The majority of women need help losing weight after pregnancy, as hormone fluctuations and changes within the body play a role in pregnancy weight gain.
Fortunately, it’s possible to successfully shed excess weight after pregnancy. But remember, post-pregnancy weight loss takes time!
Follow a few simple tips and tricks to get you headed in the right direction.
Understand Your Nutritional Needs
Crash dieting isn’t the answer when you want to shed pounds post-pregnancy, especially if you’re breastfeeding.
That’s because you need enough nutrients to keep energy levels high, prevent nutrient deficiencies — and consume enough protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, and minerals to keep breast milk supply high enough to meet your baby’s demands.
Not every mom breastfeeds her baby, and that’s okay! But if you want to give breastfeeding a go, proper nutrition is a must.
Calorie Requirements for Losing Weight After Pregnancy
If you weigh more than you’d like to after pregnancy, use the following calorie guidelines for breastfeeding women to drop weight at a slow, steady pace of about 1 pound per week:
- 2,200 to 2,400 calories per day for active breastfeeding women
- 2,000 to 2,200 calories daily for moderately active breastfeeding moms
- 1,800 to 2,000 calories a day for sedentary breastfeeding women
Weight loss calorie recommendations for breastfeeding women are the same as U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommendations for weight maintenance in healthy non-breastfeeding women.
The reason for this is nursing women lose about 500 calories daily in breast milk, so breastfeeding women theoretically lose about 1 pound per week eating the same number of calories as they did before becoming pregnant.
Calorie Requirements for Non-Nursing Women
Women in the post-pregnancy phase who aren’t breastfeeding require about 500 fewer calories daily than nursing women during weight loss.
This means non-nursing women may require the following to lose about 1 pound per week.
- 1,700 to 1,900 calories daily for active non-breastfeeding moms
- 1,500 to 1,700 calories per day for moderately active non-breastfeeding moms
- 1,300 to 1,500 calories daily for sedentary non-nursing women
To lose 2 lbs per week, you can reduce calories further, but avoid dropping below 1,200 calories a day unless you get the okay from your doctor.
Listen to your body. If you’re eating healthy foods and are still hungry, slightly boost your calorie intake.
To help track calories for losing weight after pregnancy, try a weight loss or calorie counting app, such as:
- Lose It!
You don’t have to count calories for effectively losing weight after pregnancy, but it’s often helpful — especially when you begin a weight loss journey.
As with total calorie needs, breastfeeding women require more water, protein, carbs, fiber, and dietary fat (including omega-3 fatty acids) than non-nursing moms to meet the high demands of producing breast milk.
Macronutrient recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) and adequate intake levels, which are minimum amounts needed to meet daily needs, for nursing and non-nursing moms are:
|Nursing Moms||Non-Nursing Moms|
|210 grams||130 grams|
|71 grams||46 grams|
|29 grams||25 grams|
|20 – 35% of total calories||20 – 35% of total calories|
|ALA omega 3 fatty acid (alpha-linolenic acid)|
|1.3 grams (1,300 milligrams)||1.1 grams (1,100 milligrams)|
|DHA and EPA* omega 3s (docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid)|
|500 mg total DHA plus EPA||500 mg total DHA plus EPA|
|at least 220 mg EPA||at least 220 mg EPA|
|at least 300 mg DHA||at least 220 mg DHA|
|3.8 liters (16.1 cups)||2.7 liters (11.4 cups)|
*Recommendation from the American Pregnancy Association
These recommendations are minimum requirements, but to boost satiety for losing weight after pregnancy you can bump up protein and fiber intake.
Choosing the Right Foods
Eat the same healthy foods for weight loss after pregnancy as you did while pregnant — simply eat fewer overall calories.
Remember if you’re breastfeeding, whatever you eat goes into breast milk, so avoid large amounts of caffeine, alcohol, and high-mercury fish (shark, swordfish, King mackerel, and tilefish).
Mayo Clinic suggests breastfeeding moms limit caffeine to 2 to 3 cups of caffeinated drinks daily.
