Losing Weight After Pregnancy

New mother jogging with stroller in public park.

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Losing weight after pregnancy is difficult because having a baby changes your life — and your body. You may be surprised how much so. You might also wonder why it takes so long for your belly to shrink, how to lose the baby weight, and whether your body will ever be the same.

If you look at some celebrity moms out there, you may think you should emerge from the hospital looking as though you were never even pregnant. But the reality is a little different.

Having a baby affects every part of your body and, despite what's going on in Hollywood, it can take up to a year to make a full recovery. Find out what you can do to help your body bounce back and lose the baby weight in a healthy way.

Why Do I Still Look Pregnant?

One of the first things new moms notice after having a baby is that they may still look several months pregnant for a while after giving birth. This is absolutely normal. Remember, you had a baby in there for nine whole months.

From the moment you give birth, your body starts working to shrink your belly back to its pre-pregnancy state, or something close to it. But it's a slow process. It takes four to six weeks for your uterus to return to normal.

Many women lose about half of their baby weight during this time.

It will also take time for your hips and pelvic area to shift back to their pre-pregnancy state. So, it's normal for things to be out of whack after giving birth. 

How Do I Lose This Baby Weight?

Though you may be eager to jump into a workout program or diet, easing into light postpartum exercise is crucial for keeping your body safe and injury-free. Even the fittest moms may have trouble getting back to a physical activity routine.

After all, having a baby is a major ordeal and something you'll need time to recover from. You'll also need clearance from your doctor. Depending on what kind of birth you had, it may be 4 to 8 weeks before you can engage in serious exercise.

Breastfeeding can help you lose weight. It requires an extra 200 to 500 calories a day, which helps reduce some of the fat you gained during pregnancy. If you do breastfeed, make sure you're giving your body the fuel it needs for that extra energy demand.

Breastfeeding and Exercise

You can still exercise if you're breastfeeding. Studies show that moderate exercise won't affect milk production as long as you're giving your body enough calories.

Now isn't the time to go on a diet. Restricting your calories too much can reduce your milk supply. Plus, losing too much weight (more than or two pounds a week) can actually release toxins that wind up in your milk.

New Obstacles to Exercise

You may be eager to lose weight by ramping up your activity, but exercise can be tough during the first few months after giving birth. Here are just some of the issues you may face:

  • Exhaustion and fatigue: These are common after giving birth, especially if you're breastfeeding, which can deplete your energy. Be aware of your energy levels and only do what you can handle.
  • Erratic schedule: For the first few weeks and months after you give birth, your baby's feeding and sleeping schedule may change constantly. This makes it tough to follow any kind of normal routine.
  • Time constraints: You may find that you only have a few minutes here or there for exercise. If that's the case, take advantage of the time you have and don't be afraid to spread your workouts throughout the day.
  • Mood swings: As your hormones get back to normal, you may have some ups and downs, perhaps even dealing with postpartum depression. Exercise may help your mood, but you should talk to your doctor about the best way to handle your situation.
  • Guilt: Many new moms feel guilty when they take time for themselves for exercise. Remind yourself that you'll actually be a better mom if you focus on getting stronger. Doing so will also set a good example for your child.

Ways to Fit in Fitness

Exercise can actually help with some of these issues and there are ways to make it easier to fit exercise into your life.

  • Split your workouts. Short workouts spread throughout the day are just as effective as continuous workouts.
  • Keep it simple. If you have a few minutes while the baby sleeps, take some laps around the house or trips up and down the stairs. Exercise doesn't have to be complicated. It only has to get you moving.
  • Find support. Talk to friends, family, or neighbors about how they've handled having a baby and staying in shape. You'll be amazed at the creative ideas out there.
  • Focus on what's important. It's easy to get stressed out about losing weight, especially after inhabiting a body so different from the one you've been accustomed to for most of your life. You will get back to normal, even if your body isn't exactly the same. Give yourself permission to enjoy your baby and your body, even if it's not what you hoped it would be.

Post-Partum Exercise Precautions

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology suggests that if you were active before pregnancy and had a normal vaginal birth with no complications, you may be able to start walking and doing basic strengthening for the abs, back, and pelvis as soon as you feel able. That said, there are a few additional factors to consider.

C-Section

If you had a C-section, you may need to wait several weeks before starting any kind of activity. Everyone is different, so your doctor can help determine when it's safe to exercise (or return to exercise) after giving birth.

Post-Pregnancy Hormones

Joint instability is a concern postpartum due to having higher levels of the hormone relaxin. Relaxin makes the joints more loose to better support the pregnancy, but also reduces their stability. Perform exercises that don't require balance or use balance aids to avoid any issues.

