A pregnant woman planning her exercise plan to manage weight gain and loss

Weight Loss After Pregnancy: Tips, Challenges and Exercise Guide

Pregnancy is one of the most beautiful and nerve-wracking experiences in human life. It is natural for pregnant bodies to change, which may cause weight gain and other adjustments of the body. Which means weight loss after pregnancy is an important issue to consider.

Pregnant women, for as far back as we know, have gone through this natural human experience with much difficulty, which ends in joy and a rewarding gift in the form of a baby in most cases.

Our bodies have also learnt to adapt to this life-changing experience. Many women, including myself, have struggled with the weight gained during the nine months.

The Science of Why Women Gain Weight During Pregnancy

Happy pregnant woman not worried about weight gain or loss during pregnancy

Pregnancy leads to many complex physiological changes in a woman’s body. These may contribute to the expected weight gain. Understanding the mechanisms behind this weight gain can help manage expectations, promote a healthy pregnancy and then help with weight loss after the pregnancy is over.

One of the primary reasons for weight gain is the growth of the baby itself. As the fetus develops over the 9-month gestation period, it adds weight through increases in lean mass, bone, and fat. The placenta and amniotic fluid also add to the weight. The Maternal-Fetal Nutrition During Pregnancy and Lactation book provides detailed research on the topic.

Hormonal fluctuations play a crucial role as well. Increased levels of estrogen, progesterone, and other hormones encourage fat storage, particularly in the breasts, hips, and thighs. This fat reserve is very important as it is needed for energy for the baby’s growth and breastfeeding after delivery.

There are higher nutritional demands on a pregnant woman’s body. According to researchers, the body goes through an anabolic state, where more nutrients are stored and insulin resistance develops, making it easier for the mother to store calories as fat for the baby’s needs. Then it goes through catabolic state, with lower insulin resistance. These are naturally occurring to help with the baby’s growth.

There is an almost 50% increase in blood volume in a normal during pregnancy. This extra blood helps deliver oxygen and nutrients to the placenta and fetus.

Over the course of the pregnancy, the posture, balance and physical movements of many women are affected. These lead to lower physical activity levels. This means lower calorie expenditure.

Now we have discussed why moderate weight gain is healthy during pregnancy. Excessive weight gain can cause more problems during pregnancy like gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and pregnancy-induced hypertension. What’s more, extra weight gain can cause long-term problems as well such as future obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, according to researchers.

My Diet and Exercise During Pregnancy to Manage Weight

I have always been on the petite side. I am short, with short legs and a medium sized torso. I’ve gained weight and lost weight quickly throughout my years but had managed to stick to the 120 to 130 lbs weight range. The over 20 pound weight gain during my pregnancy, therefore, for me and my body was very new.

Like most new expectant mothers, I was reading a lot of pregnancy books and blogs to get information about pregnancy each week. Each week is different for the growth of the fetus. And each week was a unique experience for me as well. My favourite and go-to was the What to Expect When You’re Expecting book.

A woman reading a book about pregnancy
I would recommend the book for your pregnancy reading. You may click through to buy.

Due to my history of miscarriage, I was mostly off my feet in the first trimester. The first 12 weeks were critical so I was going to my doctor regularly.

Each week, I was finding myself standing on the weighing scale and did not see much movement. My blood pressure was also on the lower side and so were my iron levels.

During my first trimester, I had a very hard time eating well due to my morning sickness. I was not able to tolerate most smells so cooking was a struggle. I was mostly surviving on fruits and french fries.

Thankfully, by the start of my second trimester, my morning sickness was mostly gone so I was able to manage a healthy diet. Nutrition is critical to manage weight during pregnancy. I ate balanced diet rich in nutrients from whole foods like fruits and veggies, along with whole grains. I limited certain foods like lentils and rice that could lead to constipation for me.

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For exercise, I continued low-impact activities like walking and pregnancy yoga, after discussion with my doctor. I increased my walking in the third trimester as I was getting closer to delivery time. This helped me stay active, manage weight gain within the recommended range, boost energy levels, and prepare for labor and delivery.

Open communication with my doctor guided me through safe, sustainable lifestyle choices for me and my baby. No question was too big or too stupid.

Is it Hard to Lose Weight After Pregnancy: Common Challenges

The answer is yes and no.

Losing the baby weight after giving birth can be an uphill battle for many new mothers. They often encounter several obstacles, including:

  • Lack of sleep and fatigue from caring for a newborn, making it difficult to find energy for exercise or meal planning.
  • Overall fatigue and tiredness due to a healing body.
  • Hormonal shifts that can impact appetite, fluid retention, and metabolism as the body transitions back to its pre-pregnancy state.
  • Limited time and scheduling constraints with a baby’s demanding routine, leaving little room for self-care.
  • Breastfeeding’s high calorie demands, requiring some women to delay calorie-restrictive diets.
  • Emotional eating tendencies stemming from stress, anxiety, or postpartum depression.
  • Medical conditions like constipation or diastasis recti (abdominal muscle separation) making some core exercises challenging initially. Episiotomy from vaginal tearing can be an issue too.
  • Unrealistic societal pressures and body image issues.

The good news is, many women return to a healthy-self after 6 to 12 months postpartum. Understanding these common issues will help new moms to have reasonable expectations. Creating a sustainable, gradual approach to weight loss after pregnancy is crucial. This will help to lead you to sustainable weight loss.

Exercise tips for New Moms: Effective Weight loss after Pregnancy

Here are some tried and tested activities that you should include in your postpartum healing and recovery journey. These will only be effective with a healthy diet and water intake.

