Weight Loss After Baby: How to Make It Happen

More and more new moms are struggling with weight loss, according to a new study. Here's how to drop the baby weight—for good!

Weight Loss After Baby: How to Make It Happen Melissa Ross/Getty Images

Celebrity new moms like Mila Kunis and Scarlett Johansson make losing the baby weight look so easy. For the rest of us, however, it's often anything but. In fact, a new study in Obstetrics & Gynecology discovered that most new moms still hadn't lost the baby weight one year after they give birth.

Researchers collected data from 774 new moms and found that 75 percent were heavier one year after giving birth than they were pre-pregnancy. Specifically, about 47 percent of the women retained more than 10 pounds, while around 25 percent retained more than 20 pounds. While some women were overweight to begin with, others were not: Surprisingly, of the women who had a healthy pre-pregnancy BMI, one-third were overweight or even obese one year after childbirth. In short, pregnancy is contributing to obesity.

One main reason why this is happening: More than half the women gained more weight than the national recommendations, making it that much more difficult for them to lose it. "Pregnant women only need an extra 300 to 400 calories a day, but many are eating much more than that," says study author Loraine Endres, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago. "Well-meaning friends and family tell them that they should be eating for two, but that's a dangerous myth. For every pound of weight that a pregnant woman gains over what's recommended, she'll have an 8 percent higher chance of never losing it. It's common sense—if you have, say, 40 excess pounds to lose after childbirth instead of 20, it will be that more difficult."

The Institute of Medicine recommends that women who are underweight (with a BMI less than 18.5) gain 28 to 40 during a pregnancy with one child; those who are normal weight (BMI 18.5 to 24.9) should gain 25 to 35 pounds; overweight women (BMI 25 to 29.9 pounds) should gain 15 to 25 pounds, while those who are obese (BMI 30 or greater) should gain 11to 20 pounds. Of course, moms-to-be should always talk to their caregiver about the ideal amount to gain in pregnancy.

Pregnant moms should focus on not gaining too much weight during pregnancy. But new moms who put on too many pounds don't have to be stuck with the extra weight forever. Here's how to drop it:

Get Moving It's tough to find the time to exercise when you've got a newborn to look after (and gush over and stare at) 24/7. However, the sooner you get back into an exercise routine, the better (unless there's a medical reason why you shouldn't, which is something you should discuss with your doctor). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as brisk walking) along with two days of muscle-strengthening exercises a week. You might think, "What new mom has the time?" Luckily, experts say you can break your workouts down into increments (even 10 minutes here and there). You can even include your baby in a regimen at home, so you can whittle away that waistline and bond with your baby at the same time. Need help getting started? Try one of these new-mom workouts.

Make a Plan Many women won't shed the baby weight if they just try to wing it. "Weight loss doesn't happen on its own—we all wish it did, but it takes a lot of effort," says Dr. Endres. "You need a plan, and your health care provider can help you find one or create one that's right for you," says Dr. Endres. Whether that means following a formalized diet such as Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig or changing your eating habits and making lifestyle changes that work for you, the key is to come up with a reasonable strategy and stick with it.

Breastfeed if Possible The study found that women who breastfed six months or longer were significantly less likely to have retained pregnancy weight gain at one year postpartum. "Everyone knows that breastfeeding benefits the baby, but a lot of moms don't realize how much it can benefit their own health," says Dr. Endres. "It not only helps them lose weight because they're burning so many calories, but it also helps decrease the risk of postpartum depression and minimize blood loss after childbirth."

Carve Out Some Mommy Time New moms often become so focused on their newborn that they forget to take care of themselves not just physically, but also emotionally. Studies have shown that stress can caught weight gain, so the key is to take a breather when possible (which, of course, is easier said than done when you're a new mom.) Ask your partner to watch the baby while you take a yoga class or see a movie with a friend. Hire a babysitter and head out for a much-needed date night. You can even include your infant on some "you" time by joining a new-moms' group, which can be a great social outlet (check out Meetup.com to find one in your area.) While you want to lose the baby weight, it's important not to become so consumed with it and stressed that you actually hinder your efforts. Instead, go easy on yourself and allot time to do things that make you happy—you'll probably find that the weight will come off even faster.