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Don’t you hate women who look gorgeous postpartum?

Okay, maybe hate is the wrong word. I don’t hate you. Really. I envy you. Actually, I might hate you. Especially if you claim that some simple activity, like running after your toddler, breastfeeding, or cleaning house “makes the weight melt right off.” First of all, if you’re running postpartum, even after a toddler, then you are in way better shape than I am. I am four months postpartum and I am not going to be doing any sort of running any time soon. Ditto for any housework that might get my heart rate up. And breastfeeding? Ha. Tandem nursing a preschooler and a baby while also pumping occasionally? Does not make me skinny. I think it makes me fat.

I keep telling myself that my body is awesome, that I’ve grown two children, and that it takes at least nine months to gain the weight so you should expect nine months to lose it. (With my first pregnancy it took me three years to lose the weight, but whatever. Same diff.) Still, I can’t help but compare myself to other women with young babies. And I’ve noticed that most of them look better than I do. Which is okay, I swear. I can make up for it with my glowing personality. And my postpartum girdle.

I’ve also noticed that even though we all look a little flabby and weird postpartum, we have different types of flabby and weird. Here are some that I’ve noticed.

1. Flabby in the belly, skinny everywhere else. If this is you, people may think you’re still pregnant. Which probably drives you crazy, but it’s actually a compliment. Because pregnant women are gorgeous. And you look gorgeous. You have a little belly left — so what? At least your thighs aren’t rubbing together every time you take a step. You have defined arms and muscular legs. Give your body a little time, and the belly will probably melt away to nothing. Women with this postpartum body are usually muscular people who exercised a lot before pregnancy. If this is you, then your version of “fat” is skinnier than my version of skinny. So be happy. Don’t mind your belly. Appreciate your muscular arms.

2. Fluffy everywhere, but with curves. Another gorgeous option. Sure, you don’t look like an airbrushed model in a magazine. But you look motherly and womanly and beautiful. Really, you do. At least you have curves. This is a good thing. Moms with this body are usually small-boned women who are used to being super-skinny everywhere, so it may feel weird to have all those curves. But you should enjoy it. Curves are not a bad thing.

3. Round everywhere. That’s me. Round face, round body, round thighs, round everything. My husband has started calling my belly my “third (and biggest) boob,” which would be funny if it weren’t so true. Hey, it’s all good. Like I said, curves are not a bad thing. Even if they only curve out and never curve in. And at least I have an adorable round baby to show for it.

But no matter how wonderful your postpartum body is, chances are you’d like to change it a bit. Or at least get somewhere close to the weight you were pre-pregnancy. Or at least not stay at a weight exactly ten pounds below what you weighed the day you gave birth (which is apparently what my body would like to do). And despite the fact that I am far from an expert on this, I have at least done it once. So here are my tips on losing weight postpartum.

How to Get Your Pre-Pregnancy Body Back

First of all, you can’t. Especially if you were really skinny and had a flat stomach. You will never have a completely flat stomach again. Okay, maybe you will if you are a supermodel and hire a personal trainer, but for most of us, it’s just not possible. And even if it is flat, you will always have those stretch marks. But that’s okay. Trust me on this: after nine months of pregnancy belly, and however-many-months of postpartum belly, you can be happy with your body again. And it won’t take as much as you think. After my first pregnancy, I went on a diet for the first time in my life and lost all the baby weight — plus ten more pounds. I was extremely happy with my body. (Apparently my husband was too, because then he immediately got me pregnant again. Jerk.)

Anyway. Losing weight postpartum is a delicate issue, one that I hesitate to even talk about, because the fact that we’re so eager to do it diminishes the beautiful awesomeness of what our bodies have done during pregnancy and birth. However, I know that for me, staying at the weight where my body would like to settle postpartum is not really healthy. For some reason, my body wants to settle at about 30 pounds over what I consider my healthy weight. A weight that, according to the CDC, puts me squarely on the top end of the overweight category, just barely under obese. (I blame this on the fact that I’m so dang short. Short people are screwed in the BMI index.) But height aside, I don’t think it would be healthy for me to stay at my current weight — although it’s perfectly healthy for four months postpartum. So. I’d like to take a little less than three years to lose the weight this time (one year would be nice), and here’s how I plan to do it.

