For mere mortals, though, post-pregnancy weight loss can feel like a fairy tale.
A new study from the University of Chicago supports prior evidence that pregnancy can be a risk factor for obesity. The study found nearly 75 percent of women weighed more a year after giving birth than they did before they got pregnant, and many of them became obese. Among women in a normal weight range before pregnancy, nearly half kept on more than 10 pounds a year later, nearly 25 percent retained 20 pounds or more.
A key limitation is that the 800 women in the study had an average body mass index in the overweight range. While that doesn’t mean that normal-weight women could not find themselves holding onto pregnancy weight a year after giving birth, the overweight women in the study likely had a harder time losing weight.
“The implication there is that it’s probably a little bit harder for them to lose,” said TODAY medical contributor Dr. Natalie Azar.
Azar sat down with TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie on Monday to break down the new research:
- Gaining too much weight during pregnancy. Healthy women with a BMI of 18.5-24.9 should gain 25-35 pounds during pregnancy, according to guidelines from the Institute of Medicine.
- Having a high body mass index before getting pregnant. Overweight pregnant women with a BMI of 25-29.9 should gain 15-25 pounds. Pregnant women with a BMI over 30 should gain 11-20 pounds. You can calculate your body-mass index here.
The best way to lose the baby weight?
Get started in the weeks and months before conception. “You want to be a healthy, active person,” Azar said. “You want to be healthy when you enter into a pregnancy.”
Women who exercise regularly during pregnancy and gain the appropriate amount of weight tend to have an easier time losing weight after their baby is born. Keep exercising during pregnancy, and resume your physical activity, with your doctor’s permission, as soon after delivery as you can.
Concerns about carrying extra post-pregnancy pounds aren't about making new moms feel guilty.
Dr. Rebecca Brightman, a New York obstetrician-gynecologist, told TODAY: “Down the road, as [women] get older, they potentially are at increased risk of cardiac disease, diabetes and all the other complications, including certain cancers, that are associated with being overweight.”
Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter.