Everything you need to know about exercising after pregnancy – the first 12 weeks
Many women have a difficult relationship with their bodies after pregnancy. It doesn’t help that we are bombarded with stories about celebrities bouncing back to their ideal bodies in just weeks. ‘How to lose baby weight’ is one of the most googled weight loss topics globally.
But it’s not just societal pressures that are making women want to lose weight after giving birth. A 2019 study showed that keeping the weight gained during pregnancy can lead to long-term health side effects in women. These issues include increased blood sugar levels and an increased risk of heart attacks.
Losing weight after pregnancy isn’t something we should rush into, we need to give our bodies time to rest and recover after giving birth. But looking after our bodies and our health is an act of self-love that we shouldn’t neglect.
By losing the baby weight we can be more active and live longer. We can enjoy more time with our children and be an example of healthy living to them.
This guide will talk you through how to safely lose your baby weight. It will cover the first 12 weeks after giving birth. We will talk about exercise, diet, and mentality. We will also cover some of the benefits of keeping fit and healthy.
The First Six Weeks
Social media and magazines might give you the impression that your body can bounce back from pregnancy within 6 weeks. This is simply an unrealistic expectation. And an unfair one.
Your body has spent the last 9 months growing and nurturing another human being. And you have just gone through one of the most painful experiences known to mankind. The last thing you should be doing is jumping back on the treadmill, starving yourself, or beating yourself up for looking different.
These first 6 weeks are a time to celebrate your body’s accomplishments. You need to look after yourself, take time to recover, and focus on your newborn. They will love you, no matter how you look.
Sleep, Sleep, Sleep!
This is easier said than done when you have a newborn. We understand that. However, you should prioritize your sleep when you can.
Sleep is the most restorative sleep activity our body can do. Not getting enough sleep can slow our immune system, make us unhappy, make us hungry, and even increase our risk of strokes.
So, when appropriate get as much shut-eye as you can.
Walk as Much as Your Body Allows
Your body has been through a lot in the last 9 months, there is no way you should be heading back to the gym this early. That doesn’t mean you should completely give up on exercise.
Exercise is an important part of the postpartum recovery process. However, in these early weeks, you might not be able to do much more than walk for a few minutes at a time. That is nothing to be ashamed of at all.
It is okay to start small and work your way up. When we say start small, we mean start really small. If your first walk outside only lasts for a minute then that’s fine. The next day you can try to walk for a minute and a half.
Drink Lots of Water
Our body is over 60% water and drinking water is one of the most important things we can do to keep our bodies healthy.
Drinking water will be essential for two reasons after giving birth.
Firstly, your body will be swollen after giving birth, drinking water will help to reduce this swelling.
Secondly, your milk production requires a lot of water to function properly. You will find that while breastfeeding or pumping you will become dehydrated a lot more frequently.
How much water you will need to drink every day will depend on your size, activity level, and how much milk you are producing.
Eat Nourishing Foods
Another key element of looking after your body is to feed it the right food.
You won’t be able to go back to eating the same way you did before or during pregnancy. The Postpartum period requires a different type of diet. It is also worth noting that any breast milk you produce will reflect the quality of your diet.
After giving birth you will want to make sure that you are supplying your body with everything it needs to make a full recovery. This will include lots of carbohydrates (for energy) and fiber which aids digestion. You will want to eat a lot of healthy fats too – like fish, avocado, and nuts.
You may find that your stomach is a little delicate in the early weeks’ post-birth. Don’t worry about this, it is totally natural.
Wear a Postpartum Girdle
Originally designed to help women recovering from C sections – the postpartum girdle can help all women postpartum.
After the strenuous activity of giving birth many women find that their core is exhausted and/or painful for weeks to follow. A postpartum girdle can discreetly provide you with all the support you need in the weeks after birth.
Another benefit of the postpartum girdle is that it will compress your stomach while you wear it. Many women struggle with their confidence after giving birth – it is a common symptom of postpartum depression – and having this physical support can help them. If you want to conceal your belly a little while you’re out and about, consider a girdle.
Take a Before Photo
Human beings are visual creatures. When we don’t see instant results we tend to lose our motivation.
The process of losing weight can be slow, and it’s never linear. It can be hard to remember how far you have come without a visual reminder.
