How to

How to lose belly fat after pregnancy

Oh, the happiness of ‘pitter patter of tiny feet’ around the house. During the 9 months of pregnancy you may have made allowances in your diet for those cravings, or an extra this and that which you wanted at the time. Post pregnancy a lot of women rush straight away into trying to lose those extra pounds gained, especially in the belly area.

How and when you chose to lose weight post pregnancy is important as it can affect both the health of the mother and the health of the baby. So how can you go about it? Read on to find out.

Pregnancy weight and Belly fat
Belly fat, Water retention or just unconditioned muscles?
Breast feeding
A healthy balanced diet v a radical regime
10 Tips to lose belly fat after pregnancy

Pregnancy weight and belly fat

It is part of the pregnancy process that the body will store extra fat around the hip and abdominal areas. It will do so as the mother will need extra energy during the pregnancy and for lactation and other processes. According to research an average woman of 65kg will gain up to 12.5kg during the full term of pregnancy. That is not all fat however. It also includes water retention, the placenta, the baby’s weight (usually an estimated 3.5kg).

Therefore, post-pregnancy the weight you have left is not all extra fat which you have accumulated. Before starting any diet have an idea of how much extra weight you have gained. Your doctor probably would have given you some guidance through the 9 months on how your weight gain is getting on and if you have exceeded the expected mark.

Belly fat, water retention or just unconditioned muscles?

Well think to yourself, is your post pregnancy belly all about fat or is it other matters going on? As mentioned above a considerable amount of water retention takes place during pregnancy and also your body has gone through major hormonal changes during and after pregnancy; some of which will take its course to sort itself out. Allow some time for your body to recover before you start a weight loss regime or placing any extra strain to your body. This is also important for your health.

It is a big deal for your body the whole thing and it does need that time to recover and get back to pre pregnancy mode. Some people advise to allow for 6 weeks before starting weight loss and exercise. I will also add to that listen to your body and allow as much time as you feel you need to and listen to your doctor most importantly. The medical professional who has and/or will be following your progress will be the most qualified to advise you on your health. If your doctor doesn’t think your body can cope then you should listen to that.

In addition, to water retention and hormonal changes think that your muscles may have been stretched and been unconditioned through those 9 months. What may be spilling out of the top of your trousers could just be a matter of firming those muscles up again.

Breast feeding

During lactation and breastfeeding the energy demands of the mother increase. The body does need energy to produce and deliver the milk. Undoubtedly not all women will breast feed however if you do there may be a possibility that you will lose a lot of the pregnancy weight easier. Although studies have shown controversial results on the matter, in general it is believed that women who breast feed will tend to lose the weight they gained during pregnancy.

One theory is that the breast milk does contain a large amount of fat most of which comes from the mother. In that 1st the quality of the mother’s diet will affect the quality of the milk and 2nd the mother will be mobilising some of this fat from her own reserves. Also as the energy demands of breast feeding are high then the mother will be using more calories than pre-pregnancy.

For example, it is suggested that an average woman who breast feeds will need around 568 kcal per day (this energy (kcal) requirement is only for the lactation of an average of 680g/day of milk at 0-1 months). These energy requirements will be different from person to person and at different points postpartum.

Therefore, daily energy intake for women who breast feed will be different from those who don’t. The chosen diet should take into account those extra energy requirements. Another thing to consider is the physical demands of looking after a newborn. These will add up extra energy used.

A healthy balanced diet v a radical regime

Ok so you saw in the magazine the photo of the latest celebrity who has gone back to shape just 6 weeks postpartum. She professes for that radical, low calorie or some other sort of diet and you think if she can do it then I can as well. Well I would say don’t do it. Think that those celebrities do have a team of experts, such as nutritionist, cooks, personal trainers, nannies, and photo specialist who airbrush the photos. Not to mention as Gwyneth Paltrow suggested to one of her interviews, the first signs of osteoporosis.

What you need to consider…

1. If you are breast feeding the quality of the breast milk will reflect the quality of your diet. You do need a large amount of nutrients for that milk so if your diet is lacking of nutrients then you will be in danger of depleting your body of vital nutrients, such as vitamins, iron, calcium etc.

2. Your body needs time to recover in both nutritional aspects and physiological aspects.

3. During the first few weeks you will have the effects of the hormones oxytocin and prolactin which have a relaxing effect. Some studies suggest that too vigorous exercise too soon after child birth may lead to injuries.

4. Pregnancy and child birth are major matters for your body. A number of physiological, body shape and hormonal changes take place. It may not be realistic to expect to get back to your pre pregnancy weight and shape.

It is always best to follow a healthy balanced diet which will provide you with all the nutrients you need and will promote healthy outcomes for both yourself and your baby. A Mediterranean style diet may be a good choice to start from.

Below are some tips summarised to help you with your post pregnancy weight tummy loss.

    Tip 1.    Plan ahead.

 Ideally the best way is to start planning during pregnancy. Watch your weight and try to gain only the weight which is expected to be gained during pregnancy. Follow a healthy balanced diet such as a modified Mediterranean dietary pattern which will provide all the necessary nutrients and will promote positive health outcomes. The less weight you gain during pregnancy (apart from the weight which is part of the pregnancy) the easier will be to get back into shape.

