After giving birth, a vast number of new moms wonder why post-baby weight is so hard to lose.
For most women, weight gain is a healthy and normal expectation of pregnancy. Save for those who are overweight or obese, pregnancy weight gain is expected to fall between 25-35 lbs.
However, for many women, weight gain in pregnancy exceeds the expected amount, or continues to accumulate after giving birth, even while breastfeeding.
After devoting nine months to carrying a fetus to full term, it’s natural to want to peel the extra weight off quickly, reducing the aches, pains, and low-esteem that often accompany excess weight.
Even with endless articles, blogs, and media attention devoted to postpartum weight loss, many women still struggle to reach their pre-baby weight within a year, if ever.
This isn’t because weight loss after children is impossible: however, it is more difficult, thanks to a number of social and physiological changes that occur after birth.
Luckily, the overwhelming majority of women are able to lose weight after having children, even in the midst of the large hormonal, social, and emotional changes that accompany motherhood.
For mothers who struggle to reach and maintain a healthy weight, depression, low self-esteem, and emotional suppression are common.
While conversations around women and weight loss tend to focus solely on vanity, reclaiming the power to eat healthfully, lose weight, and reclaim ownership of your body is powerful, and provides mothers with the skills and ability to become more present in their lives and parenthood experience.
If you’ve struggled to lose weight after having children (even if your babies aren’t exactly babies anymore), here are a few things to know about the interplay between motherhood, weight, and wellness.
Main Reasons Why Post-Baby Weight is so Hard to Lose
#1. Breastfeeding does not guarantee weight loss.
In theory, the 300 Calories a day burned in the breastfeeding process would help promote weight loss. Many women choose to breastfeed for this reason (nutritional advantages for baby aside).
However, that theory often fails to play out in the real world, which is a big reason why post-baby weight is so hard to lose. For many women, weight gain continues even while breastfeeding, or remains stagnant.
Many women find that breastfeeding makes them more hungry, thanks to a powerful hormone (Prolactin) secreted during milk let-down. Prolactin, stimulates appetite, causing many women to feel “snacky” or downright hangry while breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is a very personal choice: if you are able and choose to breastfeed, make sure you are doing for the purposes of infant nutrition, rather than weight loss, because it’s not a guarantee.
A large research review published in the journal Preventive Medicine showed that only about half of women see any weight management benefit from breastfeeding. The review found that women who breastfeed for 12 months postpartum typically lose about 3 more lbs than those who do not.
#2. Your body and your habits have changed.
After nearly a year of eating differently, change is hard. For many women, habits gained in pregnancy continue on after childbirth. This is a leading reason why post-baby weight is so hard to lose.
Many women give themselves more leniency to indulge during pregnancy, while others feel themselves overtaken by powerful cravings. In the emotional turbulence that accompanies motherhood and child-raising, fighting those habits can be difficult.
Even in the absence of “junky” nutritional choices, nutritional needs change after birth.
In general, we’re not very good judges of our own nutritional intake and its relation to our true physiological needs: no one is born with an instruction manual for their body, and cobbling together google searches and “health blogs” will only give you part of the picture.
In reality, nutritional needs are so highly individual that it’s almost impossible for the average consumer to truly assess their own nutritional needs: it’s very easy to over consume Calories without realizing it, and simple Caloric needs estimators don’t do a good job of assessing energy needs.
It’s important to remember that your body is inherently different after having children, and so are your needs.
While there is a stigma placed on weight loss and dieting, remember that needing help is ok- sometimes you just need to be pointed in the right direction. When you’re in a new place that you’ve never been before, it’s ok to ask for a roadmap.
#3. The longer you wait, the harder it is to lose.
The longer you wait to lose the weight gained in pregnancy or motherhood, the more difficult it will be,behaviorally and physiologically. Making a habit out of clinging to bad habits is the third most common reason why post-baby weight is so hard to lose.
At a higher weight, your body becomes physiologically “comfortable”. A healthy lifestyle can be a tough pill to swallow when years go by in this way.
Your body’s “set point” (the number of Calories needed to maintain weight) changes the longer you’re at an elevated weight, making weight loss and maintenance more difficult.
Regardless of whether you gave birth 3 months or three years ago, waiting to lose the weight means a longer and harder road: getting started as soon as possible gives you the best chance the easiest path to your goal weight.
Morgan Medeiros is a certified nutritionist, holding a both a Bachelor and Master’s Degree in Clinical Nutrition. Morgan completed her undergraduate education at Central Washington University, and her graduate education at Northeastern University. During her time as a graduate student, Morgan focused her area of expertise in health education, weight management, and behavioral change. Morgan has experience working in areas of nutritional neuroscience and disease prevention, obesity prevention, and weight loss. Morgan also works in areas of nutritional analysis and menu labeling for restaurants, where she is able to creatively bridge her interest in food culture and health education. In her free time, Morgan enjoys traveling, reading, writing, running, and spending time with her family and friends (including- most importantly- her dog, Clyde).