This is why many weight loss experts suggest keeping a photo diary of your weight loss progress. So that you can look back on old pictures of yourself and notice your success.
As you reach the end of the six weeks, take a few pictures of yourself. Don’t let yourself get stressed by how your body looks. Remember you just carried a tiny human for 9 months and then gave birth to it. Your body is amazing!
Now that you are starting to feel a little stronger, you can start to get a little more focused on your weight loss goals.
After Six Weeks
A quick note before we start this section. We have used the 6 week time frame as average. Not everyone will fit neatly into it. If after 6 weeks you do not feel ready to start exercising again or your body is telling you that you need to rest more then listen to it! Take all the time you need to.
This next stage of the process will involve you building up your strength without wearing yourself out. We understand how hard it is to be a new mother. Be kind to yourself, don’t push yourself too hard, and make it fun!
Start With Gentle Exercise
It’s going to be really tempting to throw yourself headfirst into getting fit again. However, if you want to see long-term results then you will have to take things slow. You don’t want to burn yourself out in two weeks.
Your body has been through a lot in the past year, so you need to treat it with care. Be gentle to your core as that went through the most dramatic changes.
Why not start off with low intensity workouts like swimming, walking, and dancing? These will help you to rebuild your stamina and basic muscle strength without causing any damage to your body.
Wear Your Baby Around
A strength building and weight loss tip that many new moms swear by is crying their baby around.
By strapping your baby to the front of your body you are getting your body to work in two important ways. You probably won’t even notice this is happening while you’re walking about.
Firstly, you’re adding a little extra weight to your daily exercise. This creates more resistance against your muscles and makes them work a little bit harder. But it’s not adding enough weight to exhaust you.
Secondly, by putting your baby on your front you are forcing your core to engage more consistently, to stop too much pressure from being put on your back. Any low intensity exercise you can do for your core will pay off big time in the long run.
Add Lemon to Your Water
The secret to keeping fit as a new mother is to make small changes that will have a big impact on you.
One of these is adding lemon juice to your water. The extra vitamin C will do wonders for your skin, digestion, and even your sleep schedule.
Plan Your Meals in Advance
Time is in short supply when you have a newborn. You’re going to get very busy and have to do it all on less sleep than you’ve ever had.
When life is this hectic it can be tempting just to chuck on a ready meal at the end of the day rather than cooking. This will make your life easier in the short run, but in the long run, it isn’t doing you any good.
To make healthy eating easier for you, you should try to plan your means and do as much shopping in advance as you can. We would recommend getting home delivery.
Following on from the section above, you might even want to go as far as prepping your meals in advance. Therefore making yourself a heavy equivalent of ready means for those days that cooking feels impossible.
Meal prepping will allow you to make all your meals for one week in an afternoon. Freeing up your evenings for sleeping, reading, and spending time with your little one.
Meal prepping will help you stay on track with your healthy eating habits no matter how hectic life gets.
Don’t forget to put a few treats in there for yourself – you deserve at least one cookie after a busy day.
Find a Support System of Other Moms
Many women find the postpartum period incredibly lonely. If you feel like this, then don’t worry you are not alone.
Your health professionals will be able to point you towards new mothers’ support groups. Here you will find groups of women who are going through the same situation as you are. They will be able to offer you advice, or a friendly ear. You may even find some new workout buddies.
Take Progress Pictures
Remember when we talked about how important it is to keep a visual record of your progress. Well, guess what? It’s so important that we’re going to talk about it again.
Our body weight fluctuates daily and throughout the month along with our hormone cycles. So it’s best not to weigh or photograph yourself every day.
Instead at a consistent time each week, take your photos and make note of any other measurements you’re keeping.
It is worth noting that at the beginning of your menstrual cycle your body retains a lot more water than usual, which often gives the illusion that you have put on weight.
Set Small Goals
Our brains respond to rewards and are not hardwired for long-term projects or goals. Therefore to be successful in these things we need to play a few tricks on our minds.
Your mind will always pick a short-term reward over a long-term one. Therefore when you are setting your weight loss goals, break them down into tiny steps.
Instead of saying I want to lose 10 pounds by the time my child is 1, say this week I am going to go to the gym 3 times. Or maybe even small if you’re struggling with consistency. You might want to set yourself a goal – tonight I am going to run for 10 minutes.
