Weight Gain after Pregnancy: Why it Happens & What You Can Do

It’s an understatement to say that having a baby changes your life. A momentous and joyful life event, but one that also brings about significant physical, psychological, and social changes. A common physical change we experience is difficulty losing the baby weight, or even postpartum weight gain. We try so hard to lose the baby weight, and yet research on the relationship between pregnancy and weight gain suggests that approximately 75% of us have a higher weight 1 year after giving birth than we did before pregnancy. And it comes at one of the most exciting and stressful times in our lives! Is there anything we can do? Or is weight gain after pregnancy inevitable? Let’s talk about it. 

 

Why is losing weight after pregnancy so hard?

The instant physical, psychological, and social changes that occur postpartum all play a role in your ability to lose weight after pregnancy. Consider the following: 

Physical changes: 

 

  • You’re tired. Considering the fact that you’re up every 2-3 hours at night to feed your baby, it’s no surprise that you don’t have a lot of energy for healthy meal preparation and physical activity in the immediate postpartum period. 
  • Your body has changed. Initially, your body needs to fully heal and recover from giving birth. It can then take time to regain muscle mass and stamina potentially lost during pregnancy and the postpartum recovery period, so your workouts may be a bit different than they were pre-pregnancy. 
  • You’re craving carbs. After 9 months of “eating for two” and perhaps not being as attentive to healthful choices, it can be hard to give up some of the foods that we got used to eating. When we eat highly refined carbs, we want them more, and it can be difficult to retrain our brains to not crave those less healthful foods that were a regular part of our diet for some time. 

 

  • You’re breastfeeding. You may be concerned that losing weight or not eating enough calories could affect your milk supply; both of which are true. Breastfeeding can also increase your appetite, making it harder to stick to a reduced-calorie diet. 

 

  • Gestational diabetes. According to information from the CDC on Gestational diabetes, 2 – 10% of pregnant women are diagnosed with gestational diabetes every year. Sometimes treatment for gestational diabetes includes insulin therapy. One potential side effect of insulin is weight gain, so this can sometimes lead to more pregnancy-related weight gain, making it harder to lose the weight postpartum.

 

Psychological changes: 

 

  • Making the time. In an instant, caring for your baby becomes your priority and everything else, including your personal care, is secondary. This is one of the biggest challenges of motherhood. 

 

  • Increased stress. This goes along with the increased demands on your time, but the stress of taking care of an infant should not be underestimated. Studies on the effects of stress show that increased mental stress can increase our appetite and likelihood of poor eating behaviors, which could make weight loss after pregnancy more difficult. 

 

  • Postpartum depression. According to information from the  CDC about depression in women, 1 in 8 women experience symptoms of postpartum depression. This is a serious medical condition that leads to a number of negative effects for both mother and infant, including postpartum weight retention. This is because negative emotions can have an impact on what we eat, why we eat, and our desire to exercise, making weight loss more challenging. 

 

Social changes: 

 

  • Evolving support system. The need for a strong support system is possibly more important after having a baby than ever before. But that group of people may look a bit different than it did pre-pregnancy, and their desire to help out so that you can take time for yourself may be uncertain. Lack of childcare is a common barrier to weight loss, especially with regard to incorporating regular postpartum exercise. Identifying those people that are willing to help out early on could be very beneficial for your personal health and quality of life going forward. 

 

  • Financial obligations. It’s no secret that kids are expensive. Between the costs of diapers, food, and childcare, that gym membership may no longer be an option and the grocery budget for healthy foods has potentially become tighter. 

 

These changes don’t make it impossible to lose weight after pregnancy; they’re just important to keep in mind when you’re feeling frustrated with the scale. Give yourself some grace. You just brought a human into the world! And there are a lot of changes that come along with that. 

 

How long does it take to get the baby weight off?

 

There is significant weight loss that happens immediately after childbirth as you lose the weight of the baby, placenta, and amniotic fluid. Over the next 6 weeks, weight may continue to go down as the uterus shrinks to its pre-pregnancy size and blood volume decreases. Beyond that, the rate of weight loss is going to vary from person to person. Women implementing a reduced-calorie diet and regular exercise program in an effort to lose weight can expect an average weight loss of about 1 pound per week. But keep in mind that weight loss rarely happens in a linear fashion and is usually slower than most people prefer, so try not to get frustrated if the scale hasn’t moved for a week or two. Try to focus on the behaviors you’re implementing to lose the weight and understand that it took 9 months to put that weight on, so it isn’t going to come off overnight. 

 

Can breastfeeding affect weight loss and weight gain?

