Post pregnancy weight loss is one of the many concerns of mother’s after they have given birth. While many mothers will suffer from postpartum depression, postpartum hair loss, and stretch marks, all mothers will contend with weight gain during pregnancy. There are risks of too much weight gain during pregnancy as well as too little, and while excessive weight gain is the most common, how to lose weight post pregnancy is also the goal that new moms set themselves first. While there is no magic bullet, with a sensible diet, exercise and a few home remedies for post-pregnancy weight loss, you can get your body weight back to its natural weight in no time.
Risks of too much weight gain in pregnancy
Mothers to be who do not put on sufficient weight increase the risk of delivering an underweight and undernourished baby (1).Babies which are born too small face difficulties in initiating breastfeeding, besides being at a greater risk for illness and facing developmental delays as they grow (2).
However, a study of 8,293 pregnancies conducted by researchers in the Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units (MFMU) Network discovered that a majority of women (73%) gain more weight than what is recommended by medical guidelines (3).
The study opined that this was partly caused by the ‘common knowledge’ assumption that a woman ‘eats for two’ during pregnancy. However, pregnant women should only consume an average of 300 additional calories per day throughout their pregnancy. They should only gain between 25-35 pounds if they initially possessed a normal BMI (and more if they were initially underweight and less if they were initially overweight or obese) (4).
Additional weight gain often leads to the birth of overly large babies (also known as large for gestational age (LGA) babies), which can lead to delivery complications and the need for a cesarean delivery (5) and thus miss out on the benefits of vaginal birth.
There are also long-term consequences:
LGA babies face a greater likelihood of problems related to glucose regulation, and of being obese during childhood. Meanwhile, the mother’s additional weight gain often lingers after the pregnancy, contributing to overweightness and obesity. Researchers have also discovered that even underweight women face a heightened risk of gestational high blood pressure if they gain too much weight during a pregnancy. This can lead to preeclampsia: a medical condition which can cause serious complications for both the mother and baby (6).
Post pregnancy weight loss
Most women wish to regain their pre-pregnancy weight as soon as possible after giving birth, partly due to a media environment that is saturated with (digitally altered) images of female physical perfection. Tabloid narratives that highlight how quickly celebrities regain their (idealized) pre-pregnancy figures also contribute to the desire to quickly shed off the additional weight.
However, medical experts recommend that women aim for a gradual weight loss – it should take between 6 months and a year to regain their pre-pregnancy weight (7). Breastfeeding is often a good and natural way to slowly shed off the additional pounds, helping the body burn calories as the baby is nourished. Overly rapid weight loss can compromise a mother’s ability to produce milk. Furthermore, losing weight too quickly after childbirth can also prolong the recovery process; medical experts recommend waiting until the 6-week checkup before attempting to lose weight.
Breastfeeding is often a good and natural way to slowly shed off the additional pounds, helping the body burn calories as the baby is nourished. Overly rapid weight loss can compromise a mother’s ability to produce milk. Furthermore, losing weight too quickly after childbirth can also prolong the recovery process; medical experts recommend waiting until the 6-week checkup before attempting to lose weight (8).
In general, maintaining a healthy diet and a lifestyle that incorporates regular exercise (consult your doctor to see what activities are suitable for you) will contribute towards sustained weight loss. (Do also note that women who are exclusively breastfeeding require approximately 500 additional calories each day, as compared to their pre-pregnancy energy requirements). With that in mind, here are some home remedies that will help you regain your pre-pregnancy weight in a healthy and sustainable manner:
Post Pregnancy Weight Loss Home Remedies
As mentioned earlier, breastfeeding has been associated with faster weight loss. However, medical studies have found that this correlation needs to be carefully qualified (9). A study qualified that lactation has the most significant effect on weight loss between 2.5 and 6 months after birth, with little to no difference being found in lactating and non-lactating mothers in the 6-7 month period.
While increased calories are spent on milk production and lactation, mothers should still be careful in regulating their daily calorie intake. After all, a sedentary lifestyle is often associated with lactating mothers. Weight loss will not be achieved regardless of how much energy is used during lactation if a mother’s total energy intake exceeds her total energy expenditure.