These smaller goals will trick your brain into thinking that you are getting lots of short-term benefits rather than one long-term one.
Pelvic Floor Exercises
Your pelvic floor muscles take quite a battering when you give birth, even if you have a C section. It won’t get back to normal immediately, but you can help speed up the recovery by regularly exercising it.
Here is a great workout you can try that is designed specifically for women post-birth.
Dieting is an important part of the weight loss journey. However, it can be a little more complicated for new mothers. Not only do you have to worry about nourishing your own body. But if you’re breastfeeding you have to worry about the nutrients you are passing on to your little one.
In this section, we are going to talk about how you can diet so that you are losing a safe amount of weight (about 1 pound a week) without damaging your or your baby’s health.
Even if you aren’t breastfeeding your body will be producing some milk and you will have to factor that into your diet. But don’t worry, we’re here to help you.
Breastfeeding Vs Bottle Feeding Calorie Intake
Everyone knows that if you want to lose weight then you have to put yourself into a calorie deficit. However, starving yourself postpartum can not only damage your own health but can affect the possibility of you getting pregnant again in the future.
Therefore if you’re trying to lose weight then you shouldn’t overly restrict yourself. Slow and steady results will last a lot longer than ones got through crash dieting.
We get asked a lot, how much should you be eating postpartum? This number will depend on two things – how active you are and the speed of your metabolism. You should speak to your healthcare professional about what is the right number of calories for you. However, here is a rough guide:
If you are not breastfeeding then you should be eating at least 1600 calories a day and not go too far above 1800 calories a day. Unless you are incredibly active.
If you are breastfeeding then you can eat more. Your calorie intake range should be between 2200-2400. You should never go below 2200 for both you and your baby’s sake.
What Foods to Eat?
While your body is in recovery, you will want to be eating foods that will help speed up the process.
We already talked about the benefits of drinking lemon water, but there are a few other things you can do to keep yourself feeling good.
Firstly, you should try and limit junk food to an occasional treat. We’re not going to tell you to cut it out completely because for most people that isn’t sustainable. However, junk food will leave you feeling tired and lethargic. It is also very calorie dense so it won’t keep you feeling full for very long.
You should try and exceed your recommended ‘5-a-day’ fruit and vegetable count. At this point in your recovery, your body will need all the vitamins and nutrients it can get. Your health professionals may recommend that you start taking supplements to achieve this.
You should be eating as many healthy fats as you can. These help your body to produce collagen. Which in turn helps your body to build new muscles and repair old, damaged ones.
While you will most likely be working on less sleep, you won’t want to avoid carbs. They are full of healthy sugars that will give you the energy to get through the day.
How Often Should You Eat?
Multiple studies have shown that eating little and often throughout the day can aid weight loss and keep you feeling fuller for longer.
While it might sound counterintuitive to eat 5-6 meals a day when you are trying to lose weight. There is actually an awful lot of scientific evidence backing up this theory.
These studies have shown two main things:
- Eating smaller meals means that less of your food goes into the fat reserves of your body. When you eat a long time after you were last active your body doesn’t need to burn any energy, so it does this energy as fat. If you have little meals after frequent activity then your body is constantly burning what you eat. These activities don’t have to be workouts, they have to be a trip to the grocery store or a walk around the park.
- Eating more frequently means you eat less and lowers your likelihood of binge eating. Eating small meals throughout the day actually keeps you fuller for longer. And because your body knows it’s going to get fed regularly it won’t send out the signals that make you want to binge.
Many new moms will find that lots of smaller mealers are easier to fit into their schedule than 3 bigger meals.
To make sure you are eating enough you prepare your meals in advance, that way you can take them on the go with you if you are having a really busy day and don’t have time to stop.
Best Postpartum Snacks
With a newborn around, you may not have the time to sit down and have three meals a day. It is a good idea to keep your house stocked with plenty of healthy snacks. In this section, we will discuss some of our favorite healthy snacks that are perfect for the postpartum weight loss diet.
You will want to eat lots of whole grains (if you can). Snacks like Oatmeal with honey and seeds are a great way to start the day. Honey has an amazing range of health benefits so don’t shy away from it. Oatmeal is a great source of slow-release carbs. And seeds are full of a wide range of nutrients and healthy fats.