1. Eat real food. Or, as Michael Pollan says, Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. In other words, avoid processed food. Avoid the middle of the grocery store and do most of your shopping on the edges. The hard part about this is that when you’re taking care of a newborn, you really need lots of snacks that you can eat with one hand. But that doesn’t have to mean granola bars and crackers; real food options are plentiful. Vegetables with hummus and grapes are my current favorites.

2. Eat raw food. I used to always have a side of cooked (usually stir-fried or steamed) vegetables for dinner. Recently, I started serving raw vegetables with dip instead. It’s much healthier and much easier to prepare. Bonus? Anastasia is much more likely to eat it. My husband loves it too. Frequently, I’ll put it out as an afternoon snack for me and Anastasia and just leave it sitting on the table till dinnertime. Then it’s one less thing to worry about in the witching hour chaos that is dinnertime.

3. Limit desserts. If you’re good at this sort of thing and you can resist your sweet tooth in a way I never can, then you should skip dessert entirely. Or, you know, have a bowl of strawberries and call that dessert. I can’t do that. Sometimes I just really want ice cream. My solution? Only eat dessert on the weekends. It’s a lot easier for me to resist temptation on Tuesday if I know I can have chocolate ice cream and a mocha on Saturday. When I lost 30 pounds after Anastasia was born, I counted calories all week and then ate whatever I wanted on the weekends. It worked. At first I indulged a lot on the weekends, but over time my sweet tooth got less greedy, and I enjoyed healthy food more and more. But it was really helpful to have the mental break every weekend of not worrying about counting calories. It made for a diet I could stick to.

4. Eat protein. Protein is great when you’re trying to lose weight, because it fills you up. Diets that make you feel hungry are bad. Especially when you’re breastfeeding a newborn. Sometimes, it’s okay to be a little hungry in order to lose weight, but postpartum not one of those times. So eat protein. Red meat is actually really good too, because it has lots of iron, which breastfed babies (and breastfeeding moms) need. Chicken is a great source of protein with not too many calories. It’s especially good to eat protein for breakfast — that helps you feel more full all day. When I was serious about dieting after Anastasia, I started eating a hard-boiled egg for breakfast every morning. I’d boil them all on Monday and eat them throughout the week.

5. Exercise in a way that works for you. You actually can lose a lot of weight without exercising (I didn’t do any intentional exercise to lose my 30 pounds after Anastasia was born), but it’s easier and healthier to do it with exercise. Some people love exercise, but if you’re one of those people, then you probably don’t need this post. If you’re like me and you hate exercise, then the key to exercising postpartum is to find a way that works for you. This may be joining a gym with great childcare, because then exercise becomes a break from the kids instead of a chore to accomplish. You will find yourself eager to go to the gym every day because it means you get to take a shower by yourself. Suddenly, you will love exercise! But if you can’t afford a gym, or you aren’t happy with the childcare, or your baby is miserable even though the childcare is awesome, then you need to find a different option. It could be as simple as walking to the playground every day with the baby in a carrier (which is what I do), or it could be a regular walking group with other moms, or a postpartum exercise class (preferably one where babies are allowed to come). You can also get mom and baby exercise videos that show you how to use your baby as a weight for exercise. (Just don’t try those with your toddler or preschooler around. Seriously. You do not want to do push-ups with a toddler sitting on your back.)

Most importantly, though, you should recognize the beauty of your postpartum body. Your body created life and sustained it for nine months. That’s worth a few flaws. Even permanent flaws. No matter if you lose the weight or not, no matter what you look like a year from now, or even ten years from now — you are gorgeous. You are a mother. And that is one of the most beautiful things in the world.