Bounce back after having your baby: Easy ways to lose the weight (and not your sanity)
Staring at the scale in shock? Knock it off! You just gave birth, and despite what the glossy celeb mags would have you believe, getting back in shape takes more than a few weeks – even for celebs! Ready to slim down? Here is what you need to know to get back in shape without going insane.
How Do I Lose the Baby Weight?
Although the standard weight loss advice is “eat less, exercise more,” new moms need to be careful about cutting calories, since you’re still healing from giving birth — and you need your energy to take care of baby. Non-breastfeeding moms need a minimum of 1500 to 1800 calories a day. Breastfeeding? Add around 200 to 500 calories per day more, which probably equates to two extra snacks. The key, especially in the early post-partum days, is to “listen to your body and feed yourself,” says Jennifer Wilder, MD, author of The New Morn’s Survival Guide: How to Reclaim Your Body, Your Health, Your Sanity and Your Sex Life After Having a Baby.
Eat when you’re hungry and definitely don’t starve yourself. Make smart choices (such as snacking on fruit and veggies instead of a cookie) instead. Gradually amp up your exercise as well. Start easy — walking, pelvis tilts – but add activity as you feel able. Be sure to include some strength training. Pregnant moms tend to lose mass, and muscle burns calories, so strength training can actually increase your metabolism. Score!
When Can I Start Dieting?
Think “healthy eating” instead of “dieting.” Diets equal deprivation, and no one – especially stressed out, over-tired new morns – can survive on a deprivation diet for long. Instead, focus on healthy, filling foods, such as fruit smoothies, yogurt, green leafy veggies, fortified cereals, dried fruit and lean meat.
“You shouldn’t really be on a diet right away post-baby,” Dr. Wilder says. “Consuming less than 1500 calories a day can be really dangerous and can put your milk supply at risk if you’re breastfeeding.” If you absolutely insist on cutting calories, wait at least six weeks and consult your doctor first.
When Can I Expect to Get Back to My Pre-Pregnancy Weight?
Sorry, but it’s not tomorrow. “Women need to give themselves a break,” says Dr. Wilder. “Don’t compare yourself to your friend who can fit back into her size 2 skinny jeans in weeks. That isn’t the norm. It takes a lot of time to get your body back.”
Remember: It took nine months to grow your baby, so assume that it’ll probably take you another 12 months to get back into shape. And by “back into shape,” we mean fit and healthy. There’s a chance that not everything will ever look exactly like it did before (maybe your hips will be ever-so-slightly wider, your stomach not as perfectly flat), but you can get pretty darn close.
Are There Diets That Aren’t Safe?
Absolutely! Any diet that cuts out entire food groups is not a good choice for new morns. Forget the fad diets too. They’re impossible to sustain long-term and may be unhealthy in the short-term. Your best bet? A well-balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, veggies, whole gains and lean protein.
What Are Some Quick, Easy Meals?
When you’re busy caring for a baby, it can seem next to impossible to prepare – much less eat! – healthy meals. So make things easy for yourself. Pick up a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store. Serve some of it for dinner with a side of quickly-heated frozen veggies and fast-cooking brown rice. Slice some more of it into a big salad of pre-washed, pre-packaged leafy greens the next day and voila – two quick, easy, low-cost meals!
Frozen entrees are OK too, but Dr. Wilder suggests scanning the ingredient list first. Stay away from anything with trans fats and high levels of sodium. Look for breaded, baked items vs. the deep-friend versions. And keep plenty of high-fiber cereal and instant oatmeal in your cupboard. Nothing is quicker than breakfast for dinner!
How Many Calories Does Breastfeeding Really Burn?
On average, breastfeeding burns about 500 calories per day — but that figure may be lower or higher depending on your baby’s age and how many times a day you nurse your baby. (The more milk you make, the more calories you burn.) But while breastfeeding has helped a lot of moms drop the baby weight, it’s not a magic bullet. “I breastfed for eighteen months, but I still had those last few pounds left,” says Tracey Mallet, international fitness expert, author of Super Fit Mama and mom of two. Like many moms, she reached a weight-loss plateau and didn’t drop the final few pounds until after she weaned her daughter, with the help of exercise. Your experience will be yours alone, so breastfeed for your baby for her—not for the weight loss. As long as you eat healthy and move, the weight will come off eventually.
