Getting back to your pre-pregnancy weight can be important to a lot of new mothers. With so many changes to our body and our identity, there is a desire to feel like your old self and the physical manifestation of this can be to focus on your weight. Understanding postpartum weight loss may shift your focus to what is important for you and baba. So what does the science say?
Many mamas return to their pre-pregnancy weight within one year. Once you have given birth, you would have not only lost the weight of your newborn, but also that of the amniotic fluid and placenta. In the first 2-3 weeks postpartum, there are large maternal weight losses. At around six weeks after you have given birth to your bundle of joy, your blood volume would have decreased to pre-pregnancy levels and your uterus has returned to its normal size. Any excess weight remaining after this time is mainly body fat stores.1
Excessive weight retention, just as gaining too much weight, may have negative consequences.1 Several studies looked at whether the weight of mothers between their first and second pregnancies had any negative impact on their second pregnancy. It was found that women who gained more than three BMI units between pregnancies, compared with those who gained less than one BMI unit between pregnancies, had an increased risk of pre-eclampsia, gestational hypertension (high blood pressure), gestational diabetes mellitus, Caesarean delivery and stillbirth.1,2,3
Interestingly enough, interpregnancy weight change also influenced risk for those who were underweight or normal weight, with weight gain being associated with an increased risk of gestational diabetes and pregnancy-induced hypertension. Underweight or normal-weight women, who lose too much weight (more than one BMI unit) between pregnancies have an increased risk of giving birth to a low birth weight baby.1,3
There are several factors that may affect postpartum weight retention such as racial–ethnic differences, and lifestyle factors (such as exercise, dieting and smoking). Postpartum weight retention is higher in women who are depressed, anxious or distressed during pregnancy and the postpartum period. This may be because it may be difficult for mamas to engage in healthy lifestyle behaviors that support postpartum weight loss. Similarly, short sleep duration in the first year postpartum is associated with weight retention, because it may have an impact on mamas' ability to engage in healthy lifestyle behaviors, and because it influences hormones, energy expenditure and appetite.1
Breastfeeding may help with weight loss as its energy cost is about 500 kcal per day.4 However, not all mamas lose weight whilst breastfeeding, as they often experience an increase in appetite. The duration of breastfeeding as well as partial or exclusive breastfeeding may also play a role.1
Tips for a practical postpartum weight recovery:
- Be realistic about your weight loss goal, as this may reduce (unnecessary) stress
- Be active engaging in some form of exercise that you enjoy
- Eat regularly throughout the day
- Keep healthy ready-to-eat snacks on hand
- Focus on eating a variety of nutrient and energy-dense food instead of dieting
- Remember to drink ample fluids
- Try to get enough sleep
Furthermore above all, try to figure out what works for you individually. An anytime, any place approach compared to a more structured approach may be easier for most mamas during the first few months. It is the little things that you do on a daily basis that makes a difference in the long run.
The ultimate goal is not the number on the scale, but your mental and physical health (and that of babies’!).
- McKinley, M.C.; Allen-Walker, V.; McGirr, C.; Rooney, C.; Woodside, J.V. 2018. Weight loss after pregnancy: challenges and opportunities. Nutrition Research Reviews, 31: 225–238.
- Villamor, E. and Cnattingius. S. 2006. Interpregnancy weight change and risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes: a population-based study. Lancet, 368: 1164–1170.
- Ehrlich, S.F.; Hedderson, M.M.; Feng, J.; Davenport, E.R.; Gunderson, E.P.; Ferrara, A. 2011. Change in body mass index between pregnancies and the risk of gestational diabetes in a second pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol, 117: 1323–1330.
- Hennet, T. and Borsig, L. Breastfed at Tiffany’s, 2016. Trends in Biochemical Sciences, 41(6): 508-518.