Postpartum Weight Retention: When Should You Worry?

Pregnancy is the one time when it is normal to gain weight – about 20% or more of body weight over the course of nine months.

But what kind of postpartum weight gain is normal? And when is it normal to start worrying about it? Read on to learn some important facts on possible changes in your weight after giving birth.

The most important factor

Gaining weight is essential during pregnancy, but once the baby arrives, most moms can’t wait to lose the extra weight.

But losing weight after giving birth is different from losing weight at other times, especially if you are breastfeeding your baby. After delivery, attempts to lose weight can be hampered by lack of time for exercise, and lost sleep.

According to experts, besides lactation, factors such as pre-gravid weight, gestational weight gain, age, parity, race, smoking status, exercise history, marital status, and employment have been investigated for a relationship to postpartum weight loss. Of these factors, weight gain during pregnancy is the one that has proved in multiple studies to be the most relevant.

Most doctors base their recommendation of postpartum weight gain on the weight of the mom before pregnancy. Women with a normal BMI (body mass index) should gain anywhere between 25 and 35 pounds, and up to 45 for twins.

Overweight women may be able to safely gain between 15 and 25 pounds, but should not use pregnancy as a time to diet or lose pre-pregnancy weight.

In the latest national data, US women of reproductive age are alarmingly heavy: 52% are overweight, 29% are obese, and 8% have a body mass index in kg/m2) of more than 40, which places them in the obese III category.

Those who are obese have difficulty conceiving, and complications during pregnancy and delivery are more common in obese than in normal-weight women. In addition, reproduction itself is associated with a net gain in weight.

The first year does it

There will be more to lose after the baby is born, and studies show that if you don’t get it off within a year, the extra weight is more likely to become permanent. And if you are thinking about getting pregnant again, it is best to return to your healthy baseline weight before conception.

While it can be difficult to lose weight after pregnancy, being overweight increases the risk of heart attack or stroke. Women in this group have higher blood pressure and other risk factors for later diabetes and heart disease.

A woman's weight one year after birth is a stronger predictor of the likelihood of her being overweight 15 years later than the weight gained during the pregnancy itself, research suggests.

What doctors are seeing is the period between three and 12 months after delivery is a critical window during which practitioner and patient attention to weight control may be very important to long-term metabolic and vascular health.

That's why it's important for new moms to look after themselves as well as their babies by keeping active and eating healthily.

Give your body time

You should plan to return to your pre-pregnancy weight by 6 to 12 months after delivery. Most women lose half of their baby weight by 6 weeks after childbirth (postpartum). The rest most often comes off over the next several months.

Your body needs time to recover from childbirth. If you lose weight too soon after childbirth, it can take longer for you to recover. Give yourself until your 6-week checkup before trying to slim down. If you are breastfeeding, wait until your baby is at least 2 months old and your milk supply has normalized before drastically cutting calories.

If you are breastfeeding, you will want to lose weight slowly. Weight loss that happens too fast can make you produce less milk. Losing about a pound and a half (670 grams) a week should not affect your milk supply or your health.

Breastfeeding makes your body burn calories which helps you lose weight. If you are patient, you may be surprised at how much weight you lose naturally while breastfeeding.

Keep it in mind that you may not be able to return to your exact pre-pregnancy shape. For many women, pregnancy causes lasting changes in the body. You may have a softer belly, wider hips, and a larger waistline. Make your goals about your new body realistic.

Easing yourself

Family physicians should counsel their patients during pregnancy about the risks of excessive weight gain and subsequent obesity.

Family physicians can help patients develop realistic weight loss goals in the postpartum period and beyond, emphasizing that post-partum weight loss normally proceeds slowly and steadily.

With a new baby you will undeniably have your hands full, so don't try to rush into diets and fitness regimes. Instead, steadily ease yourself back into fitness by working physical activity into your routine, for example with a lunchtime walk or a mother-and-baby exercise class.

Check with your doctor to determine if it is safe for you to gain less or more than the recommended range. Post-partum time is a very personal journey, and what is most important is to take care of yourself, eat a healthy diet, and make sure you take your vitamins to ensure you get all the nutrients you need for you and your baby.

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