A few months back, I shared a breakdown of pregnancy weight gain and factors that contribute to bump size. Now, I’m following that up with a detailed look at postpartum weight loss. Pull up a chair and let’s dive in.
Weight Gain During Pregnancy
What contributes to prenatal weight gain and bump size? I cover those factors pretty thoroughly in this post so I won’t rehash them here. One important thing to note: Excess weight gained in pregnancy is the most problematic for moms to lose postpartum. When moms breastfeed but still can’t shake the last 10-20 pounds, typically this weight was gained in addition to the baseline of what naturally comes during pregnancy.
Nutrient Depletion & Hormone Imbalance
Both nutrient depletion and postpartum hormone imbalances also contribute heavily to stubborn weight.
All moms enter the postpartum period depleted. It’s an unavoidable part of pregnancy that must be intentionally addressed during the 2-3 years following birth. An Australian doctor has found a direct connection between nutrient depletion and physical and emotional struggles postpartum. He shares his findings, stories from his clinic, and simple steps to recovery in this fantastic book*.
The hormone drop three days following delivery is the biggest hormone drop that a woman will experience in her entire life. Moms who are nutrient deficient or have a history of hormone imbalances will experience ongoing challenges with hormone levels. Thyroid function and gut health also play a big role in the regulation of hormones. If you suspect a problem, seek out a care provider who can help you navigate your options.
Lack of Sleep & Stress
Elevated cortisol has a reputation for inhibiting weight loss. The body cannot differentiate between a hungry lion and tension with your spouse/significant other. In both situations, the body prioritizes survival over what it considers “non-essential bodily functions.” While very much essential to our wellbeing, temporarily shutting off digestion, fertility, and detox in a life-and-death situation makes sense. You don’t need to be assimilating every possible nutrient when you’re running from a lion. But when that stress is chronic tension with your spouse/significant other, anxiety about caring for your newborn, and lack of sleep, this is a very different story.
As unrealistic as it may feel, sleep is vital for mental and physical wellbeing as a new mom. If you can’t sleep when the baby sleeps, go to bed early or sleep extra in the morning. You can also enlist someone to watch the baby while you nap.
Learn to manage existing stress – whether from a job, friend, family member, or ongoing struggle with anxiety. Your doctor can prescribe medication for anxiety but it comes with a series of not-so-pleasant side effects. Many moms have found stress relief through journaling, EFT tapping, aromatherapy, dietary changes, and seeing a counselor.
Hacks for Faster Weight Loss
Now that we’ve established the common contributors to stubborn postpartum weight, let’s work through some hacks for faster weight loss.
Our bodies are 70% water and maintaining a hydrated state is vitally important for our total wellbeing and function. Caffeinated and sugar-laden beverages (including black coffee) exacerbate dehydration and can cause a cortisol spike. Both of these make it harder to lose the extra weight.
Drink half your body weight in ounces of water per day plus one ounce for every ounce of caffeinated beverages you consume. It’s best to cut out sugary drinks altogether, as the negatives greatly outweigh any short-term benefits you may feel.
If you feel dehydrated after consuming a lot of water, you need electrolytes. Coconut Water or electrolyte enriched water are both great options.
You know the old saying: Abs are created in the gym, but revealed in the kitchen. What you eat has a big impact on how much extra weight you carry around. It’s okay to enjoy a treat now and then. Just make sure that the majority (90%) of what you eat is nutrient-dense and nourishing for your depleted postpartum body.
One word of caution. Well-meaning blogs and books offer “healthy” and “clean” recipes or tips that aren’t better than eating sugary cereal. Lactation Cookies are often the biggest offender for new moms. While they do have some benefits, they shouldn’t be relied on heavily and will hinder postpartum weight loss efforts.
Whole30 and Paleo recipes are a great starting point to make sure you are receiving plenty of nutrients.
One key aspect of postpartum weight loss is eating enough. While I’m not a fan of counting calories, it can be helpful to track your food intake for a few days to figure out where you need to improve. MyFitnessPal is a simple tool you can use to do so. Cronometer is another favorite that can provide more details reports on the nutrient level of your diet.
Strict dieting is generally not recommended for moms who are breastfeeding. Make sure you are consuming enough to continue producing ample milk for your baby. Signs from baby that your milk supply has started to dwindle are fussiness, sudden desire to nurse more frequently, and disrupted sleep.
