Try these four proven activities plus simple weight-loss tips to get your body back.
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.
"The first six months are critical," says Lovelady, who notes that while you can lose the baby weight after six months, your risk for obesity is higher the longer you wait. Lovelady also notes that exercise has other advantages, such as strengthening the heart and helping prevent type II diabetes. Not to mention the mental benefits: While Gifford is pleased with her weight loss, she says she now runs "as much for my sanity as for weight loss."
Work the weight off
Losing those post-pregnancy pounds starts with simple baby steps. To get started, choose your favorite activity from the four below, or combine the four how-to moves shown—one from each activity—for a complete full-body workout. You can begin exercising six weeks after delivery (wait longer if you had a Cesarean section), but be sure to check with your doctor first.
Get Started: Try a Stroller Fit or Stroller Strides class. These outdoor classes mix toning exercises with walking or jogging, and moms exercise with their bambinos. Ready to run? Check out fitness writer (and mom) Sarah Bowen Shea's blog, marathonmoms.blogspot.com.
How-To: Stand tall, keeping your abs in and shoulders back. Walk straight ahead as you strike the ground with your heel and roll through your foot. After a few weeks of regular walking (and with your doctor's approval) incorporate running into your routine. Alternate between 1 minute each of fast-paced walking and light jogging. Cool down with a slow walk for 5 minutes, then stretch your legs and lower back for 5 minutes, breathing slowly.
Get Started: Stretch and tone while your baby naps by following Element: AM & PM Yoga for Beginners , a DVD featuring yoga master Elena Brower, who has led Gwyneth Paltrow through countless poses.
How-To: To do a Plank (shown), come to all fours, placing your wrists under your shoulders. Keeping your neck straight, pull your abs in and straighten your legs until your body is in a straight line from head to heels. Tuck your tailbone under, squeezing your buttocks. Hold this for 10 seconds, working up to 1 minute.
Get Started: Take a pilates class to ensure you get the nuances of the moves right. Go to pmapilatescertified.com to find well-trained teachers in your area. Once you master the mat-based moves, you can do Element: Pilates Weight Loss for Beginners , a DVD led by Brooke Siler, who has trained Madonna.
How-To: To do Hundreds (shown), lie on your back with your knees bent. Place your hands behind your head. Inhale, then exhale as you contract your abdominals and lift your head and shoulders off the floor. Straighten your legs to a 45-degree angle, then extend your arms, palms down. Pump your arms rhythmically, inhaling through your nose for 5 counts, then exhaling out of your mouth for 5 counts. Work up to 100 counts, total.
Get Started: Grab a copy of Weight Training for Dummies . Written by new moms Suzanne Schlosberg and Liz Neporent, the exercise guide includes easy-to-understand instructions and how-to photos.
How-To: To do a lunge (shown), stand with feet hip-width apart. Place your hands on your hips and pull your abs in. Step forward with your left foot, bending your left knee to a 90-degree angle as you lower your right knee toward the floor; then, step back with your left foot. Repeat, stepping forward with your right foot. Do 5 times on each side, building up to 20 times, total.
Six Ways to Shed the Baby Fat
It takes a combination of healthy eating, exercise and behavioral change to lose weight effectively. Here are six strategies to shed those extra pounds:
1 • Harness Your Hunger Healthy meals and snacks contribute to productivity and energy. Plan to nibble on something every three to four hours, or you'll become way too hungry to make smart food decisions.
2 • Breastfeed Nursing burns 600 to 800 calories a day, so even if all you do is sit comfortably and feed your baby, you could still be losing weight. But be aware that as soon as you stop or taper off breastfeeding, your calorie needs will plummet, so cut your calorie intake or increase your activity level.
3 • Eat Plenty of Veggies Vegetables have fewer calories per serving than practically any other food. Plus, their high fiber content promotes a feeling of fullness, making it easier to eat less.
4 • Take Naps Research shows sleep loss negatively impacts the hormones that regulate how hungry you feel and how efficiently you burn calories. Nap when the baby does and you'll be able to grab a few extra hours of rest.
5 • Use Smaller Plates A 2006 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that people serve themselves more food when using larger spoons and plates, while downsizing the dish size had the opposite effect. Eating on smaller plates is a simple tool for controlling how much you put in your mouth.
6 • Exercise with a Friend Make a fitness appointment with a pal and you're a lot less likely to make excuses. Together you can stroll your babies or hike at a local park.