As a mommy who has had not one but two c-sections, I know first-hand what it’s like to have to work that weight off. Twice. I’m not going to sugarcoat it either. It’s the hard stuff that requires hard work from you.
While challenging, it’s not impossible to get your pre-baby body back. Once the dust settles, you can take steps to make it happen.
But where do you begin?
It seems like a daunting task, and the media doesn’t help by showing us our favorite celebrities that became moms and somehow look stupendous just weeks after. Let me tell you something…unless you have access to a personal trainer, hours upon hours every day to exercise, and a dietician that handles every piece of food that goes into your mouth following some crazy diet, you’re not going to “snap” back like that.
So, what do you have to do to lose weight after a c-section? Here’s how I made it happen and how you can too.
Step One: Exercise Your Patience
Every woman that gives birth needs to allow time for her body to heal. With standard delivery, doctors advise anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks, but after a c-section, you’re looking at as many as 12 weeks. Sure, you’ll have your post-partum checkup, and once that happens, you can start doing something more strenuous in the way of exercise.
However, pushing yourself to jump into a full-fledged crazy exercise plan could force you to take more time off. Especially if you think you can do some magical exercises that will shrink your tummy.
Speaking of that, I want to tell you about a dear friend of mine, Carrie, who is a fitness expert. Carrie messaged me daily after I had my eldest check on me. Once I had my post-partum checkup, I asked her, as a fitness instructor, what she would recommend I do to shrink my belly.
Do you know what she told me? “You can’t target specific parts of your body for fat loss.”
It’s disheartening, but science has debunked the theory of spot reduction on numerous occasions. That doesn’t mean you can’t get rid of your belly. You just have to go about it in different ways. Carrie says taking care of your health, eating right, staying hydrated, and exercising regularly will all help you get those results, but you must be patient.
Also, you don’t want to do something that could lead to making your belly look bigger despite any weight loss success. I’ll get to that one shortly, so keep reading.
Step Two: Get Enough Calories While Breastfeeding
Hey, breastfeeding mamas…guess what? Thanks to breastfeeding, that adorable baby can help you lose some of that weight. It burns about 300 to 500 calories per day, pretty much what you’d achieve in your Zumba class or by riding your stationary bike while watching your fave shows on Netflix.
The process of producing and releasing milk really burns calories, so you’ll see some of that weight start to come off just from that. BUT! One big mistake many women make is restricting calories during this time. Please don’t. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says you need around 2,500 calories every day while you are breastfeeding.
If you don’t get enough calories, it affects your milk supply, affecting your baby.
So, how can you make weight loss happen while breastfeeding? Simple. Make nutrition your priority rather than calories. I’m not saying don’t have that donut you’ve been craving for the last 2 weeks. But have just one and then get on the trolley with whole foods and healthy meals.
I can attest to this; for living in China and having my favorite foods so hard to come by, I would gobble them up when I got care packages from my friends and family back home. But once I stopped eating that junk and focused on fruits, veggies, and lean proteins, I saw more of that weight come off.
Step Three: Stay Away From Fad Diets
I know. I knowwwwww. It is so tempting to follow that fad diet your favorite singer or movie star did. Only drinking green smoothies. Only eating cabbage. The only thing is, if you only eat one type of food, you’re depriving yourself and your baby of essential nutrients.
Don’t forget that everything you ingest goes into your breastmilk. Those nutrients and flavors help your baby grow, building strength and immunity that will see them through. Again, I have to tell you; that you’re not going to win the battle of the c-section bulge by starving yourself. Focus on eating right, and you’re going to see those results. As soon as I listened to this advice from Carrie, I started noticing my clothes getting looser.
Step Four: SLEEP!
I know it seems like an exercise in futility, but lack of sleep causes mega-problems for weight loss. First of all, it has a direct impact on the way your metabolism functions. So it messes everything up there. Secondly, it can cause problems in milk production. It also throws your hormones further out of whack (like you need any more drama there), making smart food choices very hard.
When you’re overtired, you are much more likely to go for drive-thru burgers rather than make a salad and a healthy sandwich on whole-grain bread. You’re even more likely to eat a tub of ice cream or an entire tray of brownies (yup, it happened to me too).
It is tough to get enough sleep with a newborn in the house. Yet, you need to do it for your health. Have your husband, friends, and family step up by taking over so you can nap. Ask hubby to get up in the middle of the night and feed the baby with the milk you pumped. This phase isn’t going to last forever, but if you can get more sleep, you’ll be better off for your health all around.
