Back in action

Get your life-—and your body-—in shape again. Try our cool new mini-workouts and these tips from moms.

During both my maternity leaves, I received more than my fair share of parenting tips. There was the put-the-baby-on-a-schedule-right-away advice, the carry-her-around-all-day-in-a-sling advice, the put-her-to-sleep-on-her-tummy advice and the ever popular it's-time-to-get-that-baby-on-a-bottle advice.

I ended up ignoring most of it — except for two bits of wisdom. The first, relayed to me by a new mom from work, was a gem. "Keep water bottles in different places all over the house so you always have something to drink when you sit down to breastfeed," she advised. The second, from my obstetrician, was to keep the diaper bag packed and waiting by the front door so getting out of the house was relatively simple. OK, they weren't rocket science, but these two tips helped me stay moderately sane during my daughters' infancy.

The truth is, just one piece of brilliant advice can make new motherhood a little easier, whether it's a tip on fitting just a bit of exercise into your day or an easy dinner suggestion. The following pearls of wisdom — from moms and other experts around the country — are guaranteed to help you feel a little more comfortable with your exciting, exhausting new role.

Ask for help or hire it Ask friends to bring dinner. See if your mother-in-law can fold laundry while you nurse. Leave the baby with your husband while you go to the gym. Hire a cleaner to scour your house once a month. Just don't try to do it all yourself. Allyson Tripp Rozell, of Burnaby, British Columbia,

Canada, learned this the hard way. "I think if I'd had more help the first weeks, it wouldn't have taken so long to recover physically," she says.

Find a support network Whether you hook up with new moms over the Internet or through your childbirth preparation class, finding a community of like-minded people is key to keeping your sanity. Marian Bigelow of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., has fond memories of the mom-and-baby exercise class she took after her son was born. "Just to know there were 10 other people who understood what I was going through was such a relief," she says. "I didn't have to pretend or apologize."

Get movin' "You can even just do abdominal contractions or Kegels while you're feeding the baby," says Julie Tupler, R.N., author of Maternal Fitness (Simon & Schuster, 1996). Or dance or play with your baby on the floor.

Make it easy to eat right Keep the local pizza delivery number handy. As Jeanne Goldberg, director of Tufts University Center for Nutrition Communication in Boston points out, pizza, salad and a glass of milk is a quick, nutritious meal.

Pamper yourself After her first baby was born, Maureen Carey of Chicago made it a point to have a shower, get dressed and put on makeup first thing each day. Carey brought son Simon into the bathroom in his bouncer and strung toys from a cabinet to keep him occupied while she relaxed in the shower. "If you don't make the effort," she says, "you'll be in your pajamas all day." Some moms make sure to get up before baby just to have time to themselves.

Sing It's guaranteed to soothe both you and your baby, says Deborah Raoult, co-director of the Center for Aplomb and Yoga in Rochester, N.Y. "You're breathing in deeply, so you feel calmer — and more energized."

Buy a good breast pump An efficient electric breast pump lets you get out on your own without worrying that your baby will be hungry. "I made sure there was breast milk in the fridge and freezer," says Linda Sundlin of Los Angeles. "That way, my husband could feed the baby if I just had to have a full night's sleep."

Go on a date with your husband Whether it's dinner, a movie or a stroll around the block, don't neglect your spouse, says Gayle Peterson, Ph.D, a Berkeley, Calif., psychotherapist who counsels new parents on the Web site "Your marriage is the garden in which your baby is growing. Keeping it healthy is important for all of you."

Go on a date with friends "I do a girls' night out with a group of moms," says Karen Ohlson of Oakland, Calif. "The dads watch the kids, and we go out, have fun and let off steam."

Savor every day "There's only one really important thing to focus on," says Stacey Marien of Chapel Hill, N.C., "and that's your baby. They grow up so fast. Why worry about anything else?"

Keep it simple "I spent most of my time feeling guilty because I wasn't getting anything done," admits Jacquelyn Zaremba of Louisville, Colo., remembering the first few months of her daughter's life. "After a while, I scaled my plans way back and started feeling much better."

Snuggle with your baby Jane Ross of Austin, Texas, took the old advice "nap when you baby naps" one step further by bedding down with her daughter at naptime. According to breastfeeding advocacy group La Leche League International, she had the right idea. "Napping with your baby is one of the best things a nursing mom can do," says the League's Carol Huotari. "It gives the baby more opportunities to nurse, so you know she's getting plenty of nourishment, and you're stimulating your milk supply at the same time."