Mar 14, 2023 • 12 min read

Postpartum Weight Loss: How to Lose the Ideal Amount of Baby Weight & Timeline

Medically Reviewed by Kim Langdon, MD on 03.14.23
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While we know that it’s important to eat healthily and gain weight while we’re pregnant, exactly how and when that weight will come off is often something that doctors and midwives don’t mention to new moms when leaving the hospital.

This leaves women in the early postpartum state with many questions:

  • How do I know if I am losing weight properly?
  • When can I exercise to lose weight?
  • How can I lose weight faster, especially if I’m breastfeeding?
  • Shouldn’t the weight just fall off or am I supposed to work at losing weight?

With so much going on in your new mom life, losing weight can seem like an impossible mission. Still, you can lose weight safely while juggling baby care and everything else in your busy day.

This guide goes over a healthy postpartum weight loss timeline as well as tips for losing weight after pregnancy.

Postpartum weight loss timeline: week by week

Many women are surprised to learn that the expected weight gain for a single-baby pregnancy is 25 to 35 pounds. A woman with twins can expect to gain 37 to 54 pounds during the pregnancy.

Not only are these extra pounds normal, but they are also needed to ensure your physical health and that of your baby during those crucial months.

If you’ve done the math yourself, you’d see that a 7-pound baby and a 1.5-pound placenta only add to a third of the expected pregnancy weight gain at best. Amniotic fluid around the baby and other fluids add up as well to account for just 10 to 15 pounds lost at the time of birth.

This leaves approximately 10 to 25 pounds left to lose before you can attain your pre-pregnancy weight.

Research indicates that, despite the challenge, losing those extra pounds is crucial to your health and the health of any children you may wish to have in the future. Pregnancies complicated by being overweight are riskier than those when your weight is within a normal range.

Weight loss after pregnancy is not a sprint. You can realistically expect to lose the weight you gained during your pregnancy, but you should aim for a 6 to 12-month marathon.

You already have a lot on your plate so, while weight loss is certainly possible, you can’t expect to lose weight safely and permanently within weeks of having your baby. Give it time and your patience will be paid off.

Let’s start by looking at the expected postpartum weight loss timeline and why the weight is lost over time. You should expect to lose about 1.5 pounds per week on average in the first weeks after giving birth, but there are different reasons for the loss each week.

Before we dive in, we wanted to note that we can help you find a postpartum nutritionist that can help you lose a safe amount of weight after giving birth. Filter by insurance, visit type, and more to find your fit.

Right after pregnancy

As soon as you deliver, you will lose 10 to 15 pounds. The actual amount of weight depends on the size of your baby and how many babies you were carrying.

The uterus itself weighs more when you are pregnant than when you aren’t. A non-pregnant uterus weighs just 0.15 pounds (2.5 ounces). After giving birth, the uterus itself weighs 2 pounds. All that growth and weight diminish over time as the uterus shrinks to its normal size and weight again.

You will also have a higher blood volume after giving birth because it takes time for your body to readjust to the postpartum state. You needed more blood to nourish your baby and support your larger body while pregnant. This is blood and fluid you no longer need, but your body needs a few weeks to settle to a lower blood volume level.

Finally, many women have excess fluid around their ankles or notice puffiness of their face and hands in the weeks or months before giving birth. Thankfully, this fluid quickly leaves the body through the urine and, if this happened in your pregnancy, your facial appearance and ankle circumference will normalize within days of giving birth.

When you prepare for delivery and for coming home from the hospital, feel free to bring something nice to wear, but if you pack your pre-pregnancy clothing for the homecoming, you might be disappointed.

Instead, pack something comfortable and loose around the waist. If you are breastfeeding, make sure you have bottoms and a top that allows for easy access for feeding.

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2 to 6 weeks postpartum

By 6 weeks postpartum, you should have lost all of the excess weight caused by having excess blood volume, a larger uterus, and edema (puffiness). This weight loss accounts for half of all the weight you gained during pregnancy. You don’t need to do much to allow this to occur; it is a natural postpartum process.

Your uterus loses 65% of its pregnancy weight in the first week and the rest by the sixth week postpartum. This process, called uterus involution, is caused by a reduction in the thickness and size of the myometrium—the muscular wall of the uterus.

Blood volume normalizes and edema resolves within the first 2 weeks after giving birth. You can ensure that it progresses smoothly by cutting back on dietary salt.

You don’t need to reduce your fluid intake. You’ll need that fluid if you breastfeed and you generally can’t cause edema by drinking low-sodium beverages. So, drink up for better overall health!

6 to 12 weeks postpartum

By the sixth week, you should be able to lose half of the weight you added during pregnancy but only if you gained the recommended 25 to 35 pounds.

The math is complicated but, if you gained 25 pounds during your pregnancy and lost 10 pounds at the time of your baby’s birth, the remaining 15 pounds will only be 50% reduced by six weeks. This leaves about 7.5 pounds left to go.

