Just about every woman wants to return to her pre-pregnancy weight after giving birth. Research shows that losing the baby weight isn't just about fitting into old clothes; it's important for long-term health as well. For many women, however, losing the baby weight is easier said than done.
On average, the weight that women have trouble losing after the birthing process is around 1 to 7 pounds, although some hold on to a lot more weight.1 Taking the steps to identify and understand factors that can hinder, as well as promote weight loss can help during this vulnerable time period.
Factors that hinder weight loss
Coming into pregnancy with excess weight and gaining a lot of weight during pregnancy can make it harder to lose weight afterwards.1,2 Being sedentary, not getting enough support from friends and family, time pressures, and lack of motivation can also make it more difficult to lose weight.3,4
A study that tracked a group of women after giving birth found that those who had not lost their baby weight after one year were more likely to be overweight 15 years later. This highlights the importance of losing the baby weight to help prevent weight gain later on in life.5
Factors that promote weight loss
On the other hand, maintaining a healthy weight prior to pregnancy, gaining the recommended 25-35 pounds during pregnancy, and being physically active helps to promote weight loss.
In fact, regular exercise may be particularly helpful in losing the baby weight and keeping it off. A study in 540 new moms found that those who exercised regularly gained a lot less weight 8-10 years later compared with those who did not exercise.6
Following a structured weight-loss program may be especially beneficial. A study that compared a weight-loss program to a do-it-yourself approach in the year following pregnancy found that overweight women who participated in the weight-loss program lost over 15 pounds, whereas the women who tried to lose weight on their own lost nothing.7
In addition to following these weight-loss strategies, the good news is that research shows that being a new mom increases the motivation to try to improve health, which may also boost weight-loss efforts.
Breastfeeding and weight loss
Although there are numerous benefits to breastfeeding, the research to support its role in weight loss is unclear. A 2011 study found that nursing and non-nursing mothers lost weight at the same rate.6 Regardless of the decision to breastfeed, following a healthy lifestyle is important for losing weight.
Losing the baby weight can be a challenge. However, achieving a healthy pre-pregnancy weight, not gaining too much weight during pregnancy, and then making wise food choices and getting plenty of exercise in the months following delivery are all useful strategies to maintaining a healthy weight throughout the childbearing years.
1Gore SA, Brown DM, West, DS. The role of postpartum weight retention in obesity among women: a review of the evidence. Ann Behav Med. 2003 Oct;26(2):149-59.
2Vesco KK, Dietz PM, Rizzo J, et al. Excessive gestational weight gain and postpartum weight retention among obese women. Obstet Gynecol. 2009 Nov;114(5):1069-75.
3Montgomery KS, Bushee TD, Phillips JD, et al. Women's challenges with postpartum weight loss. Matern Child Health J. 2010 Sep 16. [Epub ahead of print].
4Harris HE, Ellison GT, Clement S. Do the psychosocial and behavioral changes that accompany motherhood influence the impact of pregnancy on long-term weight gain? J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol. 1999 Jun;20(2):65-79.
5Linne Y, Dye L, Barkeling B, Rossner S. Weight development over time in parous women-the SPAWN study—15 years follow-up. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2003 Dec;27(12):1516-22.
6Rooney BL, Schauberger CW. Excess pregnancy weight gain and long-term obesity: one decade later. Obstet Gynecol. 2002 Aug;100(2):245-52.
7O'Toole ML, Sawicki MA, Artal R. Structured and physical activity prevents postpartum weight retention. J Womens Health (Larchmet). 2003 Dec;12 (10):991-8.
8Onyango AW, Nommsen-Rivers L, Siyam A, Borghi E, de Onis M, Garza C, Lartey A, Baerug A, Bhandari N, Dewey KG, Araújo CL, Mohamed AJ, Van den Broeck J; for the WHO Multicentre Growth Reference Study Group. Post-partum weight change patterns in the WHO Multicentre Growth Reference Study. Matern Child Nutr. 2011 Feb 22. doi: 10.1111/j.1740-8709.2010.00295.x. [Epub ahead of print].