Quick Tips for Getting Back in Shape

Great moves to help you firm up, plus tips on postnatal weight loss, sex and eating well.

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Name a movie star, model or neighbor who looks fantastic and who is also a new mom. Got someone in mind? Well, there you have it: proof-positive that getting back in shape after having a baby is possible. With a little healthy know-how, there's no physical reason why you can't have a great postpartum body — even a flat belly. In this special section, we'll give you a progressive workout to get your body, especially your abdominal muscles, looking better than ever. We'll also provide tips on changing your eating habits to meet your postpartum weight goals. And we'll answer your most pressing questions about sex, exercise and weight loss, and whether breastfeeding really helps those pounds come off.

(Q) What should I do food-wise to lose my postpregnancy pounds?
(A) The "secret" formula is decidedly un-sexy, but it works: Eat well-balanced meals of protein, carbohydrates and little saturated fat. Aim to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole-grain products. Cut back on sweets, salty snacks and large amounts of cheeses and fat-marbled meats. Instead of high-calorie dressings, try vinaigrette made with a little olive oil; for creamy pasta sauces, substitute tomato-based sauces.

This sensible approach is the best way to permanently shed pounds and helps you to have optimal energy for taking care of your new baby, notes Megan A. McCrory, Ph.D., research scientist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston.

(Q)Does breastfeeding help melt away pregnancy pounds?
(A) Not necessarily. In a recent study of 236 women, those who breastfed exclusively or partially for approximately nine months lost weight at the same rate as those who bottle-fed. However, don't let this news discourage you from nursing, which has many medically proven benefits for mother and baby. "Instead, it should help you have realistic expectations about what breastfeeding can do for weight loss," says the study's lead researcher, Laura N. Haiek, M.D., M.Sc., assistant professor of family medicine at McGill University in Montreal.

(Q)Can I diet if I'm nursing?
(A) Yes — as long as you stick to a balanced diet and wait at least a month after you deliver to alter your eating habits. But don't reduce your calorie intake to below 1,800 calories a day, says McCrory, adding that combining dieting and exercise is recommended over dieting alone.

(Q)How soon can I start exercising again?
(A) Most experts say that if you had a normal vaginal delivery with no complications, you can slowly begin exercising after two weeks. But progress gradually: Start back at about 50 percent of where you left off during pregnancy; then increase your workouts in small increments. If either your pregnancy or delivery was complicated, ask your doctor when you can begin.

(Q) I'm just so tired all the time! How can I get motivated to work out again?
(A) Enlist a friend. Studies have found that exercising with a buddy is a great way to stay motivated: You're less apt to blow it off when someone is depending on you. Meet another new mom for power walks (you can both bring your babies in strollers) or meet a friend for a class at the gym.

(Q) How can I find time to exercise?
(A) Learn how to squeeze exercise in whenever you can. Got 20 minutes? Get outdoors and take a walk with your baby. Got 15 minutes? Pop in an exercise video while the baby naps or plays nearby, suggests McCrory. Be ready to cut yourself some slack, too, especially right after your baby is born. There will be days when you can't work out; just do your best.

(Q) Why do some women gain weight after having a baby?
(A) "Lifestyle factors are probably partly to blame, given what havoc new motherhood can wreak on your eating and exercise habits," says Erica P. Gunderson, Ph.D., a research scientist at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, Calif. A harried new mom may gobble any fattening food she can find. And it's easy to forgo a walk or workout after a sleepless night. If this increase in eating and decrease in exercise persists for months, the result is added pounds.

(Q) What about my sex life?
(A) Some women find caring for an infant so exhausting and stressful that sex is the last thing they want to think about. The type of delivery you had also may affect how fast feelings of desire return. According to a Harvard Medical School study of 615 women, those who had medical interventions (the use of vacuum extraction or forceps) during delivery were 270 percent more likely than others to experience painful sex at three months postpartum.
Others may find that their libido quickly returns and that they are ready to resume sex as soon as they get their doctor's OK (usually four to six weeks after delivery). If you are healed physically but you still feel sapped of desire and it's bothering you or your partner, you may want to check with your doctor.

First Exercises
With your doctor's approval, you can do the following three exercises the day after you give birth. Try to do them every day, either one a day or all together.

1. Belly Breathing With Pelvic Tilt
Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on floor. Place your hands on your belly, fingers spread. Inhale, expanding your belly into your hands; then exhale, pulling your navel in toward your spine. As you exhale, tilt the lower part of your pelvis upward, lifting your buttocks slightly off the floor. Relax and repeat. Begin with 5 reps and progress to 15.

2. Ab Slide
Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Extend your arms out by your sides, holding them slightly off the floor. Inhale; then exhale, pulling your navel toward your spine. At the same time, squeeze your shoulder blades down and back, reaching toward your feet with your hands. Hold and repeat. Begin with 5 reps and progress to 15.

3. Basic Bridge
Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor, arms relaxed by your sides. Contract your abdominals; then lift hips up off the floor until your body forms one straight line. Hold for 3–5 breaths. Repeat 4–6 times.

3 Pound-Shedding Tips
Eat in the a.m. A Swedish study found that women who ate breakfast and lunch were more likely to return to their prepregnancy weight than those who did not.
Think small. You don't have to work out every day or slash thousands of calories to see results. In a study of overweight moms who were breastfeeding, researchers found that those who exercised aerobically four days a week and decreased calorie intake by 500 calories a day each shed more than 10 pounds in 10 weeks.
Get muscular. Lifting weights revs your metabolism. Buy some dumbbells and lift them twice a week.

Get On The Ball For Perfect Posture
Want great abs? Start with your posture: Standing, sitting and bending all require the support of your abdominal muscles. Wake up those lax postpartum abs by concentrating on pulling your navel in toward your spine; eventually, you'll be able to hold the muscles in all the time. To learn how, try sitting on a stability ball, which forces the muscles to work harder to maintain control and balance. Once you've mastered sitting on the ball, you'll feel it when your abs are working. — Linda Shelton

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