A third of all women will lose the entire amount by the sixth week, but most will have a few pounds remaining. Because this weight comes from the fat stores you needed for a healthy pregnancy, it isn’t as easy to lose. Fat is energy, so it needs to be burned off by eating smart and staying active.

12 weeks postpartum & on

If you haven’t lost your entire pregnancy weight by the 12th week after giving birth, it may mean you gained more than you needed to support your pregnancy. Research shows that pregnancy doesn’t influence your ability to lose weight from this point onward.

What this means for you is that you need to eat smart and find ways to engage in aerobic exercises like walking, jogging, swimming, or any other activity that increases your heart rate for at least 30 minutes at one time.

After giving birth, all the stressors of raising a family and working make losing those stubborn few pounds difficult. There are many barriers to losing this weight that you need to address to regain your pre-pregnancy size:

  • Not enough time to eat healthily. Many women have a decline in their consumption of healthy food after pregnancy. With the rush of daily living, finding healthy food options and cooking at home are more difficult. This leads to foods that are more calorie-dense and low in nutrients.
  • Less time for exercise. While having a baby at home means taking a lot of extra steps, it doesn’t really help you lose weight. Many women have fewer episodes of vigorous physical activity necessary for adequate fat burning.
  • Postpartum depression. Women who suffer from postpartum depression tend to have a more difficult time eating properly. This often means that it is harder for these women to lose their pre-pregnancy weight.
  • Poor sleep. Lack of sleep after giving birth triggers changes in the body that make it harder to lose weight. Appetite can increase and metabolism suffers when you don’t get the sleep you were able to get before having a baby.
  • Overeating during breastfeeding. Breastfeeding does help improve weight loss after giving birth, but the effect is much smaller than many women think. This can lead to continuing the “eating for two” mindset that isn’t necessary to feed your baby enough calories.

If possible, plan to lose the extra weight by 6 to 12 months postpartum. If you need to lose 10 pounds during this time, for example, you only need to lose 2 to 4 pounds per month to achieve this goal.

>> Find a nutritionist that can help with postpartum weight loss

Ask the Expert: Natasha Eziquiel-Shriro

We asked Natasha Eziquiel-Shriro, RDN, how much weight women should try to lose per week after giving birth. Here’s what she had to say:

During the postpartum phase of pregnancy, the body is in recovery both physically and mentally. Healing from giving birth, hormonal shifts, and the demands of caring for yourself and an infant, are challenging to manage. People want to talk about weight loss, but the emphasis should really be on restoring balance. We want to help the body do the work of repair, while reducing short-term risks such as bone loss or excess hair thinning that result from deficiencies. A nutrient-dense diet is key for day-to-day stamina and rebuilding metabolism—so you can lose weight when your body is ready.

How to lose weight after pregnancy: tips & strategies

No matter how you plan to lose weight after childbirth, eating healthy should be your priority. Crash dieting at any time isn’t recommended as trying this while juggling the demands of parenthood and other obligations can be hard on your health.

Most women who are trying to lose their pregnancy weight say that the hardest part about losing weight is that the demands on their time are more than they expected.

Self-care takes a backseat to childcare, which only serves to make it harder to be an optimal parent in the long run.

Some strategies for losing weight postpartum include:

  • Eat several small meals daily. About 5 to 6 small meals are preferable to large meals. Your body tends to use energy better if you feed it little by little. Snacks are great if they are healthy, such as fruits, whole grain crackers, cheese slices, or nuts/seeds.
  • Avoid skipping meals. This is especially true if you are breastfeeding. Skipping meals also signal to your body that you need to store rather than use the calories you eat. Make sure to start your day with breakfast, too.
  • Make fiber your friend. Think about the fiber content of your diet. Oranges have more fiber than orange juice, for example, while beans, raw veggies, and whole grains are better options than foods low in fiber (white rice, processed foods, and meats). Your body is fuller longer and your weight loss will be smoother with foods containing more fiber. Note that fiber can cause postpartum gas. While it’s not a reason to avoid it, if you start experiencing it, know that fiber may be contributing.
  • Eat slowly & seated at the table. It is so easy to eat on the run or while cooking or watching the kids play, but it is also easier to eat a lot more calories if you aren’t conscious of what you’re eating.
  • Remember that protein, fiber, & healthy fats make you fuller longer. Fats and protein are great choices if you choose healthy sources. For example, you can get protein in lean meats rather than lunch meats and with fewer calories of saturated fats. Nuts and seeds have healthy fats your body needs (learn more about the best nuts for weight loss here).
  • Drink up. Keep your water bottle handy and sip continuously so you never get dehydrated and will feel fuller. Your baby needs those liquids too if you are breastfeeding.
  • Drink water instead of sugary beverages. Juices, sodas, and energy drinks are loaded with calories you don’t need. Your baby doesn’t need a diet of artificial sweeteners, so you should avoid these if breastfeeding.
  • Pay attention to food preparation. Broiling, grilling, baking, and microwaving foods are better options than frying foods of any kind. Limit breaded chicken/fish and eat grilled/broiled versions instead. As another example, olive oil is a healthier option than corn oil.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Lack of sleep can cause you to eat more to help with energy levels. Try getting a minimum of 7 hours of sleep per night. It’s okay if the hours are broken up by baby care. Nap when your baby naps if needed.
  • Get some aerobic exercise. Walking outside with your baby or getting some other sustained activity rather than relying on being “busy” will help you lose weight faster.
  • Reduce stress. Stress tends to cause your body to take on more weight, especially around the waist. Remember to care for your mental health so you can more effectively care for your baby as you regain your pre-pregnancy weight. If you need to, consider seeing a postpartum depression therapist if you’re dealing with mental health issues.
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Tips from our Expert: Natasha Eziquiel-Shriro