If you’re eating enough and well, have balanced hormones, are managing stress, sleeping adequately, and aren’t severely deficient in any vital nutrients, breastfeeding is a great weight-loss tool. You can expect to see some of the weight gradually melt off in the first few months following delivery.
For moms who are breastfeeding but not seeing the scale move, it’s important to evaluate what may be contributing to the problem. Many moms find that the extra weight melts off once they stop breastfeeding. This is potentially an indication of poor diet, not eating enough, thyroid dysfunction, or overexercising. Medications, which are extremely common when dealing with PPD, can also inhibit the process.
Support Natural Detox Pathways
The lymphatic system, liver, kidneys, and methylation cycle work hard to support the body postpartum. These pathways help to excrete excess fluids, hormones, and anything else that needs to be eliminated from the system. The more efficiently these waste products are flushed, the quicker your body can address postpartum weight loss. Drink water, eat a variety of vegetables, reduce carbs and sweets, and take a B-Complex. These simple steps go a long way to help the body naturally eliminate junk from the system.
A variety of genetic SNPs can influence your body’s ability to eliminate toxins. MTHFR has become a hot topic in wellness circles, but it isn’t the only one to pay attention to. This great read* outlines a variety of genes that support weight and hormone regulation and how to address them.
A belly binder, band, or girdle, gently supports the organs, muscles, ligaments, and tissues as they heal the first three months following delivery. Begin wearing the band daily immediately following delivery. It will fast track the time it takes to shed the extra water weight. Moms also report seeing a waistline return much faster after giving birth.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that moving is really important for weight loss. Postpartum weight loss is no exception! One caution, don’t push yourself to move strenuously until you’ve been cleared by your health care provider. Restarting an exercise program ASAP following delivery is not often helpful in the long run. Pay attention to how you feel and only allow yourself gentle walks until the lochia has stopped bleeding.
Focus on eating well, drinking water, bonding with baby, belly binding, and resting as much as possible the first six weeks postpartum. This is affectionately known as a period of “Lying In,” which I cover in the Perfect Postpartum Planning Worksheets*.
Eliminate Environmental Toxins
Hopefully shifting to a non-toxic lifestyle was part of your third-trimester prep for baby. If not, this is a perfect time to start thinking about eliminating environmental toxins from your environment. These toxins and chemicals mimic natural hormone function and make it more difficult to lose extra weight. Conventional body care products, cleaning products, beauty products, plastics, and air fresheners are common offenders. You can assess the safety of your current products through the Environmental Working Group‘s databases or the Think Dirty app.
Check Your Thyroid Levels
An estimated 60% of people with Thyroid Disease are undiagnosed. Thyroid Disease and disorders can heavily influence hormone regulation, the ability to get and stay pregnant, weight retention or loss, and more. Many moms do not know or suspect a thyroid issue until they experience exaggerate postpartum symptoms or stubborn postpartum weight. The significant drop in hormones immediately postpartum, combined with lack of sleep and nutrient depletion, is extremely strenuous on the thyroid. For women with a compromised thyroid, the thyroid levels commonly fluctuate during the first 3-6 months postpartum. While your levels will typically normalize – or return to what is more normal for you – several months down the road, it is sometimes necessary to take thyroid medication in the meantime. Your doctor can easily diagnose a thyroid condition through a simple blood test. Just be sure to request a test that includes a variety of thyroid levels and antibodies, as TSH is only a small picture of overall thyroid health. Izabella Wentz, PharmD, provides a convenient list of what those tests should include here.
If you have a thyroid condition but would like to manage it naturally long term, I recommend reading this book*.
As we discussed in my article on Pregnancy Weight Gain & Bump Size, there are a variety of factors that impact prenatal weight gain.
Excess weight gained during pregnancy and weight form before pregnancy are difficult to lose. Often this is the weight moms complain about when discussing their postpartum experience.
The number of babies you have carried will also impact the strength and elasticity of the abdominal muscles. For moms who were not exercising prior to pregnancy or in between pregnancies, it can take a considerable amount of time to regain core strength. Diastasis Recti, which is discussed in the article, is also a difficult factor to overcome.
Delivery via C-Section will also impact the length of time and measures necessary to recover the abdominal muscles. It is completely possible to regain core strength following abdominal surgery. Expect a year or more to rehab and know it becomes more difficult with each additional C-Section. Seek out a qualified trainer or physical therapist to support you as you rehab post-surgery.
*Affiliate Link – you will not be charged extra when purchasing through this link. A small portion of the purchase supports Blissberry Wellness.