You may have read that a healthy weight gain during pregnancy is between 25-35 pounds. You start doing the math and panic. “If my baby only weights 8 pounds at birth, is all the rest of that FAT I have to loose?!”
Not at all. Let’s look at what the body does to prepare for carrying, delivering and feeding your newborn, and you’ll get a better idea of where that weight gets distributed.
One fact I found amazing when I was pregnant was that your body will actually make more blood during pregnancy-- up to 50% more than you normally have in your body. This blood volume is needed for blood flow to the uterus, extra needs of the fetus, (nutrients and oxygen are carried in the blood for the baby), and to make up for blood loss during delivery. This blood can weigh up to 4 pounds. Once the baby is born, your blood volume will slowly return to its normal amount.
Your uterus is normally the size of a small, upside down pear. During the course of pregnancy, it grows to accommodate the size of your baby (imagine the size of a small watermelon). This can add two to five pounds of weight. The placenta is an organ that grows within the uterus and attaches to the uterine wall. It provides the exchange of nutrients, oxygen and eliminates wastes from your baby. The placenta begins to grow as the baby grows, and can weigh 2-3 pounds. The placenta is delivered after the baby (yes, you have to push it out, just like the baby, but it is SO much easier!). There is also between 2-3 pounds of amniotic fluid in which the baby lives.
The other changes your body undergoes are in preparation for breastfeeding. The size of your breasts will increase, adding breast tissue to accommodate lactation. You can expect an increase anywhere from 2-3 pounds. This weight will not come off until you wean your baby and stop breastfeeding, and the body adjusts when it no longer produces milk.
Your body will also put fat on reserve, which converts to energy to make milk. This is a survival mechanism. Evolution has created a safe guard against starvation for your baby. Your body will pack on a few extra pounds, (anywhere from 5-9 pounds or so), so that in the event you weren’t able to get enough food for a few days (think cave man era), your body would have enough fat on hand to keep you and your baby alive.
So, let’s add all that up:
The baby itself, on average is 8 pounds.
Increase blood volume 4 pounds
The uterus 2-5 pounds
The placenta is 2-3 pounds
Amniotic fluid 2-3 pounds
Breast tissue increase 2-3 pounds (so this won’t come off until you are done breastfeeding.)
Fat stores for breastfeeding 5-9 pounds
Immediately after deliver, you may not notice a large decrease in weight. Do not be discouraged. Your body retains a great deal of water towards the end of your pregnancy, and around delivery. You may even feel “swollen” (I remember my fingers looked like sausages). This will return to normal as your hormones adjust themselves, and you get up and move around again.
Your body will adjust slowly to the fact that it is no longer carrying a baby. Hormone levels will change, signaling for metabolic changes, etc. Reversing months and months of change takes time. I am normally a very active person, (and I wasn’t able to breast feed due to cholesterol medication I take), so my body had no excuse to hang on to those emergency breast-feeding pounds, but it did. It took me almost a full year to get to my pre baby weight. I had to keep telling myself “It took ten months to get into a full term pregnant body, why shouldn’t I give myself ten months to get back?”