You’ve probably heard the saying, “Nine months on, nine months off.” But, for many new moms, it can be frustrating to face extra lingering pounds or deal with clothes that don’t fit right. Postpartum weight loss varies for each woman. Getting back into shape isn’t always as simple as eating less and working out more, especially when you’re adjusting to caring for your little one. Our experts share five reasons why you’re not losing baby weight, and what to do instead.
Your body is still healing.
“Many women gain a large amount of gestational weight. And after the baby comes, you have less time to exercise, less sleep, and your body is still healing from pregnancy and delivery,” explains Laura Arndt, a pre- and postnatal expert and the CEO of Matriarc. “Many moms don’t feel [that] they have support and time to focus on themselves. They have an infant to take care of, and they put their own health on the back burner. All of these things make it challenging to get into a healthy routine and lose the baby weight.”
Also, it takes time for your body to recalibrate as a whole, due to hormone fluctuation, adds Aaptiv trainer Candice Cunningham. “Your body was overloaded while growing your baby, and those things don’t just disappear,” she continues. “This can cause everything to still be out of whack postpartum for a while. If you are breastfeeding, it can definitely take longer, as well.”
The solution? Patience, and if you need it, professional help. “Don’t compare yourself to anyone else and take baby steps,” says Aaptiv trainer Jaime McFaden. “It is not a race. You just had a child. So give yourself time to get back to where you want your weight to be. And, if after months of being consistent with eating healthy and resting enough, nothing has changed, talk with your doctor to see if hormones need to be adjusted.”
You’re not eating enough—or choosing the wrong foods.
Cutting calories in the hopes of losing baby weight might sound like the right approach. However, it’s actually not ideal, says Cunningham. Your metabolism isn’t necessarily the same as it was pre-baby, and not eating slows it down. This can lead to not losing baby weight and even extra weight gain down the road.
“There are many [misnomers] women [believe] will help them lose weight. Eating less does not mean [that] you will automatically lose weight,” concurs McFaden. “If you are not eating enough food, your body will store fat. Plan meals ahead [of time] and make sure [that] you are eating enough well-balanced foods, instead of convenient, packaged foods that are usually full of [unhealthy ingredients]. And, if you are breastfeeding, this is not the time to try any diet, because you must be sure [that] you have enough nutrients for both you and baby.”
Dr. David Diaz, a reproductive endocrinologist and fertility expert at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center, notes that women who are breastfeeding experienced an increased metabolic rate, which naturally requires a higher calorie intake. But, for those concerned about excessive weight gain during nursing, he says making modest changes in food quantity and quality can help manage calorie intake without jeopardizing infant health. He recommends that new mothers aim to consume around 2,500 calories per day.
In the meantime, watch portion sizes, read food labels, and stick to real, whole foods. You can also try to avoid high-calorie drinks in favor of water, tea, or coffee. Even if you’re trying to lose weight, says Arndt, you still need the right balance of calories and nutrients to help your body heal and maintain energy levels.
“Make sure [that] you stay hydrated. Dehydration is a big problem with weight loss and most women aren’t getting enough water,” says McFaden. “Be sure [that] you are drinking at least half your body weight in ounces per day.”
Think of it this way: staying hydrated makes you less likely to overeat. Additionally, it helps your body function properly in terms of gut health, metabolism, energy levels, and even mood regulation. And, on the weight loss front, drinking more water helps to burn off fat, rather than store it within your body.
You’re exhausted and stressed.
“After the overwhelming joy of childbirth has passed, some women may turn their thoughts to reestablishing their fitness level and pre-pregnancy weight,” says Dr. Diaz. “After delivery, the family dynamic changes, due to the extra demands placed on parents by the new arrival. The extra duties can exert a physical and emotional stress, making it more tempting to seek comfort food in place of choosing healthful meals.”
When you’re stressed and not sleeping—two extremely common factors during the postpartum period—it’s normal to struggle with weight maintenance. Research indicates that lack of sleep leads to an increase in cortisol, which impacts metabolism negatively, and one study found that women who sleep five hours or fewer per night are 32 percent more likely to experience major weight gain.
“Lack of sleep causes your energy to be already low,” says Cunningham. “Try to take a positive outlook on everything new in your life. It may be stressful, but try to enjoy it. Take breaks and rest. You have to take care of you, too.”
“Being exhausted during motherhood can make losing weight seem frustrating,” says McFaden. “But, if you start slow, and create a plan, you will lose weight over time.”
You may have started working out a little too soon.
Arndt says that many women return to high-impact exercise too quickly after having a baby, rather than focusing on low-intensity workouts for the first several months. But, doing too much too soon can lead to complications like diastasis recti, pelvic issues, or simply overexertion. Be sure to get cleared by your doctor before starting a postpartum exercise routine, and, on the whole, plan to give yourself at least six to eight weeks of rest and recovery first.
“Recognize [that] your body has changed, a lot,” says Cunningham. “Don’t rush—the weight will come off. Slowly ease into exercise again, and eat healthy foods. Find someone qualified to help you get back into fitness postpartum to make sure [that] you don’t do anything you might regret down the road.”
McFaden agrees, acknowledging that losing baby weight may seem impossible, but it is totally doable. She also suggests hiring a postnatal trainer to create a holistic plan tailored to your individual needs.
“Low-impact cardiovascular exercise, [as well as] pelvic floor and core work can help heal your body from pregnancy and delivery,” says Arndt. “Make sure [that] you get as much sleep as you can, focus on the right exercises, and eat nutrient-dense snacks and meals regularly. If you find yourself gaining weight or lacking energy/appetite postpartum, speak to your doctor.”