That will ensure your body has the best chance of recovery. I have used a mix of these activities after each pregnancy (two successful ones) to lose weight and keep it off as I returned to my training.

Getting Back into Exercise After Pregnancy

Keeping a pregnancy journal was one of the best things I did for myself. Get your own journal too.

After giving birth, it’s important to allow your body time to recover before jumping back into rigorous exercise. Most healthcare providers recommend waiting until you get the all-clear at your 6-week postpartum checkup.

During this initial period, focus on your mental health. Postpartum emotions and hormones can cause much distress. Many women feel sadness and postpartum depression is more common than we think. I kept a journal and would scribble thoughts in it as I breastfed my child. This really helped me de-stress.

If you’re feeling up to physical movements, it, focus on gentle movements, pelvic floor exercises, and getting adequate rest.

Low-Impact Cardio

I swear by low-impact cardio exercises as excellent way for new moms to ease back into activity. These will protect your healing muscles and joints without causing them unnecessary stress. Some great options include:

  • Walking – Start with short 10-15 minute walks and gradually increase distance and intensity.
  • Swimming – The water provides buoyancy and support for your joints.
  • Cycling – Use a stationary bike at home or outdoors as your fitness improves.
  • Low-Impact Aerobics – Look for postnatal workout videos designed specifically for new moms.

Yoga and Home Pilates

yoga to lose weight after pregnancy

Going to the gym or a fitness class might not be a possibility with a little baby at home. Instead, you can choose to do quick yoga or pilates movements session at home. Even 5 minute sessions will go a long way to improve your fitness and help with your weight loss.

Pelvic Floor and Core Strengthening

Carrying and delivering a baby puts a lot of strain on the pelvic floor and core muscles. Strengthening these back up is very important for your long term health and fitness.

Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles across the pelvis. These support the pelvic organs (bladder, uterus, rectum) and help control the sphincter muscles for bladder and bowel function. When you try to stop the flow of urine or passing gas, the muscle group you feel tightening is the pelvic floor.

squat and strength training Low impact exercise to lose weight after pregnancy

Gently rebuilding strength in these areas is crucial:

  • Kegel exercises to engage and tone the pelvic floor muscles. These can be done any time and in a very quick session
  • Diaphragmatic (deep) breathing to engage the deep core muscles
  • Bodyweight exercises like squats, planks, bird dogs, and pelvic tilts
  • Gentle exercises while sitting and engaging your core

Breastfeeding as Weight-loss Support

While breastfeeding alone doesn’t melt away pregnancy weight, it can support postpartum weight loss when combined with a balanced diet and exercise routine.

Breastfeeding burns extra calories—around 500 calories per day—to produce nutrient-rich milk. These calories, along with hormonal shifts, may slightly increase metabolism.

Breastfeeding will increase your hunger so it will be possible you will eat more as well. So its important to balance with a reasonable calorie intake, regular activity, and sufficient water to maximize the weight loss benefits of breastfeeding without compromising milk supply.

Strength Training

As you regain stamina, incorporate strength training 2-3 times per week to rebuild muscle tone and boost metabolism:

  • Use light weights, resistance bands, or your bodyweight
  • Focus on multi-muscle compound exercises
  • Target all major muscle groups
  • Proper form is key to prevent injury

Stay Motivated for the Long Haul

Finding motivation as a busy new mom can be tough. But remember this isn’t a sprint. You are in it for your long term health to lose weight after your pregnancy.

When you feel you have run out of steam, try these tips:

  • Exercise with your baby by going for walks
  • Find a local stroller-fit class to work out with other moms
  • Get support through intervention like counselling or even social media groups
  • Set achievable goals and celebrate small victories
  • Enlist your partner or support system to help make time for your workouts

Listen to Your Body

resting after pregnancy Low impact exercise to lose weight after pregnancy

Most importantly, take cues from how you’re feeling each day. If you’re extremely fatigued or experiencing pain, take a rest day.

Gradual progression and being kind to yourself is essential during this transition. With patience and consistency, you’ll be able to successfully make exercise a part of your new lifestyle as a mom.

References and Further Reading

The following resources were used for the research of this article and are recommended for detailed reading:

  • Liu J, Wilcox S, Hutto B, Turner-McGrievy G, Wingard E. Effects of a lifestyle intervention on postpartum weight retention among women with elevated weight. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2022; 30(7): 1370-1379. doi:10.1002/oby.23449
  • Postpartum Depression and Body Image, Routledge, 2021
  • Craemer KA, Sampene E, Safdar N, Antony KM, Wautlet CK. Nutrition and Exercise Strategies to Prevent Excessive Pregnancy Weight Gain: A Meta-analysis. AJP Rep. 2019 Jan;9(1):e92-e120. doi: 10.1055/s-0039-1683377. Epub 2019 Mar 19. PMID: 31041118; PMCID: PMC6424817.
  • Most, Jasper, et al. “Energy intake requirements in pregnancy.” Nutrients 11.8 (2019): 1812. Available at https://www.mdpi.com/510290
  • Meo SA, Hassain A. Metabolic Physiology in Pregnancy. J Pak Med Assoc. 2016 Sep;66(9 Suppl 1):S8-S10. PMID: 27582161.
  • Maternal-Fetal Nutrition During Pregnancy and Lactation (Cambridge University Press, 2010)
  • “Impact of Pregnancy Weight Gain on Postpartum Weight Retention” – A systematic review published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (2019)

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