We asked Natasha Eziquiel-Shriro, RDN, for some advice for moms who are interested in postpartum weight loss. Here’s what she said to keep in mind:

  • Rapid weight loss may slow down your recovery and reduce your milk supply, so give yourself time to lose weight. Be kind to your body—it’s done so much this last year!
  • Do not diet or restrict calories, if at all, for at least 2-3 months. Skipping meals may cause fatigue and mood swings, and make it harder to be active or exercise.
  • To help manage food cravings, eat some protein in the morning and stay hydrated throughout the day. Calm the mind with stretching, deep breathing, or yoga—mental stress often triggers cravings.
  • If you are losing weight too fast, add a healthy snack each day, use more healthy fats, and increase portions at meals.
  • Be realistic with yourself. Your body may not return to its exact pre-pregnancy shape. But it is possible to lose weight, become stronger or fitter, and maintain body confidence.

How working with a postpartum nutritionist can help you lose weight after pregnancy

After having a baby, it may feel too overwhelming to manage baby care and everything else you need to do on top of losing weight.

To make it easier on you, you may want to seek the advice of a postpartum nutritionist. This is a nutrition specialist with specific training in postpartum diets and eating well after having a baby.

A postpartum nutritionist can give you specific advice based on your unique needs and can help you with meal planning and other issues that can help you reach your goal to lose weight after giving birth while also starting your family on a pathway toward better nutritional health.

Here at Zaya Care, we can help you find a postpartum nutritionist that accepts your health insurance and offers the visit type that works best for you (online, in-person, over the phone, etc.).

You may want to set up a meeting before delivering your baby so you can feel more confident about eating better as soon as you get home. Most postpartum nutritionists can provide follow-up visits to help you with issues that come up over time.

There are also more general weight loss nutritionists that can help you if you’re struggling with postpartum weight loss.

Risks of keeping the extra weight from pregnancy

Is it important to lose your pregnancy weight? In general, yes, unless you were underweight when you first became pregnant.

Women who don’t attain their pre-pregnancy weight by about 12 months postpartum or gain weight after giving birth run the risk of having long-term obesity and all of its complications, such as:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Preeclampsia, fetal complications, and gestational diabetes in future pregnancies
  • Arthritis and other physical disabilities linked to excess weight
  • Some types of cancer (breast, colon, and others)

Losing weight isn’t always the first thing you’d think of after having a baby; however, it will pay off in dividends as you feel healthier and more capable of doing what you love—caring for your little one and enjoying your new life together. 

Does breastfeeding help you lose weight?

Breastfeeding may help you lose weight because producing milk increases metabolism by 15 to 25%. Your body may pull the energy needed for breastfeeding from the fat stored during pregnancy or from the foods you eat.

A 2014 study found that exclusively breastfeeding for at least 3 months increased postpartum weight loss. The researchers found that women were more likely to return to their pre-pregnancy weight or less when exclusively breastfeeding for the first 3 months.

Still, not every breastfeeding mom will experience weight loss from breastfeeding alone. To meet the increased energy demands of breastfeeding, your appetite will likely increase.

Lowering your calories too much to lose weight could affect your milk supply. Some women find it’s easier to drop those last few pounds when their appetite goes back to normal after they are done breastfeeding.

>> See foods you should avoid while breastfeeding

When can you exercise after giving birth?

The recommendations for exercise after childbirth have changed over the decades. It used to be recommended to wait up to 6 weeks after giving birth to start exercising again. 

Nowadays, postpartum moms can start doing light movements within a few days of giving birth if they feel up to it. Of course, you won’t be able to jump right back into intense workouts because your body is still healing. However, light exercises like short walks may help with recovery.

When you can start exercises may depend on the type of delivery and if you experienced any complications. Be sure to follow your healthcare provider’s instructions and ask them any questions about how much activity is recommended for you. 

You may notice some changes in your body after giving birth. But not all of these have to become your new normal.

If you experience any changes to your pelvic floor, like peeing a little when jumping or running, it may be time to see a pelvic floor therapist. They can help you strengthen those muscles to reduce these issues.

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Christine Traxler MD is a family physician, lifelong writer, and author with a special interest in mental health, women’s healthcare, and the physical after-effects of psychological trauma. As a contributing writer and editor for numerous organizations, she brings a holistic focus to her work that emphasizes healing and wellness through daily self-care, connecting with others, and setting stepwise goals toward achieving more balanced and authentic lives.