If all those images of svelte and shapely celebrity new moms have left you feeling like you never want to look in a mirror again, take heart! Here's some real-world advice on how to get your body back after pregnancy.
With so many high-profile celebrity moms snapping back from pregnancy with a model-perfect shape in almost no time, it sometimes seems as if they're jumping right from the labor bed to the treadmill. Take a look, for instance, at Katie Holmes, Angelina Jolie, Melania Trump, Heidi Klum, and former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham -- whose record-time baby-fat weight loss has set the bar high for new moms the world over.
But is it realistic -- or for that matter even healthy -- to slim down after pregnancy with such lightening speed?
Experts offer up a resounding "No!"
"We don't have the kind of lifestyle that would allow for that kind of quick loss -- and the sooner women recognize that, the better they will feel about themselves, " says Laura Riley, MD, a high-risk-pregnancy expert from Massachusetts General Hospital and spokeswoman for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Riley says celebrities don't generally gain as much weight during their pregnancy as the average woman, and, she says, "they have resources that the rest of us don't have after baby is born." This includes personal trainers, chefs, and nannies, all of whom allow the celebrity new mom to devote serious time to getting in shape.
"And, many of them also do crazy diets -- which is not an example anyone should follow," says Riley, author of You and Your Baby: Pregnancy.
Experts warn that when it comes to getting that post-pregnancy body back in shape, neither crash dieting nor a stringent exercise program is the way to go -- particularly if you've had a difficult pregnancy or a C-section delivery or are breastfeeding.
"The worst thing a woman can do is try too hard to do too much too soon -- if you do, you're likely to find yourself exhausted and discouraged and less likely to continue, and you'll wind up carrying that baby weight a lot longer, " says fitness trainer Sue Fleming, creator of the Buff line of workout DVDs including Buff New Moms.
When to Begin
Although most women say that diet is the quickest way to lose weight after giving birth, experts say a dramatic cut in calories is not the best way to begin - particularly if you are breastfeeding.
"You should be eating at least 1,800-2,000 calories a day while breastfeeding, and if you eat less you will not only be shortchanging yourself, you'll be shortchanging your baby. You can't produce quality milk if you are not eating enough," says nutritionist Elizabeth Somer, RD, author of Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy.
Riley says she frequently advises patients to not even think about dieting until after their first six-week visit.
"If you can lose a couple of pounds before then, that's OK, but you really don't want to cut your food intake dramatically during these early weeks. You need the energy, and you need the calories for breastfeeding," she says.
Good news: Breastfeeding burns calories. It can help mothers lose extra weight gained during pregnancy.
But what if you're not breastfeeding? Somer says it's OK to watch your caloric intake, but never aim to lose more than a pound a week.
"Pregnancy is not unlike running a marathon every day for nine months. You have really put your body through the ringer. So even if you ate well, several nutrients are still likely to be compromised. You need this postpartum time to restore your nutritional status and your energy," she says.
After Pregnancy: Working Off the Pounds
While postpartum dieting may be off-limits for awhile, exercise is highly recommended. Experts say it can not only help you get your body back, but also increase energy and may even reduce risks of postpartum depression.
In a paper published in the Journal of Midwifery and Women's Health, experts reported mounting evidence suggesting that exercise not only benefits depressive symptoms in general but pointed to two studies indicating it may offer benefits specifically for women with postpartum depression.
To this end, many groups, including American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have not only significantly loosened the reins on the number of activities a new mom can safely do but have also begun promoting exercise as a key factor in the health of new moms.
"There used to be many more 'don'ts' about exercising after pregnancy, now there are many more 'dos,'" says Fleming.
But how do you know if you're ready to begin an exercise program? ACOG recommends that you check with your doctor before starting, especially if you had a complicated pregnancy or delivery. That said, most experts agree you are free to begin a mild workout as soon as you feel up to it -- and you can keep up with the activity level.
"That's key, being able to keep up with whatever program you start. If you can't then either the program is too rigorous, or you're just not ready. Exercise should make you feel better, not worse," says Riley.
Post-Pregnancy Workouts: What Works!
Whether it's within six days or six weeks of delivering, ACOG experts say one of the easiest ways to begin a postpartum exercise routine is by walking. And you can even get baby in on the fun! Indeed, one of the more popular forms of organized new-mommy exercise involves walking stroller workouts.
"The idea is to use the stroller as a piece of fitness equipment and doing exercises that actually rely on the stroller, or workouts that can be done while your baby is in the stroller," says Lisa Druxman, founder of San Diego-based Stroller Strides, one of several nationwide programs devoted to helping new moms get back in shape.
If you think you're up for a more-challenging activity, Fleming says begin to add in the exercises you did in your third trimester of pregnancy - and then work backwards.
"You can start with what you did in the third trimester, then gradually add what you did in the second trimester, then the first, until you are back to doing what you did before pregnancy," says Fleming, who says the process should take between four and six months.
The one area where you might want to start on sooner rather than later, however, involves strength-training exercises to build a strong core, an area that Riley says many women neglect during pregnancy as well as during the postpartum.
"Even if you had strong core muscles before pregnancy, you really lose that strength during pregnancy because the muscles are all attenuated and stretched out - plus you've spent nine months carrying extra weight in that area," says Riley.
What's the best way to build a strong core?
"You can start simple and slow with a pelvic tilt, a modified sit-up (if you didn't have a C-section), squeeze and tighten your butt then relax, put a pillow between your knees and squeeze and relax. This can start to build your core and strengthen your back," says Fleming.
A Final Word of Caution
No matter how eager you are to lose your baby fat, experts caution against any activities that put major stress on your joints -- such as jogging, jumping, or running -- for at least six to eight weeks. Why?
"During pregnancy you produce a hormone called relaxin, which actually makes joints loose and consequently more prone to injury, and you will still have significant amounts of this hormone in your blood for at least several weeks after childbirth," says Fleming.
Put too much stress on joints during this time, she says, and you could end up sidelined for months with a serous injury.
Moreover, regardless of what exercises you do, pay close attention to the warning signs of trouble and seek medical attention if any of these symptoms appear:
- Excessive bleeding
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Extreme shortness of breath
- Exhaustion after even mild exercise
- Muscle soreness that does not go away within a day or 2