After giving birth to her second son just 17 months after her first one, Sarah Gifford of Portland, Ore., topped the scales at 165 pounds—far too much weight for her 5-foot frame. Gifford, 35, hadn’t lost the baby weight after her first pregnancy, but this time she was serious about slimming down. Seven weeks after her baby was born, clad in maternity shorts and her husband’s T-shirt, Gifford slowly ran a mile around the local track. Six months later, she could run up to nine miles—and she was 40 pounds lighter.
Move it to lose it
Many new moms find exercise the key to losing the baby weight, and studies support their experience. A 2007 Harvard University study of new moms found that women who walked 30 minutes each day had a 34 percent lower chance of retaining a significant amount of weight (defined as 11 pounds or more) at their baby’s first birthday. Research also shows that exercise helps new moms preserve muscle mass—and thus appear more toned—than moms who drop weight just by dieting.
Combine nutrition with exercise
Weight loss also hinges on smart food choices. In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, Cheryl A. Lovelady, Ph.D., R.D., a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, followed 40 overweight breastfeeding moms starting at one-month postpartum. One group achieved a 500-calorie-a-day deficit by following a nutritious diet and doing moderate exercise, primarily walking. The other moms didn’t modify their eating habits or exercise. After four months, the diet-and-exercise group had lost 10 pounds; the other group had lost only 1 pound on average, and some had actually gained weight.