There’s a new addition to your family, and while you couldn’t be happier about the new baby, there is something you’ve been missing for a while — your pre-baby shape. You want it back, and fast.
That’s not just your vanity speaking, either. The sooner you return to your pre-pregnancy weight, the healthier you and your baby will be, says Peter Vash, M.D., MPH, medical director of the Lindora Medical Clinics, a 40-year-old chain of outpatient weight-loss facilities in Los Angeles.
“Your dietary intake and food choices were dramatically altered by your pregnancy,” he explains. But as soon as you deliver your child, you’re no longer eating for two — you’re eating for one and feeding one. “Research shows that each pregnancy is like a ladder: The woman loses some weight but not all of it, and every pregnancy [her weight] gets higher. So it’s important to get back down to pre-pregnancy levels within three months because otherwise you get into a routine.”
Here are four tips to keep in mind as you try to drop the weight and transition from pregnancy to parenthood.
1. Breast milk does two bodies good. Not only is breast milk healthier for your baby than artificial formula because it’s lower in carbohydrates, but it’s also a calorie burner for you. Even older moms can lose weight quickly while breast-feeding; just ask Sharon Monplaisir, a three-time Olympian with the U.S. fencing team who gave birth to twins at age 42. She dropped all but 5 of her 65 pregnancy pounds within four months just by breast-feeding them and walking them in a double stroller. But be patient, Monplaisir says, because not every baby is an easy feeder. “It is healthier, so go for it, but if it doesn’t work, don’t beat yourself up over it,” she says. “Moms can drive themselves crazy trying to [breast-feed], but you’re not more or less of a mom because of it. Be patient with yourself the way you’re going to be patient with your kid.”
2. Ramp up slowly to your previous activity levels. The fitter you are before and during your pregnancy, Vash says, the more quickly you will be able to get back to your old routine. But after nine months of pregnancy, your muscles will be deconditioned, so take it easy at first. “Whatever level of activity you had, take about two to three months to ramp back up to your pre-pregnancy levels,” Vash says. “Certainly walking and swimming, the bike, all those are very good.”
Monplaisir began lifting weights three or four months after giving birth, after her cesarean-section scar stabilized. “I didn’t try to do what I used to do,” she says. “I started with bodyweight stuff and grew from there.” She also waited until her twins were 6 months old before amping up her stroller walks to jogs.
3. Be sensible about nutrition. Focus on clean, unprocessed foods — lean proteins, leafy greens and whole grains. “If it comes in cellophane, don’t eat it,” Vash says. “It’s very hard to eat enough to get fat on fruits and vegetables. Be careful about nuts and cheese, though. They’re good but very dense in calories. Two or 3 ounces a day is reasonable.” He also recommends a good daily multivitamin, as well as getting your iron and vitamin-D levels checked, replenishing as necessary. The latest research shows that women need between 1,000 and 2,000 IU of vitamin D on a daily basis.
4. Sleep whenever possible. For new parents, this is the hardest commodity of all to come by. But if you can’t get your baby on a routine right away, Vash says, just nap when the baby naps instead of trying to pay bills or clean the house. “If you sleep when the child is sleeping, if anything happens, you’re right there,” he says. Otherwise, your lack of sleep will eventually disrupt your body’s production of leptin and ghrelin — the two hormones that regulate feelings of hunger and satiety — and send you on a carbohydrate-binging, fat-storing roller coaster.
Is it easy? No, but neither is anything else about parenthood. “Excellent things are as rare as they are difficult,” Vash says. “There are no tricks to this; it’s all hard work. But if you start today, you can do it. And you owe it to your child to become healthy and stay healthy.”