fitness coach to make the most of your child's playdates, or exercise during naptime using an in-home program, like DVDs or streaming routines, when it's too tough to leave the house," she says. (Livestream workouts are changing the way people exercise at home.)
Even more important than multitasking, though, is asking for help when you need it. "We don't earn an extra badge of honor for doing it all alone," says Duvall. So ask your partner to take a turn watching the kiddo while you take a lap around the block, or maybe budget your finances to invest in a babysitter so you can have some "me" time doing the fitness routines you love.
Focus on adding healthy foods to your diet (not taking away).
There is no magic pill to help you lose baby weight, but "food is the most powerful drug we put in our body every single day," says Dr. Kelly-Jones. "The more chemically laden processed food we eat, the poorer our nutrition and the worse we feel."
But rather than focus on food you can't eat, Duvall suggests picturing a "nutrition ditch," which gets filled with each meal and snack choice you make in a day. It helps you get into a mindset of, 'What can I pour in?' instead of, 'What do I need to cut out?' This makes figuring out how to lose weight after pregnancy immediately feel more doable, she explains. The shift also reduces stress, which cuts down on cortisol—a stress hormone that can cause your body to hold on to belly fat.
If you're struggling to figure out what to eat, Duvall says to ask yourself questions like, "Are there enough colors on my plate?" "Am I getting healthy fats?" and "Is there enough protein to help me build muscle?" Each can serve as guidelines to help you make healthier decisions.
Change your calorie counting.
When clients ask Dr. Kelly-Jones how to lose baby fat, the first thing she tells them is to skip the total calorie tally. "I don't think counting calories is as important as counting macronutrients, which are your carbs, proteins, and fats," she says. Why? You need proper fuel to feed and care for your baby, and sometimes that has a higher calorie count. (Still need a general guideline? The USDA recommends that new moms never dip below 1,800 calories per day.)
To get a well-rounded picture of what you're eating, Dr. Kelly-Jones suggests tracking your meals and snacks with a free app like MyFitnessPal. Aim for about 30 percent healthy fats, 30 percent protein, and 40 percent carbs at each meal if postpartum weight loss is your main goal, she says.
Dr. Kelly-Jones also says that breastfeeding can be a serious game-changer in your post-pregnancy weight-loss plan, if you're willing and able to do so. "Breastfeeding burns approximately 500 extra calories per day, about the equivalent of what you'd burn during an hour-long walk," says Dr. Kelly-Jones. "That adds up to one to two pounds a week."
Don't forget self-care.
There are about a billion tips for how to lose baby weight fast, but Duvall says self-care is the most important thing you can do for both you and your family. "I know it seems silly, but when you're trying to decide whether the laundry should stay in the basket until tomorrow or whether you should get a workout in, make the decision that self-care is more important," she says. "Laundry can wait, but your health, fitness, and happiness shouldn't need to."