Diastasis Recti

If you have diastasis recti—a separation of the two halves of your rectus abdominis (the visible six pack)—crunches and exercises involving spinal flexion are not recommended for at least six months, or until the issue is resolved.

To check for diastasis, lie on your back with your knees bent. Place your fingers just above your belly button, exhale, and lift your head and shoulders into a mini crunch. If you feel a gap more than two fingers wide, it's possible that diastasis is present.

Pelvic Organ Prolapse

Pelvic organ prolapse (when your uterus, bowel, or bladder fall down and into the vagina) is also common with pregnancy and childbirth, particularly if the birth was lengthy, difficult, resulted in multiple babies, or the baby was larger in size. Avoid crunches and pushups if you develop prolapse.

Increased vaginal bleeding after exercise may indicate that you're doing too much too fast, especially if the blood is bright red in color.

Creating a Post-Pregnancy Workout Routine

It's important to know that you can't spot reduce fat from certain areas of your body with specific exercises. Getting flatter abs involves losing overall body fat with a combination of exercise and a healthy diet.

Even then, you may still have a little fat around the lower belly. This is an area many women store excess fat, particularly after pregnancy, so try not to put too much pressure on yourself.

Once you're ready, to get started with a workout routine, you'll want to focus on three different areas: core strength, cardio, and strength training.

Make sure you get your doctor's OK before you do any of these exercises to be sure they are safe for you.

Core Strength

Pregnancy can weaken some areas of the abs, which is not surprising when you consider there was a baby squished in there for nine months. You may be yearning to jump into an ab program, but these muscles may need some TLC once your doctor has cleared you for exercise.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't be doing ab exercises because you can still strengthen the muscles that have stretched and possibly weakened during pregnancy. It simply requires you to go slow and be cautious to avoid injury to the abdominal area.

Exercises

Some basic exercises you may want to start with include:

  • Head lift (like a crunch but your shoulders never leave the floor)
  • Heel slides (lying on the floor and sliding one heel out, then alternating legs)
  • Pelvic tilts
  • Dead bug

Program

Start with one set of 10 to 16 reps of each exercise 2 to 3 times a week, adjusting that to fit what feels right to you. You can add sets or try more challenging exercises over time.

Cardio

Along with core strength, you'll want to incorporate cardio into your routine. But you may not be able to do the same activities or intensities you did before your pregnancy—at least, not for a while.

Exercises

High-impact exercises, such as running or aerobics, may not be as comfortable as your body recovers. Instead, try:

Depending on where you live, you may also have access to some type of "Baby and Me" classes. Check with your local gym or rec center to see if they offer this type of exercise class.

Over time, you'll find it easier to transition into higher-impact activities. Once you're ready, you can work out at a level of 5 to 6 on the perceived exertion scale. Allow your energy levels to guide you in your workouts, backing off if you feel tired or vice versa.

Program

When you're just starting out, go slow and easy. Many new moms find they can tolerate walking about 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week. If you can handle more, try getting some kind of activity every day.

As you get stronger, you may want to increase the intensity with interval training about once a week, which can help you burn more calories. You can also add a stroller to your walking routine, which is great for adding challenges while allowing you to walk with the baby.

Experts have found that you can burn 18 to 20 percent more calories if you walk while pushing a stroller. Pushing a stroller uphill will burn more calories.

There are even baby-friendly exercise groups you can join, such as Stroller Strides, Baby Bootcamp, or Sara Holliday's Stroller Workout for Moms.

Strength Training

Strength training is an important part of your weight loss program, as well as your recovery. It can help you build lean muscle tissue, raise your metabolism, and give you the strength you need to take care of your baby.

Like the other activities, you'll want to start out slowly, even if you lifted weights before birth. Your body is still recovering and it may be a little different than you remember.

Exercises

You might want to start with exercises to strengthen your core and stabilizer muscles while also working on your balance and flexibility. This Basic Ball Workout is a gentle routine that focuses on all those areas.

When putting together a workout, choose exercises that work multiple muscles so that you strengthen your entire body while saving time. A simple routine might include:

Program

For each exercise, start with one set of 10 to 16 reps. Use no weight or a light weight, skipping any exercises that cause pain or discomfort. As you get stronger, you can add more sets, use heavier weights, and/or try more challenging exercises.

Here are some full workouts that you can start with:

A Word From Verywell

If fitting everything in seems impossible, remember to keep it simple and take your time. Do what you can when you can, and give yourself permission to enjoy your new baby and your new life.

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Article Sources
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