Lose Baby Weight in 8 Healthy Steps

By Linda Melone, ACSM and ACE Certified Personal Trainer, Special to Lifescript.com
Published November 12, 2010

Scroll down to Step 3 for Lisa Hoffman’s Expert Advice

Forget what celebrity moms claim: Losing pregnancy weight takes work. But it’s not as hard as it sounds – some workouts take as little as 1 minute or can be done with your baby. Read on for the best exercises and other belly-flattening tricks to get back to that pre-baby body… 

A bundle of joy can leave you with a body you barely recognize. But when you’re caring for a newborn, finding time to lose those extra pounds can be a challenge. Exercising after childbirth isn’t just about weight loss: It improves muscle strength, cardiovascular fitness, energy levels and mood. It can even help prevent postpartum depression, according to a 2010 Australia’s University of Melbourne study. But crash diets or pushing your body too hard aren’t the answer. To get your figure back for good – and improve stamina and overall health – you need the right attitude, exercises and food choices.

Here’s how to get started:
1. Set realistic expectations.
Women rarely return to pre-baby weight within weeks. It’s normal to take several months, especially if you gained a lot during pregnancy. “A healthy weight gain of 20-35 pounds usually results in 5-10 pounds remaining after the baby,” says Brad Schoenfeld, CSCS, a New York-based trainer and author of The Women’s Home Workout Bible (Human Kinetics).  “But some woman gain up to 60 pounds or more, which leaves much more excess weight to shed.”

2. Know when to get moving.
How soon you can start exercising after giving birth depends on the delivery. Check with your doctor, but 1-4 weeks after an uncomplicated vaginal birth is usually safe, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).  You’ll need longer to heal if you had a C-section or complications. If you exercised regularly before baby, you should be able to get back to your pre-pregnancy workout intensity within a few weeks, Schoenfeld says.  Whether you’re new to exercise or not, start slowly.  “Even if you’ve been active, don’t try to pick up where you left off pre-pregnancy,” says Tom Holland, CSCS, a Connecticut-based running coach and author of The Marathon Method (Fair Winds Press). “Do about half your usual workout time for the first few sessions.” You can also cut down on intensity. For example, if you used to run, try power-walking or alternating running and walking workouts. Keep reading for tips on cardio and strength-training exercises.

3. Tighten your tummy the right way.
“It’s a fallacy that you can never get your abdominals back in shape,” says Lisa Hoffman, an exercise physiologist and founder of Solo Fitness & Wellness in New York City. Then why is it so hard for many moms? A gap in the abdominal wall, called diastasis recti, that often occurs with pregnancy, says Hoffman.  If you have this gap, all the crunches in the world won’t help. But other exercises can not only tone your tummy, they’ll help improve the condition.

Here’s how to find out if you have diastasis recti:

   1. Lie flat on your back with knees bent.
Place the fingers of your left hand, palm facing you, just above the belly button.   Place your right hand on your upper thigh.
   3. Inhale, then exhale as you lift your head and shoulders off the floor and slide your right hand up your thigh toward your knee. As your abdominal muscles tighten, use your left hand to feel if  there’s a  gap where abdominal muscles have separated.

If this gap is 3 or more finger-widths wide, skip conventional crunches or other forceful, forward activity, which can make it worse, Hoffman says. Instead, strengthen abdominal muscles with moves that pull together abdominal wall muscles (see instructions below). After the gap narrows to only 1-2 finger widths, you can start doing crunches again.

Belly-Flattening Exercises
Strengthening a core muscle called the transverse abdominis (TA) can help counteract diastasis recti – and will tone your stomach even if you don’t have it. TA lies beneath your outer abdominal muscles. If a cough has made your stomach muscles ache, you’ve felt it. Try these TA-strengthening exercises:

     A. Belly breaths
         If you only have 1 minute to exercise, you have time for this move.
         Sit on the floor with your back against a wall and hands on your belly button. Cough to feel the TA engage, and pull your belly button back toward your spine. Focus on this muscle as you push out your breath in tiny bursts. Start with two sets of 50, which     should take about 1 minute, Hoffman says. “You can do up to two sets of 100 most days of the week or whenever you think of it. You don’t need any equipment and can do these anywhere.”

