Many new moms are ready to swap out their maternity clothes for their pre-pregnancy clothes immediately after giving birth, but it's important to set realistic postpartum weight loss goals. Having a baby is an amazing experience but, let’s face it, your body goes through a lot of changes during those nine months of pregnancy. Even though you may be anxious to return to your pre-pregnancy weight, it is important to appreciate the miracle that just happened, enjoy your baby and new motherhood bliss, while allowing your body time to rest and heal.
“Unnecessary pressure around body goals can increase postpartum depression, decrease milk supply, and simply rid you of the joy you deserve to soak up in the early days of motherhood,” says Brooke Cates, postnatal holistic coach and founder of The Bloom Method. “Honor the pregnancy and postpartum journey, realizing what your body has just done and finding joy in every step of the journey.”
Meet the Expert
- Brooke Cates is the founder and CEO of The Bloom Method, which is a pre and postnatal fitness method. She is Certified Personal Trainer, Pre & Postnatal Corrective Exercise Specialist, Diastasis Recti & Core Rehabilitation Specialist and Pre & Postnatal Holistic Health Coach.
- Joanie Johnson is a pre & postnatal corrective exercise specialist and founder of Strong Mom Society. She is a Certified Personal Trainer, Holistic Health Coach, Pre and Postnatal Corrective Exercise Specialist, Diastasis and Core Consultant and PregnancySāf™ Coach through Fit For Birth.
From the best postnatal exercises to postpartum corsets, experts share their top tips to regain strength and energy after having a baby.
Set Realistic Expectations
Remember the old adage that it takes nine months to put on the weight, therefore you should lose it all in nine months ("nine months on, nine months off!")? Experts now say to not hold too tightly to that way of thinking.
“First, consider whether returning to your pre-pregnancy weight is your goal," says Johnson. "We live in a society that puts pressure on birthing bodies to 'bounce back' and it’s important to know that there are many women who love their postpartum bodies and the weight they’ve gained to nourish their child."
“I teach my clients to focus on regaining their strength first,” says Johnson. "If weight loss is your goal, know that it’s going to vary for everyone based on a number of factors.” She says these factors include how much pregnancy weight you've gained, if you were overweight when you became pregnant, and if your goal is healthy and achievable.
"Rest should be the absolute number one priority for the first several weeks after a baby is born. And if there is a traumatic birth or cesarean, even longer," says Maranda Bower, Perinatal & Postpartum Nutrition Specialist. She explains working out too soon can weaken the body and cause issues with abdominal separation (diastasis recti), urinary incontinence, and organ prolapse.
Talk to your doctor to find out when you can begin exercising, but in general The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says if you had a healthy pregnancy with a vaginal delivery you can begin exercising as soon as you feel ready. If you had a complicated pregnancy or a cesarean birth, you will need to wait longer according to your doctor’s instructions.
You may be surprised how good it feels to put your baby in the stroller and go for a walk around the block — or while the baby is with a caregiver you can take a little “me time” and go for a stroll. Don’t do anything strenuous at first and take it slow. Save the HIIT classes or spin classes for later on and just focus on light movement, even if it is just 10 minutes.
“Jumping back into your favorite fitness class may be desirable but can cause pregnancy related injuries to worsen or even appear spontaneously when the right approach isn’t met,” says Cates.
For those that like specific goals, The Mayo Clinic says to expect it to take six months to a year to return to your pre-pregnancy weight. Most women lose around 13 pounds just by giving birth from the weight of the baby, amniotic fluid, and placenta. You will lose additional water weight rather quickly the first week, and after that a healthy rate of weight loss is one pound per week.
Your Core and Pelvic Floor
“The most important exercise you can do to strengthen your core is focus on diaphragmatic breathing,” says Johnson. “It reduces stress, activates your parasympathetic nervous system (aka the system responsible for rest and recovery), increases lymph flow and digestion, and helps tone the muscles of the pelvic floor and lower abdominals.”
