Getting Your Body Back
Another time-tested motherhood maxim is worth repeating: It took nine months for you to become this size, so give yourself at least that much time to get your body back. Actually, giving yourself a year is more realistic if you factor in a three-month transitional period after the birth of your child. As you hammer out a routine wherein you and baby manage to get dressed and bathed before dinnertime, little time is left for structured exercise in these early days.
Set realistic goals for weight loss. Losing weight too rapidly can actually be dangerous for you as well as for your child if you're breastfeeding, and in fact you need to consume 500 extra calories per day when nursing. In general most women need to lose about ten more pounds by the time of their six-week postpartum visit in order to return to their prepregnant weight. Many women find it difficult to lose weight during this period because they're working hard, nursing, and are sleep-deprived. The time crunch all new mothers face can make a sensible, nutritious diet and a regular exercise regimen seem a monumental task. Start slow and easy and a pattern will form.
Once you have your doctor's okay to get moving again, start slowly. Even if you were a fitness fanatic throughout pregnancy, you'll still have to ramp back up to reach your former conditioning level. Attend to your body. If you start experiencing bright red lochia discharge, it's a signal that you're probably doing too much, too fast.
Stretch marks — your merit badges of pregnancy — are not going to disappear with exercise. If they haven't already, they will probably fade to barely noticeable silvery squiggles, and probably no one but you will even recognize them. But if you are self-conscious, studies have shown that both Retin-A and laser treatment are effective methods for banishing them.
If you've have had a C-section, it's really important to stick to doctor's orders regarding exercise. Most providers recommend at least a six-week recovery time, but talk to your doctor about guidelines specific to you. Don't risk your health by starting a full-fledged campaign to recover your prepregnancy body before that allotted time.
Many new moms find that their biggest challenge to regular exercise is just finding time. Try these tips for squeezing it in:
Keep it simple. Programs with steps, balls, bands, saucers, and other gear are probably not for you right now if you're just getting started. You haul around enough stuff just keeping baby clean and well-fed. Don't add to it.
Baby steps. Start small. Commit to twenty or thirty minutes a day of movement, and work your way up from there.
Pencil yourself in. Set a regular schedule for your partner or a babysitter to care for baby, then use the time to get out and get moving.
Be flexible. Do away with the all-or-nothing attitude. If you can't get to the gym one day, take a brisk walk or bike ride instead. Every little bit helps.
Buddy system. If you're lucky enough to have a friend or neighbor nearby who is also a new mom, pair up. You can cheer each other on and commiserate.
Get baby in the act. Get a jogging stroller and start a regular walking schedule, or simply incorporate more activity into your play. The park is a great place to start.
Join a gym. Many health clubs and community programs (like the YMCA) have nursery areas for their members. This might be an option for you if financially feasible. Do take the opportunity to watch the staff in action before enrolling.
Exercise and good nutrition together are the best way to lose your pregnancy weight. If you established healthy eating patterns in pregnancy, you're ahead of the game. If not, now is as good a time as any to get started.
Breastfeeding shouldn't change your diet substantially. Even though some practitioners advise a slight caloric increase of around 500 calories daily to meet milk production needs, others believe no increase is necessary. You may also want to continue your daily prenatal vitamin. Talk to your doctor for specific guidance.
Another big benefit of breastfeeding can be a faster postpartum rate of weight loss. Although every mom is different, nursing helps you drop the fat stores you collected in pregnancy for the very purpose of lactation. Your body works hard to produce milk and also burns calories faster as a result.
Many childhood education programs and community centers offer parent and child exercise classes, so check out this fun way to teach your child healthy fitness habits early on. Or try one of the many child-parent exercise videos/DVDs on the market. Check your local library or movie rental shop first so you can find one you like before purchase.
Typically, as long as you're choosing your foods wisely, you can let your stomach be your guide. Drink plenty of fluids. They're essential to keeping you well hydrated, and nursing has a tendency to make you thirsty. Having a glass of water or other noncaffeinated beverage each time baby nurses is a good ritual to establish proper fluid intake. The restrictions of pregnancy (no alcohol, tobacco, drugs) should also be continued throughout breastfeeding.
Making Up Sleep Deficits
Sleep is also an important factor in getting your old self back. If you're too tired to function, exercise has little appeal. You may find yourself opting for a fast-food fix for dinner instead of taking the time and energy to prepare healthier fare. And your health can suffer as well. Sleep deprivation affects the immune system; chronic sleep loss has been linked to decreases in growth hormone (responsible for bone-marrow growth and tissue healing), increased insulin resistance, and a decline in tumor necrosis factor (or natural killer cells, cancer- and virus-fighting agents). Mood disorders such as depression can also be made worse by insufficient sleep. And, of course, you're already aware of the zombie-like brain fog that those all-nighters bring. In short, sleep loss is a real health hazard. You can't run on empty forever.
If you had gestational diabetes during pregnancy, you have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The American Diabetes Association recommends that your blood glucose levels be tested six weeks after pregnancy and at subsequent three-year intervals thereafter (at a minimum). Fortunately, lifestyle modifications such as exercise and weight loss are very effective in prevention of these conditions.
So how do you get it back? Take naps whenever possible, of course, and consider a little creative shift work. If your child is not nursing when he wakes in the middle of the night, you can alternate night-shift baby duty with dad so one of you at least has unbroken slumber every other day. This is even possible with breastfeeding if you've introduced a bottle to baby. Just pump breast milk the evening prior so your presence won't be necessary. You may get a protest the first time dad attempts to put baby back to sleep with a rubber nipple instead of with mom's warm breast, but don't give up on the first try. Sometimes a little adjustment period is all that's necessary to ease into this new schedule.