Additionally, it can be trying to cook healthy meals when you feel like, as I called it, a “boob slave” to your baby. See if anyone can help cook healthy freezer meals before you deliver your baby, so all you have to do is heat it up.
Step Five: Water, Water, Water!
Even those of us who haven’t had a baby in years now will mistake the signs of thirst for hunger. I’m so guilty of that, so I started strategically putting things around my house so I’d have to walk by our water jug and fill up.
Hydration is always important, but it is vital for the breastfeeding mama. It affects your milk supply and keeps you from having silly cravings too. Much of the time, when you’re thinking, “Cookies! Cookies! Cookiesssss!!!!!” your body really wants you to give it some water.
Tired of water?
Try adding a slice of lemon or other fruit into it to add some natural flavor plus vitamins. That should help you drink more of it down without adding sugar or calories. I still do that to this day when I’ve been bad about getting my hydration game on.
And now, for the DON’T
Yes, that’s a simple list, but I swear, that’s all you need to get your body back after your c-section. Exercise too, but I wanted to put it into my DON’T section here simply because you can’t exercise as you did before, baby.
For example, you probably want to do those planks and tons of crunches to help firm your belly back up along with cardio. But if you have diastasis recti, you will do more harm than good.
Dia…what? That’s when your ab muscles separate during pregnancy. It happens to many women, and even women who deliver vaginally may experience it. You can check here to see if you have it.
And if you do, don’t cry. You’ll just have to get that taken care of before you can launch into your old ab workouts. I found a handy leaflet with exercises to help you repair diastasis recti so you can return to the old you!
So, do those exercises first if you have diastasis recti and focus on building stability and cardio.
DON’T Use Belts or Girdles
In China, they gave us a pregnancy belt right after the c-section both times. But once you start healing up, you don’t need to wear it daily. In fact, you should let your core muscles get back to their usual selves. So say no to girdles and things like that. Corsets might seem tempting, but they will only weaken you in the core.
Your core needs to get strong again. It’s so tempting to try to squash it all back into place, but again, see my tips up above, and you WILL get rid of that belly, I promise.
DON’T Leave Your Core Vulnerable
So, while you don’t want to wear a girdle or corset, you do want to protect your core. Keeping your spine neutral and your shoulders relaxed will help you focus on your core. You don’t want to push your abs forward during this time, especially if you have diastasis recti. Take care of your core, and you’ll avoid other backaches and incontinence problems.
DON’T Overdo It
Once your doctor gives you the green light to exercise again, you might be tempted to exercise all the time. You can’t make it go any faster, so enjoy the ride. Pushing yourself too hard too soon will result in injuries, especially if you don’t check to see if your abs separated.
You can also tear other muscles that you might not have worked while you were pregnant, putting you out of commission for longer. Take it slow and steady in this race, and you will win, I assure you of that.
Wait…Why Am I Gaining Weight After Baby?
Some of you, despite breastfeeding, might notice the scale moving up in number instead of down. It’s common for hormones to cause you to gain weight at the beginning. These fluctuations are only temporary, though.
And I’ve got to be honest here…for my eldest, I indulged like crazy during my pregnancy and was not as active as I should have been. That caught up to me big time after I gave birth. If you’re currently pregnant, do yourself a favor. Establish good eating, sleeping, and exercise habits now. This is what I did when I was pregnant with my youngest, and it made all the difference in making the weight loss happen after my post-partum checkup.
Sometimes you decide that eating a slice of cake is best for your sanity, and I’m here to say I feel you, sister. However, you will run into problems when you start using those things to cope with the stresses of being a new mom (it IS stressful).
I’m not a believer in full-on deprivation either. I’ve been down that road myself, which only leads to stuffing your gullet with more of what you shouldn’t be eating.
Balance has always served me well when it comes to my health. I had to work on retraining my taste buds to crave healthier foods, but once I did, it was a lot easier to stick to a healthy plan. One of the secrets to my success was writing down every little thing I ate.
Honestly, I’d forget I’d grabbed a handful of M&Ms or ate 2 slices of cheese while I was in the kitchen. By seeing where I strayed, I could change my habits for the better. I also started prioritizing my sleep and stopped making exercise excuses.
No one said this would be easy, but you are worth it. You will get there. Treasure your innermost self and nourish it with the same love you give your baby, and you will soon find your way back into those pre-baby clothes; I know it!
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California, where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs.
She loves eating too much sushi, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.