Protein helps you feel full when losing weight after pregnancy. If you’re breastfeeding, protein needs are almost twice as high as requirements for non-breastfeeding moms.
Fill each plate about 1/4 full with healthy protein foods, such as:
- Lean meat, chicken, seafood, or up to 3 servings of low-mercury fish per week
- Low-fat milk, soy milk, or protein-fortified almond milk
- Low-fat yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese, or reduced-fat cheese
- Tofu or seitan
- Protein powder shakes
- Nuts or seeds
- Peas or dried beans
Examples of low-mercury fish and seafood include salmon, tilapia, catfish, cod, canned light tuna, and shrimp. You can safely eat up to two servings (6 ounces per week) of white albacore tuna when breastfeeding.
Very small amounts of mercury from fish can seep into breast milk, which is why choosing low-mercury options is a good idea.
Fiber-rich foods are packed with essential nutrients — especially vitamins and minerals. In addition to taking in plenty of protein-rich foods, eating lots of fiber is a helpful way to feel full longer and drop unwanted pounds.
The following foods are good sources of fiber:
- Non-starchy vegetables (cucumbers, tomatoes, celery, peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, leafy greens, etc.)
- Starchy vegetables (corn, dried beans, lentils, peas, squash, potatoes, etc.)
- Whole grains (brown rice, oatmeal, wild rice, and quinoa)
- Nuts and seeds
Aim to fill your plate about 1/2 full with non-starchy vegetables, and 1/4 full with starchy fiber-rich foods (grains or starchy veggies).
To round out each meal or snack, choose heart-healthy fats. Doing so helps boost satiety, is essential when you’re breastfeeding as breast milk is high in fat, aids in vitamin absorption, and keeps your hair, skin, and nails healthy.
Choose from the following list of heart-healthy fats:
- Nuts or seeds
- Olive oil, coconut oil, or other plant-based oils
- Fish oil
Taking in plenty of omega-3 fatty acids is essential for all women, but especially women who are breastfeeding. DHA and EPA are especially important, as this omega-3 aids in proper brain development in babies.
Nursing women should consume at least 300 milligrams of DHA and 220 milligrams of EPA daily, suggests the American Pregnancy Association.
Non-nursing women should aim for at least 500 milligrams of DHA plus EPA daily. Good sources of EPA and DHA include:
- Fatty fish (such as salmon and canned light tuna)
- Omega-3 fish oil supplements
- Plant-based DHA/EPA supplements (such as algal oil)
Omega-3 fatty acids provide numerous health and wellness benefits for both mom and baby — including a healthy heart, reduced triglycerides, and proper brain development and function.
Omega-3 supplementation may also aid in healthy weight management, and significantly reduce waist circumference and waist-to-hip ration, according to a 2015 review published in Plos One.
Sample Post-Pregnancy Weight Loss Menu
When choosing a healthy menu for losing weight after pregnancy, calorie needs vary based on physical activity level and whether or not you’re breastfeeding. Eat small meals every few hours or so.
The sample weight loss menu below provides about 1,400 calories.
Breakfast (391 calories)
2 scrambled eggs: 144 calories
1 teaspoon of olive oil: 40 calories
1 small banana: 90 calories
1 container of Greek yogurt: 117 calories
Snack (186 calories)
1 cup of blueberries: 84 calories
1/8 cup of walnuts: 102 calories
Lunch (312 calories)
3 ounces of grilled chicken or tofu: 128 calories
2 cups of leafy greens: 16 calories
2 teaspoons of Italian dressing: 23 calories
1 medium baked sweet potato: 115 calories
1 teaspoon of soft butter spread: 30 calories
Snack (197 calories)
A protein shake made with:
1 1/2 cups of protein-fortified almond milk: 120 calories
1/8 cup of protein powder: 45 calories
1 teaspoon of almond butter: 32 calories
Dinner (321 calories)
1 veggie burger: 125 calories
1/2 whole grain hamburger bun: 70 calories
1 cup of cooked green beans: 44 calories
1/8 cup of sliced almonds: 82 calories
Total calories: 1,407
You can increase or decrease portion sizes depending on individualized calorie needs, or add an evening snack when you require additional calories to accommodate the demands of breastfeeding.
