By Suz Redfearn
content provided by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School
From the moment the baby weight starts to accumulate on our bodies, the scheming begins about how to drop the pounds once the little one arrives. After your baby is born and your days gradually begin to regain somewhat of a routine, it’s time to put your ideas into action. If you’re not sure exactly how to begin, here are seven proven steps for working your way back to your prepregnancy bod—or better!
1 Get up and move
Most new moms are too sleep-deprived and overwhelmed to even think about exercise. That’s perfectly OK, says exercise physiologist and postpartum-fitness expert Renee M. Jeffreys, M.S. Most women’s bodies aren’t ready for serious exercise until six weeks after giving birth, anyway—longer if they’ve had a Cesarean section.
Start by walking around the block, Jeffreys says. If it feels good and doesn’t cause or exacerbate bleeding, walk a little farther the next day. Do this until your six-week checkup, after which you should be ready to do 20 to 30 minutes of cardio 3 to 5 times a week.
You don’t even have to leave your neighborhood: The Surgeon General says that pushing a stroller 11¼2 miles in 30 minutes burns 150 calories. So does walking up and down stairs for 15 minutes.
When you’re breastfeeding, you need an extra 500 calories a day, or about 2,700 total. But since breastfeeding burns 600 to 800 calories a day, even if all you do is sit comfortably and feed your baby, you could still be losing weight.
Some lucky women can drop all their baby fat, and then some, through breastfeeding alone. That happened to Tiffany Tinson of Bronxville, N.Y. Six months after giving birth to her first child, Connor, Tinson had dipped to 10 pounds below her prepregnancy weight, even though she was eating more and not exercising much. “I attribute it all to breastfeeding,” she says.
But be aware that as soon as you stop or taper off breastfeeding, or begin supplementing your baby’s diet with solids, your calorie needs will plummet. You could really pack on the weight if you don’t adjust your diet downward and/or your exercise routine upward.
3 Lift weights, get strong
Weight training will go a long way toward speeding up your metabolism. However, instead of going to the gym or investing in a set of dumbbells right away, Jeffreys suggests incorporating your baby into your routine. Hold the baby to your chest and do lunges, say, or do lunges behind the stroller as you walk. Or lie on your back, holding the baby above your chest, and slowly press her up toward the ceiling several times.
If you’re unsure about what you’re doing, hire a personal trainer with a certification in prenatal and postnatal fitness for a few weeks to get you on the right track.
4 Watch calories and fat
Say no to empty-calorie foods like sodas and chips, as well as fad diets that eliminate entire food groups. Instead, fill your diet with a variety of nutrient-rich meals containing lean protein, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and plenty of low-fat dairy products, says Tammy Baker, M.S., R.D., a Phoenix-based dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
Experts advise against going on a diet right after giving birth. “To get your body back, you have to think health first,” Baker says. “Your body is working to repair itself.”
And try to spread out all those fresh vittles. Eating small, frequent meals throughout the day will keep your blood- sugar levels steady and help prevent you from overeating, Baker says. Keep in mind that if your calories are distributed throughout the day, they’re metabolized more efficiently and are less likely to be stored as fat.
And watch the juices. All the vitamin C you need for one day is in a small glass of orange juice. Any more than that and you’ll be drinking unnecessary calories.
5 Take naps
“Getting plenty of sleep has been shown to help with weight loss because you’re not compelled to binge on high-calorie, high-sugar foods for energy,” says Sheah Rarback, M.S., R.D., director of nutrition at the Mailman Center for Child Development at the University of Miami School of Medicine. Strange sleep cycles like those forced on you by a newborn can upset your metabolism and make it harder for you to lose your pregnancy weight, Rarback says. Take a nap anytime the baby does, housework be damned. That way, you won’t end up with a long-term sleep deficit, and you’ll keep your energy levels and your potentially naughty cravings in check.
Whatever you do, don’t sacrifice sleep for exercise time in those early weeks. If you don’t sleep enough, you won’t have enough energy for satisfying workouts, anyway.
6 Eat healthful snacks
Eating too much sugar can send your blood-sugar levels on a roller-coaster ride. And when your blood sugar drops, you’re more likely to eat the first thing you can get your hands on. So skip the sugary treats. To avoid temptation, keep only nutritious foods at your fingertips. And stock up on low-fat milk and yogurt for snacks, as studies have shown that calcium from milk and yogurt actually can aid weight loss by blocking a hormone that allows the body to store fat.
Also, eat high-fiber snacks like figs and raisins or whole-wheat crackers with veggies, suggests Rarback. They can fill you up and help with digestion and regularity.
7 Get with other new moms
It can be helpful to connect with other moms for regular exercise. Carolyn Pione of Baton Rouge, La., just didn’t feel she had the energy or the time to exercise after she had her baby in 1999. Then, some pals who had formed an early-morning running group showed up on her doorstep urging her to join.
At first Pione, who had gained 38 pounds during her pregnancy, couldn’t keep up. But before long she felt compelled to catch up, and besides, she didn’t want to miss out on the friendly conversation. She lost all of her baby weight and now runs in 5k’s, something she never would have worked up to without the help of the group. “Alone, it would have been impossible,” she says.