Does it feel as difficult to shed those post-pregnancy kilogram as it did to go through labor? According to new research conducted by the University of Chicago, you're not alone. In fact, the study found a three-fourths of women were still heavier a year after giving birth than they were before they became mothers.
"Many of my patients are new moms who have struggled with weight gain either during or after pregnancy and find themselves in my office looking for a solution to the frustration of not being able to get back to their pre-pregnancy weight status," says Kristin Kirkpatrick, M.S., R.D., a wellness manager at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.
For the study, researchers followed 774 women and interviewed them one, six, and 12 months after they gave birth; it showed that approximately 47 percent held on to 5 extra kilograms a year afterward, while about 24 percent retained more than 10 kilograms.
"First things first: If you gain above and beyond what is considered healthy and normal during your pregnancy, either because of the perception that you're 'eating for two' or an abandonment of healthy eating and exercise patterns, it will be tough to get back to your pre-pregnancy weight," says Kirkpatrick. Beyond that, she warns, taking on excess pounds during and after pregnancy sets your baby up for a higher incidence of struggling with his or her weight, too.
Whether new mothers are suffering from hectic schedules or changes to their taste and smell or they've opted not to breastfeed, there are many reasons shedding those extra pounds can be so difficult. Real talk, though: Kirkpatrick says that if a new mother hasn't shed that baby weight by the six-month mark, it becomes even more difficult to do so.
As if that weren't enough, "a woman’s physiology changes dramatically during pregnancy to nourish the baby and prepare for childbirth," says Kirkpatrick. "These changes include increases to blood volume, metabolism—specifically to glucose, lipids, and amino acids—and [changes in] hormones."
Okay, so that's the bad news. But there are several things you can do to shave off some weight. Here, a few of Kirkpatrick's top recommendations:
1. Keep nutrient-dense foods handy. "When you reach for a snack, think fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean sources of protein," says Kirkpatrick.
2. Steer clear of fatty, sugary foods. "Once your baby transitions to solids, resist the urge—for both of you—to indulge in the macaroni and cheese, pizza, chicken nuggets, fries, and cookies."
3. If you can, consider breastfeeding. "Yes, studies vary on whether breast-feeding can lead to weight loss, but it can't hurt," says Kirkpatrick.
4. Count your calories. "Do it either by hand, with the help of a registered dietician, or by use of a phone app to ensure that you're not going over the amount of calories you need every day," says Kirkpatrick.
5. Stay hydrated. "We sometimes confuse being thirsty for being hungry," says Kirkpatrick. "Plus, you’ll need plenty of fluids after having a baby, so make sure you always have a decaffeinated drink—preferably water—on-hand."
6. Maintain your former eating schedule. "Your schedule will change, yes, but don’t let that change your eating schedule," says Kirkpatrick. "Resist the urge to skip meals."
7. Go for a jog. "If you live in a climate that permits it, register for a great jogging stroller—you don’t have to jog, by the way, just walk—and go out with your baby for at least an hour every day."
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US.