Workouts For Losing Weight After Pregnancy
Regardless of whether or not you’ve experienced a vaginal birth or cesarean section (c-section) delivery, be sure to check in with your doctor before easing back into exercise. It’s important to let your body heal.
Once a doctor gives you the okay to work out, begin slowly. Walking is a great place to start. A few other exercises that work well for weight loss after pregnancy include:
Planks help slim and trim your midsection post-pregnancy, strengthening and toning your abs. Hold an extended push-ups position for at least a minute or two, rest, and repeat plank holds at least two more times.
For a more advanced core workout, bring one knee at a time toward your chest during plank holds.
Just as the name implies, squat jumps happen when you squat down and jump up as high as you can repeatedly for at least three sets of 10 to 20 repetitions.
Alternate between wide-stance and narrow-stance squat jumps to change things up a bit, or use light dumbbell weights as resistance.
This exercise tightens and tones your legs and butt in no time.
Squat kicks tighten and tone your thighs, butt, and midsection after having a baby — and you can do this exercise from the comfort of home!
Simply squat down until your thighs are about parallel with the floor, stand back up and kick out in front (or to the side) with one leg, squat back down, and stand up to kick out (or to the side) with your other leg.
Continue alternating squat kicks for about a minute, and repeat the exercise for a total of three to five sets.
Burpees are another exercise you can do from the comfort of home that tightens and tones your entire body!
Simply complete a push-up, quickly move your feet toward your hands, jump up into the air, hit the floor for another push-up, and repeat the exercise for about a minute for each set.
An elliptical machine provides the perfect full-body cardiovascular workout for weight loss after pregnancy.
Simply hit the gym or look for a new or used at-home elliptical machine that works your arms and legs.
You’ll burn about 335 calories in just 30 minutes using an elliptical trainer if you weigh 155 pounds.
Walking Uphill or Jogging
Whether you have a treadmill at home, enjoy getting to the gym, or have a jogging stroller, walking uphill or jogging is an excellent calorie-burning workout that tightens and tones your entire body post-pregnancy.
Jogging uphill with a jogging baby stroller is one of the quickest ways to shed pounds quickly.
Aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise daily. Begin with walking, and add in some jogs the more in shape you become.
Cycling is another tightening, toning, calorie-burning exercise that aids in weight loss after pregnancy.
Mix in cycling with other aerobic workouts to cross-train, or try a cycling class to burn over 300 calories in just 30 minutes.
When you need an easy way to tighten and tone your arms, chest, upper back, and abs, add push-ups into your regular fitness routine.
Complete at least three sets of 10 to 20 reps of push-ups every other day or so, to get the full-body results you deserve.
Triceps extensions can do wonders for your upper arms, tightening and toning them post-pregnancy. Hold light dumbbell weights (or a resistance band), and extend your hands above your head until your arms are straight.
Bend at your elbows and lower dumbbells behind your head as far as you can. Lift the weights or band back up until your arms are almost fully extended once again.
Complete at least three sets of 10 to 20 repetitions.
Leg raises tone up your legs and abs, and aid in healthy weight loss after pregnancy. Lie flat on your back with your legs extended on the floor.
Keep your legs straight, slowly lift them up until they form a 90-degree angle with the floor, and slowly lower your legs back down until they almost touch the ground.
For some added resistance, hold a stability ball between your knees or ankles when completing this exercise.
Remember, weight loss after pregnancy takes time, so don’t get discouraged if the weight doesn’t come off right away.
Meeting daily nutritional needs takes priority, especially when you’re breastfeeding.
Joining an organized weight loss program specifically designed for women, such as Fit Mother 30X increases your chance of losing weight after pregnancy.
It also provides you with the motivational support you need to stay strong long term. You can do it!
*Please know that weight loss results & health changes/improvements vary from individual to individual; you may not achieve similar results. Always consult with your doctor before making health decisions. This is not medical advice – simply very well-researched info on losing weight after pregnancy.