Absolutely. On one hand, breastfeeding burns more calories and is an effective way to lose the baby weight. On the other, it can increase appetite substantially, making it difficult to stick to a healthful, reduced calorie diet that would be helpful for weight loss. Overall, research on the relationship between pregnancy and weight gain suggests that breastfeeding for at least 3 months is beneficial for postpartum weight loss. Just be cautious about cutting too many calories and losing weight too quickly, as this can affect your milk supply. Talk to your OBGYN, Lactation Consultant, or Registered Dietitian for further guidance on a diet to support lactation and weight loss simultaneously. There are also free resources on healthy pregnancy and breastfeeding available online from the US Department of Agriculture. 

 

What’s the best way to lose weight postpartum?

 

There is no one-size-fits-all for weight loss for women who are postpartum, but there are some strategies that have been proven to help women lose weight after pregnancy. 

 

  • Establish a new routine. It can feel like you’re living in a cycle of 2 to 3-hour increments, given how often your newborn needs to eat, sleep, and get a diaper change. This won’t last forever, but you’re unlikely to go back to your old daily routine for quite some time.  While there is no doubt that the demands of your baby are a priority, that doesn’t mean your personal care has to cease to exist. Try to establish a new routine that also prioritizes healthy eating and physical activity. This could be shorter bouts of exercise in your living room while the baby naps or preparing and freezing healthy meals in advance. As you transition into parenthood (or add to your growing family) consider how you can make it work so that you’re continuing to prioritize your self care despite the increasing demands on your time. 

 

  • Adopt a healthy diet. This is important for you and your family. While it may not be an issue in the newborn period, soon enough your little one will be picking up on everything you do – including your eating habits. If you want them to eat their green vegetables, you better be putting them on your plate, as well. Research on losing weight after pregnancy shows that eating a healthy, reduced-calorie diet is one of the most beneficial things you can do to lose weight after giving birth. If you’re struggling with making time for preparing healthy meals, consider what resources are available to help out, such as a meal delivery program or buying pre-cut/pre-made items from the grocery store. 

 

  • Incorporate regular physical activity. Be sure to discuss returning to regular physical activity with your healthcare provider. The American College of Gynecologists recommends that many women can start getting active again even just a few days after giving birth. Research shows that regular physical activity in combination with a reduced calorie diet is effective for postpartum weight loss. If getting to the gym isn’t an option right now due to lack of time, lack of child care, or finances, there are many affordable and even free options for home exercise that can be more easily incorporated into your new daily routine. 

 

  • Self monitor. This is an effective practice for anyone trying to lose weight, and the same is true in the postpartum period. Monitoring your food intake and your weight on a regular basis can help you to be more successful with your postpartum weight loss efforts. This is a habit that doesn’t take a lot of extra time or energy – which is certainly at a premium right now! 

 

  • Ask for help. Going back to that support system – don’t be afraid to ask your friends and family for help with childcare or tasks around the house, especially in the immediate postpartum period when you’re trying to get established in your new routine. And if you’re doing all of the above and still struggling with postpartum weight gain, don’t be afraid to seek help from your healthcare provider. There are a number of science-backed tools that can help you lose weight and improve your long-term health for both you and your growing family. 

 

How Form Health Can Help Mothers Lose Postpartum Weight

 

If you’re interested in seeking medical care for weight management and working with experts to help you reach your postpartum weight loss goals, give Form Health a try! Our insurance-covered medical weight loss program uses tools like nutrition, physical activity, mindset shifts, and FDA-approved medication, if appropriate, as parts of a comprehensive weight loss program to help you lose weight and improve your health. Please note that prescription weight loss medication is not appropriate for pregnant or actively breastfeeding women. And while women who are pregnant or actively breastfeeding do not qualify for Form Health’s program, we work with many women who are not breastfeeding or have stopped breastfeeding to help them with postpartum weight management. 

 

If you are struggling with weight management after pregnancy, get started with Form Health today by taking our quiz to see if medical weight loss is right for you.

 

Questions about postpartum medical weight loss? Schedule a free call with an enrollment specialist to learn more.

About the Author: Brooke Marsico, PA-C, completed her physician assistant training at Midwestern University in 2011. She began her practice in the field of Obesity Medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago where she practiced from 2016 to 2021. She went on to treat patients living with obesity at Cleveland Clinic from 2021 to 2022 prior to joining the team at Form Health. Brooke is passionate about helping patients living with obesity achieve meaningful weight loss and improve their health. Her practice focuses on individualized behavioral and pharmacological intervention to help patients reach their goals. She is also experienced in managing patients who have a history of bariatric surgery.

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