At last, 9 long months of pregnancy are over and your baby has arrived. A mixture of emotions from sheer joy to complete bewilderment becomes a regular part of your daily life for the first few months. You gradually lose your fears in your parenting skills, but the loss of any excess baby weight gained during pregnancy is a different story. The struggle to lose weight after having a baby affects women from all walks of life. A lot of factors play into just how fast your body will regain some semblance of what you looked like before getting pregnant. Pre-pregnancy weight, age, hormones, lifestyle, diet and activity level are all variables in the way your body responds postpartum. Regardless of what your body looked like before pregnancy, or what it looks like after, it’s important for you to eat healthfully and exercise correctly postpartum.
There are a number of things you can do to give your body a boost to shed unwanted weight in the weeks and months after having a baby. Good nutrition and exercise habits have both mental and physical benefits that will only add to the joys of motherhood.
Eating healtfully is essential to any postpartum diet. When most women hear “healthy,” they assume they’ll have to go on a strict diet of dry toast, diet sodas and carrot sticks. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sleepless nights, breastfeeding and the stresses of a new baby are all energy sappers and the best way to restore the loss of energy is to eat “clean”. These clean foods are minimally processed, contain few additives and are packed with vitamins and minerals. They tell your body when you’re full and give you the energy you’ll need to exercise, even if it’s just going for a walk with a stroller. Packaged or processed foods, including many “diet” foods, have no nutritional value and in most cases are loaded with sugar or artificial sweeteners.
It’s important to introduce moderate exercise after your body has recovered enough postpartum (usually two months). Gradually introducing a steady regime of cardiovascular and strength-based exercises will trim and tone your body. Megan Dillow, mother of three and Pilates Instructor at Lincoln Park Athletic Club in Chicago, Ill., knew getting back to a healthy weight was important, but realized that it wouldn’t happen overnight: “Hollywood tells us we’ll walk out of the hospital feeling amazing, and that we can start working out 4 days after delivering. Like magic, we’ll have our bodies back in 2 months. For some people maybe that may be true. However, for most of us, we come out of the hospital looking like we are still a few months pregnant. Our bodies need the recommended recovery time of 6-8 weeks before working out again. Our bodies will only start to feel ‘normal’ 10 months to a year later.”
When Dillow did start working out, she immediately made it a family affair. “People in general are in the mindset that working out has to be for an allotted time in a certain location. That is not true! I try to incorporate extra movements into my daily routine. Some days I can do an hour other days I can only do a half hour. When my kids did tummy time, I did abdominal exercises. I sat on a stability ball to rock them to sleep. I had a baby jogger and we went for runs together. Now as my kids get older we have exercise time. My daughter and I run home from school, my sons and I go for bike rides. I want to incorporate movement into their life as much as my own.”
The three exercises Megan Dillow says she can’t do without are Pilates-based. I can’t do without ‘the hundreds’, criss cross obliques and the side leg lift series from the Pilates mat work. The hundreds get the abs connected. The criss cross helps me to stand up tall, and the side leg lift series help to keep my hips strong.
Lying flat on your back, raise your legs to a 45 degree angle, and place your arms straight down. Lift your head and shoulders, tucking your chin toward your chest. Begin pumping your arms quickly down to the ground. Pump your arms 100 times, and you’re done!
Side Leg Lift
Lying on your side, with your hand holding your head. Lift your legs together without letting them separate. Keep your thighs and bottom tight, engaging those muscles and hold for 5 seconds. Return to a resting position, and repeat 10 times before working the other side.
Criss cross obliques
Lying flat on your back, place your hands behind your head with your elbows wide. Bring one knee in toward your chest and extend the other leg out long. Leading with your shoulder, reach your armpit to the knee on the opposite side of your body that’s pulled in. Release, and switch to the opposite side. Repeat 10-15 times, rest and repeat again.
About the author: Traci Danielson Mitchell is a freelance health and wellness writer and founder of DM Nutrition & Fitness.