Have you ever found yourself apologizing for looking like you had a baby?
You know, you get talking and before you know it you’re saying something like, “I’m going to get to the gym again soon. It’s just been so busy you know? But I’m going to lose this weight and get my body back soon.”
Yeah. I get it.
I remember after having my baby I felt a huge urge to get back to the gym and look like I wasn’t even pregnant at some point in my life. It just seemed like the thing I needed to do.
Instead of focusing on bonding with my baby, figuring out this whole breastfeeding business, and giving myself permission to relax and recover, I was already thinking about all the workouts I would do to “bounce back”.
(Luckily I realized how damaging that mindset was – physically and mentally – and I found the support I needed to see things differently. Which is what I hope to share with you today – and most days).
So yeah. I really do get it.
There’s so much pressure – pressure you put on yourself and pressure you get from the world around you – to look like you never even had a baby.
It’s almost like you’ve failed at something if you can’t give birth and have a six pack eight short weeks later.
Doesn’t seem fair, does it?
Instead of celebrating women for creating a literal miracle with their bodies, we’re shaming them into restricting calories and hitting the gym hard or going running to lose the weight long before their body is remotely ready for anything like that.
So this begs the question, is fat loss actually a smart goal to have in the first year postpartum?
Should that really be your focus?
Is it safe/okay/healthy to try to lose the weight as quickly as possible?
Let me just come right out and say it (this probably won’t surprise you)…
I’m not a fan of putting the focus on fat loss – especially not in the first year postpartum.
Well there are actually some scientific reasons – beyond just my opinion – that suggest weight loss may be darn near impossible in those first few months.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, how awful is it that we feel so much pressure to lose the weight that we sometimes fall into bad habits and put our bodies and mental health in danger simply because we feel like we’re supposed to look a certain way so soon after giving birth?
That can’t be healthy. That isn’t healthy.
So between the science and the negative consequences that come out of that pressure to drop the pounds, weight loss may not be the most fulfilling option for you right now.
Key word being right now.
This doesn’t mean it’s never okay to focus on losing weight – if that’s what you really want. It just may not work out in your favor at this particular moment in time.
Here’s why. Let’s start with the science first.
The two highly influential, scientifically valid reasons why fat loss may be incredibly hard (if not impossible) in that first year(ish) postpartum are:
And the kicker is, these things may be completely out of your control.
(Try telling a 3 month old that mommy just needs a few more hours of sleep so if they could just lay there quietly for a while that’d be great. Yeah. Right!)
So because these two things are largely out of your control, that means the number on the scale may be out of your control too.
For example, if you’re breastfeeding you may not get the whole “Oh the weight just fell right off me” experience.
For some women, breastfeeding does nudge their body to drop some weight.
For others, it may cause them to hold on to the weight or even gain more weight.
This is because there’s a cocktail of hormones flowing around your body right now that send signals to your fat cells to hold on for dear life so that there’s enough to go around for you and baby.
(Our bodies haven’t caught onto the fact that we have access to the drive-thru 24/7 these days 😉 ).
This means that you can fight against your hormones all you want, my friend, but that weight may just not budge until baby is off the boob.
So, strike #1: the hormones (like prolactin) that breastfeeding produces can actually increase your appetite and encourage your body to hold onto fat.
That doesn’t sound like the ideal environment for weight loss, does it?
Secondly, if you’re sleep deprived – which most (all?) moms typically are – that lack of sleep could also impact your ability to lose weight.
Sleep is crucial for weight loss (and so many other functions in our body).
We’re hungrier when we’re sleep deprived.
We crave more sweet, salty, carb-y foods when we’re sleep deprived.
We have a harder time losing fat when we’re sleep deprived.
And yes, there are some things you can do to get a better night’s rest. But sometimes it’s just out of our control (4 month sleep regression anyone?)
So, strike #2: sleep deprivation can also impact your results on the scale. A lot.
This means that, between the hormones and the lack of sleep, you’ve got two big obstacles to your weight loss journey that are largely out of your control.
So fat loss may not be your best option right now because you may end up just setting yourself up to be disappointed.
Now, I’m not trying to be all doom and gloom and make you feel like you’re never going to lose weight.
I’m actually here to help take some pressure off your back if you’ve been trying and it hasn’t been happening and you’re wondering why.
At some point – if you really do want to lose weight and you use some proven tools and strategies – it will happen.
Your hormones will fluctuate back to more normal levels once baby weans.
Your baby will start sleeping through the night (and so will you).
And then maybe weight loss will happen more smoothly at that point.
But until then, you don’t need to beat yourself up and assume that you’re doing something wrong because the weight isn’t budging.
It may really, truly not be your fault. At all.
There are factors outside your control. And as much as you may want things to be different, they unfortunately aren’t.
So putting the pressure on yourself to lose the weight – especially in those first few months – just feels like a cruel punishment, if you ask me, because you have at least 2 strikes against you before you even try.