     Tip 2.    Don’t just concentrate on losing belly fat.

By losing weight you will lose belly fat. As mentioned there are major hormonal changes taking place in your body and the weight you may have accumulated in your belly could be part of those hormonal changes. In general belly fat is metabolically active and is easier to mobilise.

     Tip 3.    Breast feed.

Breast feeding has a number of benefits for the baby and the mother. An additional bonus is that it may aid in losing those extra pounds and fat reserves.

  •  As mentioned above the average energy requirements per day for breastfeeding are 568 kcal (this energy (kcal) requirement is only for the lactation of an average of 680g/day of milk at 0-1 months). What that means is that your body will need an extra 568kcal per day.
  • At average women need approximately 1500 – 2000kcal per day. During breast feeding you will need to add an extra 568kcal per day.
  • By only consuming an extra 413 kcal per day (instead of the 568kcal) you would be allowing for a weight loss of 0.5kg per month. In general it is not recommended to aim losing large amounts of weight during the first months of the pregnancy.
  • Above all show priority to your health and your baby’s health and only reduce your calorie intake if safe and possible. It is important to consult a medical professional first. There may be other reasons which could inhibit following any weight loss regimes.

Be aware that breastfeeding may not be possible for some people. This could be due to certain health conditions, or physiological problems etc. Do not place extra physical or psychological strain to breastfeed if it is not feasible for you.

    Tip 4.    Follow a healthy balanced diet.

Ok I probably said that 100 times already. Apart from aiming for weight loss watching what you can have important health benefits as well. During pregnancy women tend to develop a form of insulin resistance. Although it is part of the physiological changes if overweight, or have pre-existing metabolic complaints or overloading your body with sugars etc could lead in developing diabetes and other conditions.

Balanced healthy diets such as a Mediterranean style diet can help in improving insulin sensitivity. Such diets are rich in fruit and vegetables, wholegrain carbohydrates, and protein. Improving insulin sensitivity can also improve abdominal fat mobilisation. 

    Tip 5.    De-stress

Pregnancy, child birth and a new born baby can all be very stressful. Try to rest and de-stress. Stress can lead to weight gain in many ways and has been connected with increasing abdominal fat. Have a bath, listen to some music or take a walk. Take a few minutes every day for ‘you’ to relax and de-stress. Apart from the weight loss benefits it will do miracles for your mental health. Needless to say don’t add extra stress with killing yourself to lose weight.

    Tip 6.    Sleep well.

Caring for a new borne can have detrimental effects to your sleep. Sleep deprivation as well as low quality sleep and/or broken sleep can lead to weight gain or slow down weight loss. Easier said than done however try to get as much rest and sleep as possible through the day.

    Tip 7.    Show off your baby with a walk to the shops

What a better way to get some exercise than taking a light walk to the local shops or the park. Take your pram and show your baby to the world and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine (weather permitting).

    Tip 8.    Pelvic floor and abdominal exercises.

Contracting the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles can be a light exercise which you can do at any point through the day. You will not burn loads of calories by practising these exercises but it will help to condition those muscles which have taken a battering through your pregnancy. You can practice by just contracting either your pelvic floor or your tummy muscles for the count of 10 and realise and repeat again. You can practice when you watch tv or having a bath, or driving.

Always consult a medical professional if you had a caesarean as they may not be appropriate. In addition do not try to spend all day in a constant muscle contraction as this is not good for your muscles and could affect your back as well.

    Tip 9.    Follow light exercise.

As mentioned earlier, do not aim to follow strenuous, vigorous and intense exercise as it could be placing too much stress and strain to your body and could lead to injuries. Exercise will help in getting your muscles back to form and will help in losing weight.

An easy exercise solution would be to just simple do the house work or push the pram to the park (you will discover prams are heavier than they look). Always consult your doctor before taking on any exercise especially if you had a caesarean. Alternatively there are a number of exercise classes for post-pregnancy such as water exercises, mother and baby clubs which can offer specialised training and exercise.   

They may also be a place where you can socialise with other mothers and exchange ideas and tips or just have a little break from baby care.

With time you can increase intensity of exercise as your body recovers and you feel stronger. If you still find it hard to get you belly in shape then maybe do some more full body work outs. Muscles in the abdominal area could stretch through a pregnancy and/or caesarean and often can get damaged. It is not always possible to get them back to the pre pregnancy condition but by consulting your doctor and a fitness professional they can give you a better idea of your tummy condition.

 Tip 10.  Drink plenty of water.

A lot of the remaining weight could be all the water retention from pregnancy. Drink plenty of fluids and especially water. This can help with the water retention. Also do walk and move around as this will help with blood circulation. Not strenuous however.


About the author

Hara Hagikalfa

Hara Hagikalfa completed her BSc(Hons) in Health and Exercise Science, Sports Science and Medicine. She is a certified Personal Trainer and Pilates instructor. You can learn more about Hara and connect with her on Facebook