     B. Pelvic tilts
         Lie on the floor with knees bent, feet flat on the floor, hand behind your head and elbows pointed to the sides. Inhale. As you exhale, pull your abdomen toward your back and hold for count of three. Inhale to return to starting position and repeat 10 times.    Try these while doing Kegel exercises for added results, Hoffman recommends.

    C. Leg slides
         Lie flat on your back with both knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Inhale deeply, then exhale slowly through your mouth as you slide one leg forward on the mat so the leg is fully extended and resting on the mat. Slide the leg back to the bent-knee   position and repeat with the other leg. Repeat 10 times.

4. Be careful with breast milk.
If you choose high-intensity workouts (at least 75% of your maximim heart rate), lactic acid can build up in breast milk, producing a sour taste your baby may not like. Schoenfeld offers a few solutions:

  • Throw out breast milk produced in the half-hour immediately after a workout.
  • Wait a few hours after exercising before breastfeeding.
  • Stick with mild to moderate exercises.

5. Bring the baby along.
If you can’t (or don’t want to) leave your child, take her along on walks or runs with the stroller. Some gyms and independent personal trainers even offer programs moms can do with their kids.  Don't worry that pushing baby will throw off your gait, says Holland. Plus, it increases calorie burn, although how much more depends on the workout's intensity and your weight.

6. Incorporate cardio into your schedule.
After pregnancy, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends a minimum of 2 to 2-1/2 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as walking, biking or swimming) a week.  You’ll get the same health and weight-loss benefits if you divide that up into 30 minutes a day, or even three 10-minute daily sessions, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.  Wear a supportive bra to protect tender, swollen breasts. And stop exercising if you have abdominal pain or bright-red vaginal bleeding that’s heavier than a period.  That’s your body's way of telling you it’s not ready for such strenuous exercise, says Julie Taylor, M.D., MSc, associate professor of family medicine at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School.  These symptoms are more common and severe immediately after giving birth but should gradually improve or resolve. So take any worsening of symptoms as a sign to cut back and/or slow down. If symptoms are mild, stop exercising and wait 24-48 hours to see if they improve. If not, see your doctor, says Taylor. For heavy bleeding or severe pain, contact your doctor immediately.

7. Pump some iron.
To tone up, build firm muscle and strengthen bone, alternate cardio with strength training. ACOG suggests weight machines, resistance bands or body-weight exercises, such as push-ups and squats. When done vigorously, even dancing, gardening and housework can tone muscles.  For best results, do a whole-body workout for 20-40 minutes, three times a week. If you can’t find that much time, shorter bouts will also tone.

8. Maximize results with healthy eating.
What you eat plays an important role in your postpregnancy weight-loss plan. Focus on high-nutrient foods, and include plenty of fluids, fruits, non-starchy veggies, lean meats, healthy fats and low-fat dairy options.  This way, “you’ll cover all the necessary vitamins and minerals needed to promote healing, recovery and energy levels,” says Ohio dietitian Dawn Weatherwax, R.D., C.S.S.D., C.S.C.S., author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Sports Nutrition (Alpha Books).  If you’re breastfeeding, don’t go on a low-calorie diet to lose weight. You need calories for lactation and to provide nutrition to your baby, Weatherwax says. In fact, your body requires an extra 300-500 calories a day to produce breast milk, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. If you’re not breastfeeding, cut back on portion sizes and focus on balanced meals 4-5 times a day. “High-fiber foods such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains will help fill you up without filling you out,” Weatherwax says.


MommyMUSH beGONE! at Creative Arts Studio coming soon.

Tone the mush areas moms tend to have after giving birth.
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