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Postpartum Weight Loss: When Can You Start Dieting After Pregnancy?

Aug. 4, 2022 - Katie McCallum

Between caring for your newborn — which may not be your only child — and managing responsibilities outside of parenthood, losing weight after having a baby isn't easy.

It's enough to make many women consider a diet or a postpartum weight-loss plan and to wonder how soon they can start.

"The problem with the word 'dieting' is that it generally implies you need to restrict or eliminate certain foods in order to lose weight, which isn't the case," explains Dr. Mae Kathleen Borchardt, an OB-GYN at Houston Methodist.

Not only is dieting not required for weight loss, diets often reduce the amount of important nutrients, vitamins and minerals you're getting. That can affect your postpartum recovery and energy levels as well as the quantity and quality of your breast milk.

"These obviously aren't things we want for new moms, especially for those who are breastfeeding," adds Dr. Borchardt. "Just as proper nutrition is important during pregnancy, it's important after, too."

Additionally, many weight-loss plans are designed to help you lose weight really fast — which can be dangerous.

The weight you lose immediately after delivery is normal, of course. And you can expect to lose another few pounds the week following delivery, too.

After that, though, losing weight should be a slow, steady process.

"Rapid weight loss after pregnancy — losing more than two pounds per week — isn't healthy," explains Dr. Borchardt. "It is important to eventually lose the extra weight gained during pregnancy, but this isn't a process that should be rushed or forced."

Instead of dieting, Dr. Borchardt recommends focusing on healthy eating and portion control. She has a few more tips, too.

5 keys to safely losing weight after having a baby

It took time to put that baby weight on, and it's going to take time to lose it, too.

Here are Dr. Borchardt's tips for losing baby weight the healthy way:

1. Set realistic weight-loss goals

Setting yourself up for postpartum weight-loss success starts by knowing how long it usually takes.

Losing weight safely — about one pound per week — means that it takes most new moms between six months to a year to return to pre-pregnancy weight.

"Half of that weight is typically lost in the first six weeks after delivery," says Dr. Borchardt. "From there, women typically lose the rest of the weight at their own pace."

Be patient with your unique pace, using the tips below to stay on track along the way.

2. Eat well-balanced meals

Instead of trendy diets, which are often restrictive and hard to maintain, focus on eating well-balanced meals, which include:

  • Half of your plate filled with fruits and non-starchy veggies
  • One quarter of your plate filled with whole grains
  • One quarter of your plate filled with a lean protein
  • A healthy serving of fat, such as avocado, chia seeds or olive oil

Note that processed, packaged foods and sugary drinks aren't on this list.

They're not off limits, of course, but they should be consumed in moderation since they're almost always full of empty calories — a recipe for weight gain rather than weight loss. (Related: Are Your Taste Buds Sabotaging You From Eating Healthier?)

"To tide you over between meals, prioritize snacks containing fiber and protein, such as Greek yogurt topped with berries, carrot sticks with hummus or a hard-boiled egg with avocado," Dr. Borchardt adds. "Fiber and protein help keep you feeling fuller for longer."

Need help eating healthy given your busy schedule? A few tips:

3. Portion control

Just as important as eating healthy is eating the right amount.

To help control your portions, pay attention to nutrition food labels and reputable sources' recommended serving sizes. You can also try using a smaller plate, since this can help you stick to more appropriate portion sizes and avoid overeating.

"If you're eating a healthy diet in acceptable portions, you're on track for weight loss," Dr. Borchardt adds.

4. Make time for exercise — but ease into it

Another important component of weight loss is physical activity, though a new mom's exercise plan will need to look different than it did before pregnancy — for a while, at least.

(Related: Postpartum Exercise: What to Know About Exercising After Pregnancy)

"With uncomplicated, vaginal births, light exercise can typically start two weeks after delivery," says Dr. Borchardt.

She emphasizes light exercise initially — such as walking. You can eventually progress to postpartum exercises that help rebuild weakened abdominal and pelvic floor muscles.

"You can slowly increase the intensity over time, but be sure to listen to your body and stop immediately if you feel any pain," says Dr. Borchardt.

If you had a cesarean section, your OB-GYN will help you understand when it's safe for you to resume physical activity — though most women will need to wait at least four weeks.

5. Don't forget about self-care

"New moms sacrifice so much for the well-being of the baby," says Dr. Borchardt. "It is important for mom to make her health a priority, too."

This means getting adequate rest and staying hydrated, in addition to eating nutritious meals and making time for physical activity. And don't be afraid to accept help from family or friends — or ask for it.

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