It’s important to start off by saying that my ability to lose the baby weight within the first six months postpartum has very little to do with the fact that I’m a fitness professional. I haven’t used any voodoo magic for my body or resorted to any intensive training programs to lose weight. I also haven’t done any formal diets or eating plans to lose weight. You might be wondering how this is possible then…how does a woman lose the extra pounds after baby is born? Here are my three main guiding principles when coaching postpartum women back to pre-baby health (I use them for myself too):
- Be gentle and give yourself LOTS of grace
- Stay consistent (when possible) and remember that there is no perfect day for exercise, only the determination to make time for it
- Find eating and exercise habits that jive with your lifestyle and that are enjoyable to you
There are many approaches to losing the baby weight and the only one that is “right” is the one that speaks to you. This is why I customize every single workout plan and session according to each mother’s individual needs (PS – if you need any prenatal or postpartum support feel free to check out my Services).
Some women enjoy structured eating and exercise plans, and that’s fine too! Many of my clients desire a well laid-out program so they know what they’re working towards. The only caveat is that the first 6-12 months of motherhood are anything but predictable. Each month brings unique health and schedule challenges/milestones so it’s important to stay flexible and pivot when necessary. For this reason, I don’t personally put the pressure of any structured weight loss plans on my own postpartum agenda but I still aim to drop weight.
The following lays out my approach for postpartum weight loss after baby #2. As you will see, it’s very gradual, progressive and flexible, adapting month to month as my postpartum needs and energy changed. Perhaps this will help you remove a little bit of stress from your own postpartum weight loss journey or will inspire you to realize that it doesn’t have to be very formal or complicated.
Background: My Postpartum Life
I want to briefly share about my first six months postpartum as a mother of two. It has been unspeakably hard at times but not impossible. I know lots of moms have things way harder. That said, my baby has had multiple health complications including subluxating hips. He had to wear a rhino hip brace 24/7 during his second month of life. It affected his latch and caused my milk supply to tank so I had to get a LC and milk donor’s help for a while. At month three, right when life started to feel a little normal again, I had to return to a newborn nursing schedule. So, I’ve basically been on a newborn feeding schedule of every 1.5-2 hours for half a year. Thank heavens he finally dropped down to 7-8 feedings/day! #momwin
My baby also [still] has torticolis which has affected his neck positioning for nursing and sleep. I take him to a chiropractor every week and monthly physical therapy along with daily home exercises. In addition, this poor child has reflux that coats everything within a close radius. It’s a rare hour of the day that I’m not wearing something covered in colorful spit ups (yaaayyyy solid foods…ugh) All of this is the big stuff, to say nothing of the little challenges or oh yea, continuing to parent a strong-willed three-year old. Side Note: The threes are when things get painfully real. Anyone else?
Why do I mention this?
To show you that my life isn’t perfect. I don’t have tons of time on my hands and there are many days that I would rather just throw my hands up in the air and surrender. But I’ve continued to commit to my health and bite off small workouts and healthy meals/snacks where and when I can. That’s all. That’s the secret: Commitment. That one simple commitment to myself, even on the hectic and sleep-deprived days, is why I’ve been able to lose the baby weight. And you can too!
I’m at my goal weight now. It’s not my skinniest size but it’s my pre-pregnancy weight that is easy to sustain and which keeps healthy stores of fat and nutrients for my body as it continues to provide fuel (aka mama’s milk) for another life. If I gain or lose a couple pounds then I’m still in a happy place. Stressing about getting to my “smallest” would be too much pressure right now and would likely compromise my immune system and milk supply – neither of which is ideal or necessary during the first year.
The First Month Postpartum – Recovery Mode
The first month of motherhood is filled with almost as many trips to the bathroom as the third trimester, except that the process takes way longer (moms, you feel me). The graveyard shift with baby is exhausting following labor or a C-section delivery and life is forever altered for couples who were formerly childless and big siblings who have to learn what it means to have a new family member hogging all of Mom’s attention. The first month is such a roller coaster of sleep deprivation and emotions that it’s remarkable when women make it past their home’s front step. There should be zero pressure to get back into shape or to resume exercise so soon after baby. But…
If you exercised during pregnancy or even if you didn’t but feel stir-crazy or the baby blues, some light walking and exercising is generally fine if the mother isn’t suffering from complications. Taking things at a very slow pace is critical though. Your body will tell you in more ways than one when you overdo it that first 4-6 weeks. A simple stroll around the neighborhood or gentle stretches and exercises on your bedroom floor are the way to go.
I enjoyed getting outside for a few walks with my three-year old during our unseasonably warm end of winter. It gave my legs a chance to stretch and it was a great opportunity to show my oldest that I was still able to spend quality time with just him. On days I didn’t go on a walk I usually did anywhere between 5-20 minutes of gentle movement before hopping in the shower. That movement plus the shower became my “me time” and helped me feel rejuvenated each day. I kept things very simple and focused on stretching, gentle flow-based yoga, deep breathing, modified core exercises and planks, and hip stability exercises such as bridges and clamshells. The goal was to support my loose ligaments and open up my posture following the stress of labor and breastfeeding.
During the first month there were zero food restrictions – nor should there be, in my opinion! You just had a freaking baby!! I allowed myself to eat to my personal delight and satisfaction. I enjoyed each and every home-cooked meal and baked good that friends and neighbors dropped by and ate a several-hundred calorie snack in the middle of the night each night to satiate my ravenous appetite! It was glorious even though I knew it wouldn’t, couldn’t and shouldn’t last that way for long.
