Pregnancy is the one stage of adult life where it is not only acceptable, it is desirable to gain a substantial amount of weight. Gaining as much as 20% of one's pre-pregnancy body weight is normal but it is as important to lose the baby weight after childbirth as it is to gain it before. New research suggests that a woman's weight one year after delivery is a strong predictor of her state of health 15 years in the future.
The research, led by Dr. Ravi Retnakaran of the Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, Canada, indicates that the safest and most effective approach to returning to pre-pregnancy weight is to allow nine months to take it off, just as nine months were allowed to gain it. However, researchers don't suggest that weight loss needs to begin immediately after delivery.
The research team recruited 305 women who had their cardiometabolic fitness measured during pregnancy and again at three months and 12 months after delivery. Cardiometabolic fitness is the assessment of one's cardiovascular health and propensity for metabolic diseases that include high blood pressure and diabetes. To assess cardiometabolic fitness, the researchers measured weight, heart health, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and insulin resistance.
The women were categorized into four groups according to their weight at the 3- and 12-month marks post-delivery. Loss represents weight lost since delivery; gain represents weight gained:
- Loss (at 3 months) / Loss (as 12 months)
- Gain / Loss
- Loss / Gain
- Gain / Gain
The research revealed:
- 80% weighed more 3 months after delivery than before getting pregnant.
- 75% lost weight between 3 and 12 months.
- 25% whose weight stayed the same after delivery were more likely to develop diabetes or heart disease in coming years.
- Women who regularly exercised or played sports were the most likely to lose baby weight.
The ideal window of opportunity for losing baby weight is the nine-month period between 3 and 12 months after delivery. The research team considers it vital to lose baby weight because the cumulative effect of weight gained during subsequent pregnancies increases the risk of metabolic and heart diseases.
The research team does acknowledge that the lifestyle changes that come with a newborn does make losing weight difficult. A lack of time for exercise and lost sleep hinder the ability to safely lose baby weight.
Maureen Talbot, a senior cardiac nurse for the British Heart Foundation who was not part of the study, says it's important to overcome the difficulty of losing weight after childbirth because excess pounds increase the risk for stroke and heart attack. She urges "new mums to look after themselves as well as their baby" and encourages exercise and healthy diet.
Source: Retnakaran, Ravi, et al. "Cardiometabolic Implications of Postpartum Weight Changes in the First Year After Delivery (abstract)." Diabetes Care. American Diabetes Association. Mar 25, 2014. Web. Apr 3, 2014.