- Drink Green Tea
While scientists are still exploring the biological mechanisms at work behind the beneficial effects of tea consumption, the research indicates that drinking tea regularly can reduce body weight, alleviate metabolic syndromes and reduce the risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular diseases (10). These beneficial effects have been attributed to tea constituents reducing the absorption of lipids and proteins in the intestine (therefore reducing one’s calorie intake), and the effect of tea polyphenols on AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) in the liver, fat tissues and skeletal muscle.
To gain the full benefits of green tea, be sure to consume 3 to 4 cups each day.
- Use Coconut Oil
While fat consumption is often unnecessarily demonized, it is also true that not all sources of fat have the same metabolic properties. A study discovered that even small changes in the quality of one’s daily fat intake can have an effect of weight loss, and recommended the consumption of medium-chain triacylglycerols (MCTs) – such as coconut oil – instead of olive oil (11). This can be attributed to the feelings of satiety produced by fat consumption (which then suppresses further food intake), as well as an enhanced thermic effect of food consumption (where the body burns calories during the digestion process).
To benefit from coconut oil’s positive effects on weight loss and one’s fat mass, use it sparingly when cooking food items such as meat or pasta.
- Consume a Low Glycemic Index (GI) Diet
The GI is a relative ranking of foods containing carbohydrates, according to the extent to which it affects blood glucose levels. Carbohydrates with low GI values (i.e. less than 55) are digested, absorbed and metabolized more slowly, thus creating a lower and slower increase in blood glucose and insulin levels.
A study of 460 postpartum mothers discovered that low GI dietary interventions correlated with greater levels of weight loss within the three months after delivery (12). Therefore, opt for more whole grains, nuts, legumes, fruits, and vegetables without starch, while avoiding white rice, white bread and potatoes.
- Get enough sleep
A good night’s sleep will not actually jumpstart your metabolic rate, but incurring a sleep debt can contribute to additional weight gain (13). Prompted by feelings of tiredness and fatigue, individuals who are sleep-deprived often consume more calories than they actually need.
Therefore, be sure to get enough sleep each night (7-8 hours for adults), and make sure that the quality of your sleep is not compromised by an uncomfortable bed, loud noises or bad lighting. Fortunately, there are many natural home remedies for sleep that you can try safely as you breastfeed
- Stay Active
It is often tempting to believe that actively consuming certain foods like caffeine or hot chili peppers will help you lose the extra pounds by jumpstarting your metabolism, but their effects are often insufficient to make a significant difference to your weight. Many people accuse middle and old age of conspiring to ‘lower their metabolism’, but their diminished amounts of physical activity (and lack of caution with regard to portion control) is often the greater part of the equation.
Be sure to consult your doctor or midwife before embarking on any postnatal exercise program. In general, however, most mothers can engage in gentle exercises such as walking after giving birth (14). Most of the bodily changes caused by the pregnancy would have reverted to normal after six weeks, but the recovery process can take longer for mothers who have undergone a caesarean birth or other complications during childbirth. You should also note that your lower back and core abdominal muscles will be in a weaker state, while your joints and ligaments have become more pliable and supple (risking injury by excessive twisting and stretching).
Without pushing yourself too hard, you can aim approximately 150 minutes of exercise per week (these can be broken into 10 minute sessions). Tummy and pelvic floor exercises are a good way to regain muscle strength in your core and lower back. You can also get more exercise by walking your baby in a pram instead of driving. Other options can include low impact cardiovascular activities such as swimming, aqua aerobics, yoga, cycling and light weight training.
For those who wish to cheat, there are several ways you can lose weight without exercise.
Eat additional fruits, vegetables, whole grains and foods that contain natural protein
Drink plenty of water so that you do not confuse thirst with hunger
Opt for nonfat or low-fat dairy products.
Allow your body to lose the additional weight gradually
Consult your doctor to devise an exercise regime that is best suited to your individual needs – the exercise will help turn the additional fat you have gained into muscle
Embrace your post-pregnancy body and enjoy motherhood without being overly concerned with your body image
Stay away from processed foods and drinks that are high in sugar and fat
Compromise your nutritional intake in an effort to lose weight
Resist the lure of crash diets and fad diets – the quick results they promise are usually caused by the loss of water, not fat
Avoid engaging in an overly strenuous exercise regime in an attempt to lose the additional weight quickly
You will want to control your daily calorie intake, but do not go below the daily recommended intake – especially when breastfeeding