How to Lose Weight After Pregnancy

Learn how to shed excess pounds after your pregnancy and burn fat quickly after childbirth.

Ben Greenfield
5-minute read
Episode #24

Ladies, today’s article is for any of you who have ever had a baby or ever plan to lovingly swaddle a tiny bundle of joy--and still be able to zip up your pre-pregnancy jeans. That’s right, you’re about to learn how to lose weight after pregnancy. As a father of twin boys and a personal trainer to countless women both during and after pregnancy, I know this is a necessary topic. Gentleman, I’d encourage you to listen in, because unless you live on a deserted island or a country with very strict birth control, I guarantee you have a mother, wife, girlfriend, sister, daughter, or acquaintance who could probably benefit from this advice. Besides, I’m not entirely sexist--the Get-Fit Guy newsletter recently talked about how to get rid of man-boobs.

How to Lose Weight After Pregnancy

It should be, of course, extremely obvious that you are going to gain weight while you are pregnant. It takes 9 months to put the weight on, so no matter what the paparazzi may suggest, even if you’re a celebrity with magical weight loss superpowers, it’s still going to take a bit of time to lose weight after childbirth. If you allow for 4-6 weeks of relatively light post-childbirth activity, a realistic time frame to lose the pounds you gained during pregnancy is 6-8 months. So with that reality check, here are your quick and dirty tips for how to lose weight after childbirth:

Weight Loss Tip #1: Breastfeed. Breastfeeding requires an extra 500 calories a day, and will help you to burn through the excess energy that your body naturally stored to nourish a baby. Caloric restriction and strict dieting should not be done during breastfeeding, and losing more than two pounds per week is especially dangerous for your baby if you are breastfeeding (check out Nutrition Diva's episode on breastfeeding nutrition for more). But you can exercise while breastfeeding, and 30-90 minutes of daily physical activity will not affect milk production, as long as you’re consuming adequate calories. Which leads me to my next tip…

Weight Loss Tip #2: Stay physically active. Later in this article, I’ll give you a sample workout plan as well as guidelines about exercise risks after childbirth. Exercise will not only help with weight loss, but will also help you avoid the excessive stress build-up that comes with being a new mom.

Weight Loss Tip #3: Use nutrition strategies. If you maintain the habit of eating extra calories you consumed during pregnancy, it will severely slow weight loss, no matter how hard you exercise. Four strategies will significantly help you:

  1. Stay hydrated by trying to drink a bottle of water every couple hours, which will keep you from soft drinks and juices. If you need flavor in the water, add a little lemon juice and stevia.

  2. Write down everything you eat;

  3. Eat protein and fiber, which will keep your appetite satiated;

  4. Eat real, recognizable food as much as possible. Potato chips, Cheetos, and peanut butter don’t look anything like the potatoes, corn, and peanuts they came from, so be careful with these type of foods.

Exercise Risks After Childbirth

If you maintain the habit of eating extra calories you consumed during pregnancy, it will severely slow weight loss, no matter how hard you exercise.

If you had complications during pregnancy, your doctor may have asked you to refrain from exercise for anywhere from 1-8 weeks. It is important that you follow these rules, as you don’t want to risk hemorrhages, ruptures, strains, sprains, internal bleeding, or any other accidents. If you have any doubts about exercising, or have been warned not to exercise, you can approach your physician and ask if it is acceptable for you to perform light walking for 10-30 minutes a day. If the answer is yes, then the fresh air and sunshine will be good for you and your baby, and will also make exercise and weight loss easier when the time comes.

You may have also been told or found that you have an overly stretched abdominal wall or a large gap between your abdominal muscles. This is called rectus abdominis and is fairly common. If this is the case, you’ll need to be careful with exercises that directly strain your abdominal wall--especially movements like weighted crunches, front planks, leg lifts, sit-ups, and heavy lifting. Instead, you should stick to core exercises such as those I mention in the exercise plan at the end of this article.

Finally, due to the production of a hormone called relaxin, your ligaments become far more flexible during pregnancy and stay that way for a few months after childbirth, so you need to be careful with impact-based exercise, heavy weights, and quick changes of direction. Loose ligaments allow your joints to move through a greater range of motion-- which is wonderful when you have to push out a baby, but not so convenient when you twist an ankle while running.

How to Lose Weight After Pregnancy: An Exercise Plan

A perfect post-pregnancy exercise plan should include an introductory phase of 4-8 weeks of non-impact cardio and controlled abdominal strengthening, along with a full body weight training routine. If you read the article “What Is The Best Workout For Fat Loss,” you’ll learn why the weight training isn’t just for toning, for weight loss as well.

Once you’re finished with the introductory phase, move on to more intense cardio and more advanced weight training exercise, and change exercises every 4 weeks to keep your body from adapting.

Here’s what the first post-pregnancy phase would look like:

Monday: 30-60 minutes of non-weight bearing cardio at an easy conversational pace such as swimming, walking or cycling. Yes, I know it is tough to “converse” during swimming, but you get the idea.

Tuesday: Full body circuit on weight machines, which allow you to control each movement safely and easily decrease or increase weight. For an introduction to a great machine circuit, see the article: “How To Use Weightlifting Machines.”

Wednesday: same cardio as Monday

Thursday: same as Tuesday

Friday: same as Monday

Weekend: Go on a hike, long walk, or easy bike ride, and also include a safe core strengthening exercise--for example, perform five 30 second bent knee side plank holds for each side while you watch TV.

In the next post-pregnancy phase, switch to performing cardio intervals for the Monday, Wednesday and Friday cardio workouts, in which you do hard efforts followed by easy efforts, and consider adding some impact based motion such as running.

For your weight training workouts on Tuesday and Thursday, begin to use free weights and more advanced exercises. For example, you can try a routine like the one I show in this video. Depending on the extent of abdominal muscle wall separation, you may still need to modify your core exercises (if you can fit more than two fingers in the line that runs down the middle of your stomach, this may be the case). However, if your abdominal wall is ready, you can begin to incorporate crunching or sit-up variations, more advanced planks, and heavier weights. Finally, you can add a third weight training workout on the weekend as a substitute for the easy cardio.

Remember to carefully consider the risks in this article, remember that the exercise plan above may need modifications if you have any post-pregnancy complications, and remember to change the exercises in your routine every 4 weeks after you enter the second phase of the program described above. Finally, think about this: an added bonus of incorporating exercise after pregnancy is that you’re setting a great example for your growing baby, and your child is more likely to be physically.

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.