Even though the payoff is ultimately worth it, nine months of pregnancy can wreak physical and emotional havoc on your body. The increased fluid, fat and tissue surrounding your uterus results in an average of 25 to 30 additional pounds; that’s not including the additional weight you can gain due to food cravings and reduced exercise capacity in the later trimesters.
Losing baby weight is tough, but not impossible. Unlike crash diets you follow to fit into your wedding gown or that new bikini, losing your baby weight requires caution and safety for your health as well as the baby’s well-being. Always speak with your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise regimen after giving birth.
Here are five tips to help you shed those extra post-pregnancy pounds:
Lactating is an incredibly energy-consuming activity for the human body. Your body burns about 20 calories making just one ounce of breast milk, and most newborn babies consume anywhere from 18 to 24 ounces per day. The math is staggering. That means for every day your baby breastfeeds, you’re burning between 360 and 480 extra calories!
Some women are reluctant to lift weights after giving birth because they don’t want to “bulk up.” Don’t worry. Unless you adopt the same weight lifting regimen as a professional wrestler and start popping muscle-boosting steroids, you’re much more likely to become toned and trim than bulky.
One pound of muscle burns nine times the number of calories as a pound of fat, even when resting. Strength training helps increase muscle, while reducing fat, which ultimately makes your body burn more calories.
- Start by lifting lighter weights for several repetitions. Giving birth is a major event for your body. Even if you were bench-pressing 100-pound barbells like toothpicks a year ago, beginning slowly allows your body to safely ease into a new routine.
- Work with a trainer, at least in the beginning, until you learn proper form. This is especially important for women without prior strength training experience.
Eat Nutrient-Dense Salads
Giving birth is an incredibly taxing, nutrient-draining event. Breastfeeding, or waking up every three hours to feed your baby by bottle, is an extremely physically demanding activity. Your body requires healthy, nourishing food now more than ever.
- Add a colorful salad to your lunch and dinner. Not only will you improve your vitamin intake, you’ll also feel more satiated after each meal and therefore less likely to snack.
- Include leafy greens, tomatoes, bell peppers, baby carrots and sunflower seeds. Ditch the croutons, cheese and creamy dressings, as these can add dozens of fat grams and hundreds of calories to an otherwise healthy item.
- Mix a half-cup of chickpeas, lima beans or black beans into your salad for fiber and iron.
- Drizzle vinaigrette or low-fat dressing over your colorful creation.
(Note that salads should replace junk foods like chips and cookies, not healthful items such as lean protein and dairy. In fact, restricting your caloric intake too severely while breastfeeding can negatively affect the quality of your breast milk.)
Depending on whether you delivered your baby vaginally or through a c-section, vigorous exercise is inadvisable for at least several weeks after birth. This gives your muscles and tissues time to repair completely from the strenuous event.
- Just because you can’t run a marathon doesn’t mean you have to give up exercising altogether. Bundle up your baby in an exercise stroller and hit the road for a brisk walk. Start off by taking two or three 10-minute walks and try to work up to 20-minute increments. If you have access to an elliptical machine, make sure to stick with a low-incline, low-resistance setting.
- As your body fully recovers, you can begin walking up hills and covering more challenging terrain with your little one in tow.
Once your body is completely healed, usually after two to three months, you can begin a cardiovascular exercise routine. Cardiovascular exercise is a safe way to restore your pre-baby figure while breastfeeding, in addition to boosting those feel-good hormones known as endorphins.
- Avoid heavy impact exercise, especially if you have had a c-section or required additional surgical procedures while giving birth. Instead, opt for low-impact machines like the elliptical, cross-country ski track and exercise bike.
- Take a cardio circuit or pilates class with a friend to get your heart pumping and your muscles toned in just a few weeks.
- Join a gym with an acceptable nursery or day-care facility where you can leave your baby for an hour or two while you work out. You’ll be more likely to go to the gym if you don’t have to worry about hiring a sitter or calling a relative.