After nine months of being in a body that’s constantly changing, you’re psyched to finally meet your kid and embrace #MomLife. At the same time, there’s so much focus on celebs’ post-baby bodies and how fast they’ve “bounced back.” When someone like Adriana Lima walks the runway just weeks after giving birth, it can feel like there’s some kind of secret or magic bullet to dropping the baby weight quickly. But here’s what you can realistically expect when it comes to weight loss after birth, according to experts.
1. Yes, breastfeeding burns calories, but it’s not a diet. New mom Naya Rivera recently claimed she “easily” dropped 30 pounds just from breastfeeding and low-impact exercise. Cat Deeley said she did nothing but breastfeed, and in two months, was back in fighting shape. Breastfeeding is a legit calorie burner, but despite what every skinny new mom claims, you shouldn’t use it to reach your post-baby body goal faster. As your baby’s primary, even sole, source, of nutrition, you need an additional 400 to 500 calories to help keep your milk production flowing, explains Sherry Ross, MD, ob-gyn, and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
About two-thirds of those extra calories should come from snacks and foods you eat. The other one-third is burned from weight you gained when you were pregnant. Because of that, if you eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, “you’re bound to lose weight naturally,” says Dr. Ross. (You can expect to drop about 1 pound a week.)
But don’t think you can lose weight faster by cutting calories. Eating less than 1,800 calories a day could hinder your milk supply. (Not to mention the fact that you’ll probably feel exhausted.)
2. Your “mom belly” actually has nothing to do with your uterus. You might have heard there’s nothing you can do about a postpartum pooch and how it’s there because your uterus stretched out during pregnancy.
“The uterus is made of smooth muscle that does not in itself contain any fat,” explains David Diaz, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist and fertility expert at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. True, it did stretch and grow to accommodate your little one. But by six weeks after delivery, it will have contracted back down to its normal size — which is about the size and shape of a pear.
So if you still have a mom belly a week, a month, maybe even a year after your baby arrives, it’s stored fat you acquired during your pregnancy that your body’s holding onto.
3. Your pre-baby shape can affect how fast you get your old body back. Chances are you know someone who was able to fit back into her skinny jeans a few weeks after becoming a mom. Or you follow super-fit moms on Instagram who were taking bikini selfies days after giving birth. You probably also know someone who’s frustrated by how long after delivery she’s been working on losing the baby weight. Basically, there’s no set timetable for losing postpartum weight, and the fact is that the more weight you gain during pregnancy, the longer it will take to lose, Dr. Ross says.
But don’t let that bum you out. “The most common misconception about weight loss after pregnancy is that the weight should come off more quickly than it does in real time,” says Dr. Ross. “I tell my patients that it takes nine months to go through the pregnancy process, so allow yourself nine months during the postpartum period to have your body return to normal.”
4. Weight loss plateaus are real. Another myth you might have heard from some unhelpful person? How most moms struggle to get rid of their last 10 pounds of baby weight. Unfortunately, just like the freshman 15, there is some truth to that. You can blame a perfect storm of lifestyle changes (who wants to work out when your breasts are sore and swollen, and you’re freaking tired?), decreased metabolism, and shifting hormones. Weeks or months after you’ve shed some of your baby weight, your body’s all of a sudden like, “Uh, NO.” In other words, your metabolism slows when you lose weight. And when the calories you eat begin to match the calories you burn, you may be face with a weight plateau.
“This plateau is a normal response [to post-baby weight loss],” explains Ross. “The final 10 pounds you need to lose may take the longest to lose. But it will be the most gratifying.”
5. Celebs don’t have some kind of secret weight loss magic bullet. Do these models who hit the runway in bikinis just days after becoming moms know something that we don’t?
“Supermodels make a living by being thin, so they have extra motivation to drop their pregnancy weight as quickly as possible, even if it means doing it in an unhealthy way,” says Dr. Ross. In other words, don’t see their super-fast results as something you need to replicate.
“If you’re aggressively restricting your calories and exercising excessively, this will affect your energy levels and ability to breastfeed successfully,” Dr. Ross warns. “Whether you’re a supermodel or [an] average, ‘real’ woman, your first priority should be providing for your newborn in the healthiest way and being patient in losing your postpartum weight.”
6. You may need help. You’re exhausted, sore, bonding with your newborn, and still trying to absorb the surreal fact that you’re now a parent. So maybe you’re not taking great care of yourself or eating as well as you should. Instead of feeling guilty about it — or wrongly assuming that how you look and feel is no longer important — reach out for help from a doctor, a dietitian, or maybe just another new mom who would hit the gym with you.
Your post-baby weight is just part of the equation. “Making the time and effort to meet with a nutritionist or personal trainer is a great investment that will pay dividends for years in preventing diabetes, hypertension, elevated cholesterol, and many other serious medical conditions,” says Dr. Diaz. Whether you get down to your same pre-pregnancy size or hover above it, your ultimate goal is to feel good and be around for your kid for a long time.