Gaining weight while expecting was the easy part. Now that your baby has arrived—and you’ve finally gotten used to the endless diaper changes and lack of sleep—it’s time to tackle the remaining baby weight. If you’re not sure how to begin, here are seven steps and four of the most effective abdominal moves for working your way back to your prepregnancy body.
1. Get up and move: Most new moms are too sleepdeprived and overwhelmed to even think about exercise. That’s perfectly OK, says exercise physiologist and prenatal and postpartum fitness expert Renee M. Jeffreys, M.S., of Covington, Ky. Most women discover that their 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 as soon as you feel up to it, Jeffreys says. If it feels good and doesn’t cause or exacerbate bleeding, walk a little farther each day.
2. Breastfeed: When you’re breastfeeding, you need an extra 500 calories a day, or about 2,700 calories total. But since nursing burns 600 to 800 calories a day, you still could be losing weight even if you don’t exercise. Be aware, however, that as soon as you taper off or stop breastfeeding, or begin supplementing your baby’s diet with solids, your calorie needs will plummet and you’ll need to adjust your food intake downward and/or your exercise upward.
3. Get with other new mothers: It can be helpful to connect with other moms for regular exercise. Making a date to meet at the local park or hiking trail means you’re less likely to cancel your workout plans.
4. Do resistance training: Weight training will go a long way toward speeding up your metabolism. At about six weeks postpartum and with your doctor’s OK, invest in a set of 3- to 8-pound dumbbells and work in a postpartum weight-training video once a week. Get some more weight-bearing activity during strolls with your baby. Walk with him in a front carrier and you’ve got a real-life 10- or 12-pound weight. Or push your baby in a stroller up hills to give your thighs and butt a challenging workout.
5. Eat well and often: Eat 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. Consuming small, frequent meals throughout the day will keep your blood-sugar levels steady, Baker says. Also, if your calories are distributed throughout the day, they’re metabolized more efficiently and are less likely to be stored as fat.
6. 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’s Miller School of Medicine. Strange sleep cycles like those forced on you by a newborn can upset your metabolism, Rarback says. Be sure to nap when the baby does.
7. Snack smart: Say no to empty-calorie foods such as sodas and chips. To avoid temptation, stock up on low-fat milk, cheese and yogurt for snacks, as studies have shown that the calcium these foods contain actually can aid weight loss by preventing the hormonal response to store fat that’s triggered by inadequate calcium. Also eat high-fiber snacks such as raisins and raw vegetables, Rarback suggests. They fill you up as well as help with digestion and regularity.