Pregnancy is an otherworldly experience. It’s amazing to see what your body can do to grow a child, but during the process, it can feel like your body is no longer your own. As your belly grows and the pounds pile on, it’s hard to remember what your body was like when it was only yours.
Making a baby is hard, but it’s also empowering. Equally empowering is the feeling of reclaiming your body as your own after the baby is born. Weight loss isn’t easy, but neither is having a kid. If you can do one, I believe you can do the other.
1. Find Your Tribe
And if you don’t lose the baby weight? So what? You made a human. A tiny person exists in this world because you nurtured it and gave it space in your body for nine whole months. That’s worth a little muffin top.
It took me six and a half months to lose the 51 pounds I gained during pregnancy. These are the things that worked for me and might help you through your own weight loss journey. Always ask your doctor before starting any weight loss or exercise regime, and know that most doctors don’t recommend losing more than one to two pounds per week.
Being a new mom can be isolating. You’re spending a lot of time on your own with a baby that only cries, sleeps and eats. For a lot of moms, that last part also means feeding the baby through the exhausting, and often painful process of breastfeeding. (Praise be to the makers of nipple cream.) Making friends with other women in the same boat helps to feel less lonely.
My son is what we call a post-deployment baby in military life. My husband deployed for seven months with the navy. Nine months after he returned our son was born. Not surprisingly, two other women whose husbands deployed with mine also had babies at the same time. These two women were, and still are instrumental to me staying sane and navigating my life as a mom.
In the months after we all gave birth, we shared our successes and failures and asked each other all of the questions we felt dumb for asking. “How often do you bathe your baby” was a personal favorite of mine. As we settled in and started to focus on weight loss, we cheered each other on, shared healthy recipes and compared weight loss plans. They helped me to stay motivated and I can’t thank them enough for it.
If you don’t have the built-in network I was lucky enough to have with my mom friends, don’t hesitate to reach out. Look for local mom groups on Facebook and try to go to meet-ups when possible. There’s also the Peanut app, which is the Tinder of making mom friends. Some community groups also have parenting or birthing classes, which can be a good way to meet moms before, or shortly after having your baby. If you look, you’ll find that lots of moms are looking for a connection.
2. Put Away the Maternity Clothes
Maternity clothes are comfy. They’re built to meet your growing body and welcome every inch of your expanding frame. Maternity clothes are meant to be forgiving. While that’s perfect during pregnancy, it won’t help encourage your weight loss.
For me, keeping the maternity clothes in rotation was a way of giving myself permission to stay heavier than I really felt comfortable being. I didn’t want to give myself that option. Instead I went into my closet and tried to find larger options with stretch. As I lost weight, I also bought transition clothes from Target and other less expensive stores in sizes that would fit me along the way. I know that’s not financially viable for everyone. Other options include checking yard sales or second hand stores for cheap clothes and checking Facebook marketplace for free or inexpensive clothes in the right size.
3. Breastfeed if You Can
Before having my son, everyone told me breastfeeding was the best way to lose weight. That’s because making breast milk burns calories. Estimates vary, but for an exclusively breastfeeding mom, expect to burn around 500 calories a day through breast milk production.
Breastfeeding may help with weight loss, but there are challenges. It’s basically a full-time job in the first couple months and will have you up at all hours. Also know that losing weight while breastfeeding may cause your milk supply to dwindle. My supply decreased as I lost weight and I did need to supplement with formula. Not everyone is willing to make that tradeoff. If you can though, breastfeeding is a good way to provide your baby with nutrients, boost your baby’s immune system, and help you burn some extra calories.
For those who can’t or don’t want to breastfeed, it’s ok. By about a year postpartum, everything should even out. One study showed that by 12 months postpartum, women who exclusively breastfed for at least three months were only about three pounds lighter than women who did not breastfeed or didn’t breastfeed exclusively.
4. Vary Your Diet
If I were to make my personal food pyramid, the base would be made of cheese. Not dairy, cheese. Cheddar, Brie, gruyere, string cheese, Cheeze-its—I love it all. I was devastated three months into my son’s life when his pediatrician suspected lactose intolerance and put me on a dairy-free diet for two weeks to test the theory.
Those two weeks were miserable to start. But like anything, I got used to it. The change forced me to try different foods that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Fruit or oatmeal for breakfast instead of yogurt or cereal became the norm. A snack might be baby carrots instead of string cheese. Over the course of the two weeks, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I’d lost weight. So if you find yourself stalled out in your weight loss journey, consider finding new meals and snacks for a jumpstart.
5. Track Your Intake
If you’ve ever tried to lose weight in the past, you’ve probably heard that keeping a food diary is one of the most effective ways to promote healthy weight loss. Thankfully, there are a number of free apps and services available to log your daily intake. MyFitnesspal and Lose It! are both popular tools. I used MyFitnesspal, which was nice because it allowed me to customize my daily calorie goals to account for my breast milk production.
I know the idea of daily calorie counting may sound cumbersome, but it doesn’t end up taking very much time out of your day. A recent survey showed that it took dieters less than 15 minutes to track their food over the course of a day. When I think of the countless hours I’ve spent on a solid Netflix and chill, 15 minutes a day for my health doesn’t sound like a big deal.
6. Find a Workout That Works
Exercise is integral to weight loss. At the most basic level, weight loss requires us to eat less and move more. Plus, exercise is integral to healthy living. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that American adults get 150 to 300 minutes of light-intensity exercise, like walking, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous exercise, like jogging, weekly. The CDC goes on to recommend adults strength train in all major muscle groups at lest twice a week. Always check with your healthcare provider before starting a new workout routine and after having a baby to make sure you are healthy enough for exercise.
I love running, and have for years, but it was really hard to get back into it after pregnancy. I was lucky enough to find a new mom running group in my area called Stroller Warriors. The moms I met in this group cheered me on. Before joining the group, running was an isolating activity, and really competitive for me. This group not only encouraged me to keep running, they taught me how to be a cheerleader for other runners. Through their support and advice I regained my pre-baby endurance and speed, and even hit new running records in the 5K, half marathon and marathon distances.
Not all areas will have a group like Stroller Warriors, but I encourage all new moms to try to find an exercise plan you can stick with and enjoy. Try different things, particularly workouts that encourage community building like running groups, yoga classes or other mom workout groups. Look for exercises where your kid(s) is welcome to encourage you to keep it up.