Getting Your Body Back After Baby

By Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D.

You’ve had your baby and now you want your body back. Tackling post-baby weight loss is understandable. Chances are you’re not one of those few celebrities who appear to lose the baby weight overnight, so don’t expect to fit into your pre-pregnancy clothes too soon after delivering your bundle of joy.

Give yourself a break! Your body just went through a lot of changes during pregnancy and it can take months to regain your strength, particularly if you had a cesarean delivery. Here’s what to consider before you start cutting calories and exercising.

Take It Slow

As the mother of an infant, you battle exhaustion on a daily basis. When you cut too many calories, your energy levels may drop even more. Plus, it’s easier to miss out on a variety of nutrients that help you to recover from pregnancy and delivery, including protein, iron, and zinc.

Wait at least six weeks before attempting weight loss. Follow a balanced eating plan with a minimum of 1,800 calories every day to allow your body to heal and return to its normal state; breastfeeding moms may need at least 2,100 calories daily. Check out the government’s SuperTracker program for a personalized eating plan.

Try to eat on a regular basis throughout the day, even if your meal is something as simple as a sandwich, piece of fruit, and a glass of milk. Make snacks into mini-meals so that they feature smaller amounts of healthy foods.

Move It and Lose It

It may seem like you’re in constant motion as you try to run the household while taking care of yourself and your baby. That activity counts towards post pregnancy weight loss -- returning to a healthy weight and maintaining it -- as long as you burn more calories than you consume in your post pregnancy workout.

If everything went well during your pregnancy and delivery, you can probably begin walking for exercise a few weeks after delivery. Women who have had a cesarean delivery typically need to wait longer.

You may be eager to start running or to get back to your Zumba class at the gym, but take your time. Pushing yourself too hard too soon after delivery is counterproductive because it saps the energy you need to care for your new baby, and it may not be safe. Talk to your doctor about when you can start working out again.

Gradually work up to the 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking, that the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (PAG) suggests. You may not have time for 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week, and that’s OK. The PAG recommends accumulating 150 minutes over the course of the week in chunks of at least 10 minutes at a time. For example, taking the baby for a 20-minute walk in his stroller and doing 10 minutes of aerobics to an exercise video or TV show counts as 30 minutes. So does taking three 10-minute walks.

No Rush, But Do Drop the Pounds

You don’t have to lose your pregnancy pounds immediately, but you should make an effort to safely shed them during the first year after having your baby. Research suggests that it’s harder to lose the weight gained during pregnancy if you wait until twelve months after delivery. Achieving a healthy weight having a child is important for your health, and may positively affect future pregnancies.

About the Author

Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D., is a registered dietitian, a writer, and mother of three. She has worked at the Joslin Diabetes Center and the American Heart Association, and for seven years counseled children and adults about healthy eating and disease prevention at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Boston.

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