Postpartum Months 2-6
As I regained stamina and strength, I gradually increased the intensity of my workouts. During months two and three I began to incorporate low-impact exercise on cardio equipment at the gym for short periods of time and low-resistance strength training. Once I felt I had the hip, core and pelvic floor strength necessary was when I finally let myself go out for a brief and very slow jog. I refrained from running during my second pregnancy so that first postpartum jog marked the end to the longest period of time in my entire adolescent and adult life combined without running. And ohhhh my goodness….everything hurt. The next day I was so sore that – *confession time* – I popped one of my postpartum pain pills to go to sleep that night. Yikes! Thankfully it didn’t take long to feel better but I did limit myself to just one run a week until month four, for the sake of my pelvic floor health (and I would encourage a lot of women to consider doing the same).
Around month four I allowed myself to run a little more and I began to increase the intensity of my workouts across all fronts. I let my heart rate go higher when I had the energy for it and I let the weights get heavier. I will admit that I had a few setbacks due to low back pain but most of it was due to a lack of spinal rejuvenation during sleepless nights and poor breastfeeding posture around month three. I continued to refrain from HIIT workouts and anything too strenuous that could compromise my immune system. My goal was to exercise four times a week, sometimes five, for anywhere between 30-45 minutes at the most. At least two days were dedicated to full recovery every week. We’re talking extra sleep (thanks to my husband) and lounging on the couch for a breath or two before one of my small humans made demands of me.
As you can see, this exercise approach was gentle and progressive. It allowed me to pick which days I had energy to go for a run and when I just needed 15 minutes of yoga and a hot shower. It was simple and low pressure, and I believe those are the reasons it worked. Being a mom is pressure enough without an overly prescriptive weight loss plan on top!
I stayed as flexible as possible about my postpartum diet, pivoting my approach to eating month to month. As mentioned, I ate like a happy cow during the first month but eventually I could tell my appetite wasn’t that strong anymore and I was only eating larger portions out of habit. I decided to cut back portion sizes and tossed a few leftover baked goods in the trash. I found that I was comfortable cutting my middle of the night snack in half and it was rarely necessary by the end of the second month.
I got a little bit discouraged when month three rolled around. The weight wasn’t dropping off as much as I would have liked and certainly not as fast as it did after my first baby. I had 12 lbs left to lose compared to only a few pounds at that point after my first baby. I decided to watch my macronutrients. I was honest with myself about my carb intake being too high so I focused on having protein-based snacks in the morning and afternoon to fill me up and keep me from mindless snacking. I also ramped up healthy fats in my diet.
Watching my macros helped me drop about half a pound a week. By month four I was feeling a little impatient so I turned to the tried-and-true method of calorie counting. I never had under 2000 calories/day because of breastfeeding and exercising but I made sure I wasn’t eating say 2500-3000+ calories (except maybe one day of the week because we went out to dinner and I let myself eat a big meal and have a couple glasses of wine). The weight started to come off at a faster rate of about a pound a week. By month 6 I was back at my pre-pregnancy weight and feeling happy with my figure again. That said, my belly button still looks stretched out and I’m carrying a little fat around my middle that I know from experience won’t fall off until I’m better rested and my baby has weaned. But I’m happy!
I never did anything too drastic or cut out any food groups or treats. I basically eat dessert every day, enjoy carbs and relish in my weekly allotment of a couple glasses of wine. I’m a normal person! And that’s all there is to it. If you accept being normal (flaws, cravings and all) and let the process be organic then you may be surprised at how much weight you can lose and effectively keep off. You win a million times over again when you tweak your exercise and diet plan according to your own needs and lifestyle.
My little critters deserve a mom who prioritizes her own needs too!
These Are a Few of My Favorite Foods
When I take a step back to look at my diet I guess you could say it’s mostly a Mediterranean style of eating. I enjoy a lot of fish, fruits and vegetables (and olives!). I’m not sharing these lists to say that you should eat these foods too. I’m just trying to help spark foodspiration! In my opinion, eating should be pleasurable! Find what foods and style of eating work for you.
Carbs I Eat & Love Every Day:
Rolled or Steel-Cut Oats, Banana, Apple, Raspberries, Blueberries, Salad Greens, Sweet Potatoes, Fresh Raw/Steamed/Baked Vegetables (Favs; brussel sprouts, green beans, bell peppers, kale, carrots, arugula, broccoli)
Proteins I Eat & Love Every Day:
From Land (chicken, turkey, pork or beef) – OR – From Sea (usually salmon, cod, tuna or shrimp), Also; Hardboiled eggs or egg whites, Whey protein isolate or Pea protein powder once a day
Fats I Eat & Love Every Day:
Rotation of Almonds/cashews/peanuts/pistachios, Avocado, Olives and/or olive oil, Ground flaxseed
Daily Indulgences for My Sweet Tooth:
A.M. – Mug of coffee with coconut creamer and organic stevia, P.M – Mug of unsweetened chocolate almond milk with a square of 95% dark chocolate
I hope you can see that I’m not doing anything dramatic or challenging. I’ve simply found healthy foods I enjoy in a variety of food groups and portion control them in my diet. I enjoy exercise on the majority of the days of the week but I play things by ear according to my energy and sleep needs too. There’s nothing wrong with following a weight loss program (heck, I’m even happy to be the one to design it for ya!) but there’s also nothing wrong with living mom life and accepting imperfect plans while loving on your perfect and new little person.