Everything you need to know about your post-pregnancy belly

Wondering why you still look pregnant, even though you've already had your baby? It takes time for your body to recover from pregnancy. Here's what to expect.

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Why does my postpartum belly make me still look pregnant?

During pregnancy, your uterus and the ligaments, skin, and muscles around your belly stretch considerably. Even after you're holding your new baby in your arms, you'll likely still have a round, squishy midsection that may make you look like you're several months pregnant.

It takes time for your body – especially your belly – to fully recover from pregnancy. Imagine your abdomen as a balloon, slowly inflating as your baby grows. Childbirth doesn't pop that balloon; it just starts a slow leak. (But don't worry – it's a steady one.)

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The moment you give birth, hormonal changes cause your uterus to start contracting back to its pre-pregnancy state. In addition, the cells in your body that swelled during pregnancy begin to release their extra fluid, which is eliminated through urine, vaginal secretions, and sweat.

It takes six to eight weeks for your uterus to return to its normal size, but for some moms, it may take much longer for their post-pregnancy belly to return to "normal." For other new moms, they may find that their bellies take on a permanently different new appearance.

After you give birth, the extra fat your body stored to nourish your baby will start burning off, especially as you start easing into postpartum exercise, though it will take some time to notice results. It will also take time to establish an exercise routine again, as you recover from childbirth, restore your energy levels, and get used to your new role as parent.

The skin on your postpartum belly may change as well: Many women have a dark line down their abdomen, called a linea nigra, and a web of stretch marks on their stomach after birth, tiny scars caused by the skin's extensive stretching. If you had a c-section, your incision will take time to heal and fade – though many new moms find pride in embracing their c-section scar.

Stretch marks usually become considerably less noticeable six to 12 months postpartum, as their pigmentation fades and they become lighter than the surrounding skin (the color will vary depending on your skin color), but their texture will remain the same. The dark color of the linea nigra will gradually fade over a year, but that too may not completely disappear. Stretch mark creams may decrease the visibility of stretch marks over time, but they won’t have any impact on the linea nigra, which is caused by hormonal changes.  


How long does it take for your postpartum belly to go away after birth?

We've all heard stories of new moms whose stomachs are tight and flat immediately after giving birth. Although this does happen, it's rare. For most women, it takes months to get rid of the "pregnancy pouch" – and sometimes it never goes away entirely. The "c-section pooch," referring to the belly hanging over a c-section scar, might also be there to stay, though it will typically shrink as your body heals and you resume regular diet and exercise

Patience is key. It took nine months for your abdomen to stretch to accommodate a full-term baby, so it makes sense that it would take at least that long to tighten back up.

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Healthy eating, postpartum exercise (when you feel ready and your provider says it's okay), and plenty of patience can help you lose postpartum weight, which may help your postpartum belly return to a less "poofy" state. Just how quickly this happens depends on a variety of factors, including your pre-pregnancy weight, your pregnancy weight gain, genetics, and more.

For some moms, breastfeeding can help them lose weight, but for others it doesn’t. On average, moms experience an initial loss of around 15 pounds once they've had their baby, but then weight loss slows down and becomes more gradual. Losing weight slow and steady postpartum is normal and healthy: Trying to lose weight too quickly can interfere with your milk supply if you're breastfeeding, so it's not recommended to try to drastically cut calories.

All moms can focus on eating healthy foods from a variety of food groups – a wholesome diet can contribute to postpartum weight loss in those first few months.

What can I do to get rid of my postpartum belly?

Exercise, a nutrient-rich diet, and a solid amount of grace and patience are the best ways to approach any goals you may have to get rid of your postpartum belly.

While many moms may believe that breastfeeding is the best and quickest way to lose baby weight, research doesn't completely back this. While some studies have shown benefits correlating weight loss and breastfeeding, many others reveal miniscule differences in the amount of weight breastfeeding moms lose versus those moms who formula-feed.

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Postpartum exercise packs benefits: Whether it's a stroll around the block or a yoga class, physical activity tones the muscles in your stomach after birth and burns calories. A rigorous exercise regimen that includes an aerobic workout and movements that focus on the core can work wonders. (Before starting any exercise routine, always make sure your body is ready.)

Though core strength is essential for recovery, you can’t target fat on certain body parts (including your stomach) specifically through abdominal workouts. Instead, integrate a balance of cardiovascular exercise that burns fat throughout the body, and use core exercises such as pelvic tilts and planks to strengthen your core. Make sure you've been fully cleared by your OB or midwife before resuming exercise after a c-section, so you don’t aggravate your incision or create any other potential complications.

Some postpartum stomach bulges require more patience and attention, as it's possible that your stomach isn’t shrinking due to an underlying condition, such as diastasis recti. Your abdominal muscles separate during pregnancy, and diastasis recti occurs when the connective tissue remains separated postpartum. Diastasis isn't normally painful, and your provider can tell you whether you have this condition and suggest exercises to fix it or refer you to a physical therapist. (In some cases, surgery may be neccesary to repair it.) 

Some providers may recommend you use a postpartum belly wrap or belt to help with diastasis recti healing or other pregnancy-related conditions such pubic symphysis dysfunction. These wraps are similar to, but different than postpartum belly binding, which involves wrapping the stomach in a garment to support the abdomen and help shrink the belly back to its original size.

Studies haven’t conclusively shown whether or not wearing a postpartum belly wrap impacts the rate of weight loss, though some women anecdotally claim it helps. There are a wide variety of wraps and belts available, known for everything from helping with postpartum back pain to compressing and supporting the uterus as it returns to its original size. It’s best to talk to your provider or a pelvic floor physical therapist before using a postpartum belly wrap for any reason.

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Can I go on a diet to shrink my postpartum belly?

Weight gain during pregnancy impacts the whole body, including your belly, so losing weight at a slow and healthy pace can ultimately reduce belly fat as well. A low-calorie diet can help you lose weight postpartum, but give nature and exercise time to work first. Wait at least six weeks – and preferably a few months – before cutting back on calories, especially if you're nursing.

Adult women need around 1,600 to 2,200 calories a day to maintain a healthy weight. To lose about a pound a week, cut out 500 calories a day either by decreasing your food intake or increasing your activity level. Losing more than one pound a week may make you feel even more fatigued than you already might be, and may negatively affect your mood.

Instead of focusing on or worrying about weight loss from the get go, aim to return to healthy habits like prioritizing sleep, eating healthy whole foods, and easing into exercise that gets your body moving.

Read more:

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Mayo Clinic. 2021. Exercise after pregnancy: How to get started. a new window [Accessed March 2022]

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American Council on Exercise. 2013. Myths and Misconceptions: Spot Reduction and Feeling the Burn. a new window [Accessed March 2022]

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Alexandra Frost
Alexandra Frost is a Cincinnati-based freelance journalist, content marketing writer, copywriter, and editor focusing on health and wellness, parenting, real estate, business, education, and lifestyle. Away from the keyboard, Frost is also mom to four sons under age 7 who keep things chaotic, fun, and interesting.