Now that your new baby is here, you have a lot to think about: when to feed her, what to do if she cries -- and how to get rid of those extra pounds you packed on during your pregnancy.
If you started out at a normal weight and gained the 25-35 pounds your doctor probably recommended, it shouldn't take you more than a couple of months to get back to your pre-pregnancy weight if you watch what you eat and exercise.
If, on the other hand, you were overweight before your pregnancy or you put on more weight than your doctor advised, it could take much longer -- up to a year -- to get the weight off. Any baby weight you don't take off could stick with you for a long time.
"It's very critical that you do get the weight off, because if you don't it has been associated with overweight and obesity 15 to 20 years later in life," says Debra Krummel, PhD, RD, endowed professor in the University of Cincinnati department of nutrition.
And although every new mom is eager to look like her old self again, one of the most important things to remember is to be patient with yourself. Your favorite celebrity might have gone straight from the delivery room into her size 0 jeans, but she may not have done it in a way that was good for her body.
"All the magazines ask, 'How did she do it?' The more important question is, 'Why did she do it?'" says Melinda Johnson, MS, RD, registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (ADA). "They do this with very, very strict diets, and a lot of them do it by getting back into activity before their body is really ready for it."
Johnson advocates a more gradual approach to weight loss. "The number one thing new mothers have to have is a certain amount of patience with their body," she says. "It took nine months to get there. It should take at least that long to get back to their fighting weight."
With that in mind, here are some tips to help you lose weight after pregnancy and fit back into your old jeans -- whatever their size.
It may sound strange, but going on an official "diet" could derail your post-pregnancy weight loss goals. Feeling deprived of your favorite foods while you're already stressed out by your new role as mom could actually cause you to gain weight, Johnson says.
"If you go back to eating healthy and eating for your hunger, most women find that the weight comes off pretty naturally," she says.
Instead of dieting, she recommends eating a well-balanced variety of foods. Keep different snacks in the house to keep you from feeling hungry and give you energy throughout the day. Apple slices, carrot sticks, and wheat crackers are all good for noshing.
No matter how much you want to lose weight, try not to dip below 1,800 calories a day, particularly if you are breastfeeding. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's MyPyramid site can help you design a personalized eating plan based on your age, activity level, and weight loss goals. The site even has a special section for breastfeeding moms.