To perform diaphragmatic breathing, focus on expanding your stomach with air as you inhale, instead of expanding your chest. As you exhale, perform a Kegel by tightening your pelvic floor muscles. She refers to this as Core Breathing Belly Pump. It works your transverse abdominal muscles by “wrapping them” around your core—and it works your pelvic floor, which are both essential to postpartum recovery.
She says to practice this "belly pump" throughout the day, as you pick up your baby, stand, and lift. “This will transform your entire day into a core strengthening workout," she says.
Once you have mastered this diaphragmatic breathing, progress to core strengthening exercises such as the plank, balance ball activities, and Pilates. If you have pain, pressure, or urinary leaking, Johnson says to book an appointment with a pelvic floor PT or OT.
Do Exercises You Enjoy
Hate running? Get too impatient with yoga? Don't force yourself to do exercises you don't enjoy, as you are more likely to not do them. Whether it is HIIT, Pilates, yoga, running, Spin Class, or a combination of all of them, as long as it gets you moving, then you should do it. For those that love group fitness classes, many gyms offer childcare so you can exercise with peace of mind.
Whichever type of exercise you do, keep these guidelines in mind: After you have been cleared for exercise, you should gradually increase your exercise sessions, working up to at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise 5 days a week, according to the ACOG. You can also break it up into three 10-minute sessions and incorporate strengthening exercises twice a week.
Breastfeeding and Postpartum Weight Loss
There is no disputing the benefits of breastfeeding for those women who can or choose to, but don't expect it to be a magic weight loss pill. “While breastfeeding can lead to speedy weight loss with some women due to upwards of an extra 500 calories being burned daily, some women’s bodies hold onto the weight regardless of calories burned or how long they breastfeed," says Cates.
“Ideally, women who are nursing and want to maintain a healthy bodyweight will simply focus on eating a clean diet, drink lots of water, and move their body in ways that create joy while embracing this part of the motherhood journey,” she says.
Exercise Benefits Your Mental Health, Too
Exercise not only benefits your body, but research shows it also benefits your mental health. If you are feeling depressed or feel like you are dealing with postpartum depression, it is important to first speak with your doctor, then consider tacking on exercise which can also be beneficial.
“Exercise gets your endorphins going, which can help alleviate depression symptoms while also providing space for yourself,” says Cates. “Even a light amount of exercise, such as a walk around the block with baby can be beneficial. Exercise really can help give you energy, boost your mood, and make you feel better physically and emotionally.”
What About Postpartum Corsets?
You undoubtedly have seen a celebrity on Instagram touting the benefits of postpartum corsets, also called waist trainers or girdles, however Cates said to use them with caution.
"While I don’t love waist trainers for postpartum women, we do often recommend high-waisted compression panties in the early days as a gentle external awareness tool,” says Cates. “Waist trainers can often be quite aggressive for the postpartum core (or any core for that matter) and even the more gentle ones can cause a 'crutch'-like experience if not used correctly.”
She says that those women who have a diastasis recti may benefit from a corset, but most do not need them. “It’s also important that women know how to put on a belly band. The core and pelvic floor should always contract slightly prior to putting the band or trainer on and diaphragmatic breathing should be able to happen naturally for the duration of wearing the band,” she explains, urging users to “NEVER sleep in a waist trainer or belly band."
Strengthening Exercises to Prevent Injuries
Taking care of a baby can be physically exhausting. This includes repeatedly lifting and holding your baby, picking up your baby out of the car seat and bending over to change and feed your baby. All of these movements can cause back or neck pain unless you are ensuring that you are using proper form and strengthening your postural muscles.
“You'll often need to hold a baby on one side while using your other arm, so strengthening exercises of your arms, core, and legs are really important,” says health strategist and strength and conditioning coach Lauren Chante.
She says it is important to do asymmetrical exercises, which includes focused strength training on your non-dominant side. Strengthening exercises for your arms using dumbbells or quadruped alternate arm-leg exercises are great options. Your dominant side is already getting plenty of exercise with holding the baby, so focus on working your other side as well. "Since many of us favor holding babies on one side, asymmetrical exercises can also prevent your non-favored side from becoming too weak," she says.