What’s the Best Way to Tone My Tummy?
First things first: Before beginning any ab exercises, ask your doctor or midwife if you experienced a separation of the abdominal muscles during your pregnancy. If you have, you need to wait until it heals before beginning any serious ab work.
If you’re good to go, try this: “You can work your deep abdominals by drawing in your belly button toward your spine,” says Sabrena Merrill, MS, a personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. “That paired with Kegels and pelvis tilts does a lot to tone up the area below the belly button.” Breastfeeding can also help tone your tummy in the early days. (Nursing stimulates uterine contractions, which helps the uterus to shrink back to its pre-pregnant size.) Later, Pilates or other core work can help you get your abs back into shape.
I Didn’t Exercise Before the Baby. What’s the Best Way to Start Now?
It’s never too late to get active. But if you weren’t particularly active before baby, go slow. Moms who were on bed rest prior to delivery need to be especially careful. “When you’re on bed rest, your muscles don’t have to work against gravity and they atrophy,” says Merrill. In the early days, simply moving around while you take care of your baby is enough to stimulate your muscles. Later, add in short walks. “Walking is wonderful,” Mallett says; you can do it with or without your baby, and it requires no special equipment.
I’m Trying to Lose Weight. Why Do All the Experts arid Weight Loss Articles Tell Me to Eat Snacks?
Because you need energy! Regular snacks can keep your blood sugar levels relatively constant; without snacks, you may experience debilitating drops that leave you feeling light¬headed, tired and fatigued. “Your body is like a car,” Dr. Wilder says. “It needs fuel. Going from 8 am to 1 pm and then from 1 pm to 6 pm without eating is simply not enough fuel for your body.” So stock up on healthy snacks. Dr. Wilder – who recently gave birth to baby #3 – favors yogurt parfaits made with low-fat granola.
Does Lack of Sleep Affect Weight Loss?
You bet it does. A 2003 literature review published on
How Do I Squeeze in a Workout When it Seems Like I Have No Time?
“No time!” is the constant cry of the new mom. When you’re busy with baby you have to make every minute count. Mallett recommends increasing the intensity of your workouts when you’re pressed for time. Interval training – combining short bursts of strength training with a cardio workout – burns more training a day (or even a couple times a week) can make a real difference.
You can also try exercising with your baby.
I Was Very Active During My Pregnancy. Do I Really Need to Wait 6 Weeks Before Resuming Strenuous Exercise?
Congratulations! Morns who exercised prior to and during pregnancy will generally have a much easier time bouncing back after birth. Talk to your doctor and let him know that you’re itching to get back out on the track. When she realizes that your level of pre-birth fitness (say, you’re a marathon runner), she may well give you the green light to get moving – with a stern warning to stop if you experience any pain or increased bleeding. “The key is to pay attention to and listen to your body,” Merrill says. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t run as far or as fast as you could pre-baby. It takes time for your body to re-adjust. (After all, even your lungs have to heal -they’ve recently been squished by your rapidly expanding uterus!)
Are Weight-Loss Supplements Safe?
In a word: No. Many weight-loss supplements contain ephedra, ephedrine or caffeine, which can cause heart palpitations, tummy troubles and psychiatric disturbances. Citrus aurantium (also known as Seville orange) can cause high blood pressure. What’s more, the ingredients in some weight-loss supplements may be passed to your baby via your breast milk, so it’s best to steer clear all together.
How Will I Know If I’m Overdoing It?
Listen to your body. Getting back into shape is work, but it shouldn’t hurt. If you experience pain, stop. Back off for a bit. Watch for increased bleeding as well. Your vaginal flow should slow down in the weeks after birth. If it picks up again following a workout, that’s your body’s way of telling you to take it easy. Remember: Weight loss isn’t a race. “It takes time to get back into shape,” Mallet says. “If you can get back to your normal state in six months to a year, you’re doing great.”