Another thing you shouldn’t shy away from is dairy. Keeping your bone density high will only get more important the older that you get. Don’t be afraid to add a sprinkle of cheese here or there. Why not treat yourself to some feta and avocado on whole wheat brown toast. This meal ticks so many healthy boxes and is super filling.
If you are looking for more healthy snack ideas, check out this page which is full of them.
Benefits of Exercising After Pregnancy
Before we leave you we want to talk to you about some of the benefits of exercising after pregnancy. Knowing these benefits will help you stay motivated for longer.
Bookmark this page so that you can come back to it when you feel like you need to get your motivation back.
Strengthen Core Muscles
We have mentioned multiple times before how much of a burden pregnancy can be on our core muscles. But what we haven’t talked about is why our core muscles are so important. Let’s do that now.
The major benefit of having strong core muscles is that it protects your spine. If you have ever had any form of back injury you will be aware of how fundamental our backs are to everyday life. Core muscles reduce back pain. It is important that we provide our backs with as much support as we possibly can. The easiest way to do this is to build up our core strength.
This gets more important after pregnancy as our chest gets heavier while we produce milk. This puts extra strain on our back.
Another benefit of building up your core muscles is that muscles burn a lot of calories to maintain themselves. This is how bodybuilders get away with eating so much. The more muscles you have the easier fat burning will become for you.
Reduces Stress and Anxiety
Exercise is one of the recommended treatments for Postpartum Depression. As it helps to reduce anxiety levels and adrenaline reserves in our bodies.
Exercises like yoga combined with control breathing and meditation have been proven to drastically reduce stress levels in people of all ages.
At least 10% of women suffer from Postpartum depression after giving birth. Although it is believed that many cases go unreported so the number could be much higher than that.
While many mothers are prescribed antidepressants and talking therapy, exercise has been proved to be an effective tool for treating the disease in combination with more traditional methods.
It is recommended that an adult does between 3-5 hours of heart rate raising exercise a week. This can take the form of anything – including playing team sports, yoga, martial arts, running, lifting weights, and swimming.
It is recommended that people who suffer from depression try to exercise for at least half an hour every day. Exercise has been proved to trigger dopamine and endorphins in the brain – which people with depression are deficient in.
Exercise can boost our confidence in many ways.
Most people believe that people feel more confident when they exercise because they are losing weight and building muscle. Which makes them happier with their appearance. While this is one of the ways that exercise can improve our confidence it is not the only way.
Exercise allows us to prove to our minds that we have achieved our goals. When we achieve our goals we will get a little rush of dopamine. This is something that brian likes and wants to happen again. Therefore it starts to believe that we can and encourages us to go after our goals. In the hope that it will get more dopamine.
We feel more confident because exercise rewires our brains and makes us believe in ourselves. We feel more confident because we know we are capable of getting the things we want out of life.
Allows Me Time
Not only is exercise good for your physical health, but you will also see many mental benefits from exercising regularly.
When you have a newborn life gets hectic. There is so much to do and you have to get it done with less sleep and while looking after a little one. The alone time you get is almost non-existent unless you actively make time for yourself. This is where exercise comes in.
Alone time is something everyone needs. We need time alone to reflect on how our weeks are going and what we can do to improve them. We need time to ourselves to deal with our thoughts and emotions. And we need time alone to recharge.
Increased Energy Levels
It is a commonly made mistake to think that exercising makes you a more tired person. We see many new moms looking to avoid exercise because they are already exhausted by life. However, you may be shocked to hear that this isn’t true – exercising actually increases your energy levels.
Exercise makes you sleep better. If you are getting more REM sleep your body is going to function better and you are going to have more energy.
Another reason why exercise gives us more energy is because our body works on demand. What we mean by this is that if you work out a lot your body will make more energy to keep you going. So, if you want more energy you need to use more energy.
If you want more energy you need to let your body know by exercising. One study showed that people who normally suffered from fatigue increased their energy by 20% and decreased their fatigue by as much as 65% by simply participating in regular, low-intensity exercise sessions. It’s that easy.
Healthy living is all about balance. When you are trying to lose that baby weight you should remind yourself of the amazing things your body has done for you. Be kind to yourself during this journey and don’t cut out all of the joy in your life. If you like cookies, treat yourself to one every once in a while.
The most important thing to remember is no weight loss journey is linear, but with consistency, you will see amazing results.