And we don’t want to simply consider the fact that it may actually be biochemically impossible for you to lose as much weight as you want, there’s another reason I don’t recommend you focus on fat loss in the first year postpartum.
When you get this idea in your head of what you should look like, it may cause you to push through pain or uncomfortable feelings at the gym that could lead to injury and impact the rest of your life.
We throw around the term “Just listen to your body and you’ll be fine” like it’s no big deal.
But when you’re so focused on reaching that goal and getting your “body back” how often do you really listen?
Yes, listening to our bodies is a great tip. But most of us have the built-in programming to switch that flip in our brain that says “ignore the pain, ignore the pressure, ignore that uncomfortable feeling because I need to push through or else I’ll never get there. I’ll never see my abs again!”
So we do just that.
We ignore the signs, symptoms and inklings that we should pull back, take a break, not go so hard because we’re so focused on getting our bodies back that we can’t accept the idea that we’ll look like this for a year (or more).
And that’s hard.
It’s not easy to let that go.
You can’t just recite “I love my body. I’m grateful for my body” twenty times a day and suddenly have oodles of confidence.
Which is why this is the 3rd reason (and probably the most important reason) I don’t recommend you focus on fat loss in the first year postpartum.
Because, is fat loss actually a healthy goal if you’re suffering physically, emotionally, or mentally to get there?
Your body went through some miraculous changes in such a short amount of time.
You deserve more than being sold the idea that you need to bounce back.
Especially not right now.
And I don’t want you to feel pressured into a situation where you’re doing more harm than good simply because some bikini model was back on the runway six weeks after having a baby and the headlines scream “If She Can Do It, So Can You.”
No. No thank you.
It’s time for a change.
It’s time to embrace the idea that looking like a mama is one of the best compliments you could ever get because it means that you accomplished something extraordinary.
You created life.
That adorable little person is here because of you.
You don’t need to apologize for the way you look.
You sacrificed (and continue to sacrifice) so much to nurture that tiny soul.
Please don’t sacrifice your confidence too.
Because happiness doesn’t come in a specific size of jeans.
And if you’re really after feeling confident, strong, beautiful, healthy, joyful, worthy… the size of your jeans (or yoga pants 😉 ) doesn’t need to change to make that happen.
So no. I don’t think fat loss is the best goal to have in your first year postpartum.
Between the hormones, lack of sleep, and falling into the trap of ignoring your body and punishing it back into shape, I don’t think it’s worth it.
Maybe one day.
But not today.
Today it’s okay to grab that extra bit of tummy and remind yourself that that’s there because you, my friend, are one incredible warrior of a mama.
It’s not always easy to remember that, but you deserve to be reminded of it.
P.S. Have a friend who needs to read this? Please send it to her.
Joanna Drzaszcz says
Love this article! So I’m one of the people who’s weight “came right off”. People often tell me “You look so great! You look like you didn’t even have a baby just a few weeks ago!” And my automatic response is being flattered but it’s because I don’t know how to say that’s not exactly something to be proud of or excited about. How would you respond to that?
Jenna Dalton says
Such a great question, Joanna! I had a similar experience – people telling me “It looks like you didn’t even have a baby!” and I often felt weird and awkward and didn’t know how to respond. One time I even said “Oh. Well I did.” Haha!
As time went on and I worked on my response, I found that I was a lot more comfortable saying something like, “Thank you. I FEEL good.” Because I’m respecting that the other person is trying to be nice and give a compliment – as much as I wish the focus wasn’t so much on how you look post-baby, it’s just the way a lot of the world runs – so I thank them. But I take the focus off of how I look and put the emphasis on the way I feel instead.
Or I’d say something like, “Thanks! It’s definitely been a challenge adjusting to being a mom and my body does feel different but I’m working on feeling good and happy in my body.” Again, something like that takes the emphasis off of the aesthetic side of things, and opens up the doors for a deeper conversation about body after baby beyond how a woman looks (if the person is interested in going there). And, again, you’re still thanking them for their attempt at a compliment and appreciating that they are trying to be nice. Some people just don’t even realize how deeply ingrained the “must look like I never had a baby” mindset goes, and how devastating it can be for moms. Which is why it’s a great time to have that conversation – after a comment like that – if you’re comfortable and they’re willing.
And – before I go – I just wanna say that, to be honest, it’s okay to be proud or excited about your body looking a certain way. It’s okay to want to look a certain way – just not at the expense of your emotional or physical health. Your body is just doing what your genetics designed it to do. It’s amazing that you can grow a human and then a few weeks later your body goes through all these changes to help bring you back into some kind of balance postpartum. For you that means that your muscle tone and weight came back to a place where they were pre-baby – or at least close to it. And that’s cool. I’m glad you aren’t focused on how you look to the detriment of your health. But you also don’t have to shy away from appreciating how you look – as long as it’s coming from a healthy place. Sound good?