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Eager to get back into shape now that you're no longer pregnant? For long-term success – and to keep yourself feeling good along the way – keep these tips in mind.
Don't start dieting too soon
Your body needs time to recover from labor and delivery. Give yourself until your six-week postpartum checkup before you start watching your calorie intake and actively trying to slim down. And if you're breastfeeding, experts recommend that you wait until your baby is at least 2 months old before you try to lose weight. (If you're a nursing mom, you may also want to read our article on a healthy breastfeeding diet.)
Starting a diet too soon after giving birth can delay your recovery and make you feel more tired – and you need all the energy you can muster to adjust to life with your newborn. In addition, if you're nursing, dieting can affect your milk supply. If you're patient and give your body a chance to do its work, you may be surprised at how much weight you lose naturally, especially if you're breastfeeding.
Be realistic about weight loss
Keep in mind that you may not be able to return to your exact pre-pregnancy weight or shape. For many women, pregnancy causes permanent changes such as a softer belly, slightly wider hips, and a larger waistline. With this in mind, you might want to adjust your goals a bit. For a reality check, see our photo gallery of real post-baby bellies.
There's no magic pill to help you lose weight: A healthy diet combined with regular exercise is the best way to shed the pounds – and to keep them off. And it's important to exercise while trying to lose weight to ensure you're losing fat instead of muscle.
Once you're ready to begin losing weight, start by eating a little less and being more active – even if you're just taking a quick walk around the block with your baby in the stroller.
Find out whether your body is ready for exercise and visit our postpartum fitness area for information on getting back into shape.
Lose weight slowly
Don't go on a strict, restrictive diet. Women need a minimum of 1,200 calories a day to stay healthy, and most women need more than that – between 1,500 and 2,200 calories a day – to keep up their energy and prevent mood swings. And if you're nursing, you need a bare minimum of 1,800 calories a day (most nursing moms need more like 2,000 to 2,700 calories) to nourish both yourself and your baby.
If you're breastfeeding, you'll want to make sure to take it slow – losing weight too quickly can cause a decrease in your milk supply.
Too-rapid weight loss can also release toxins that are stored in your body fat into the bloodstream – and into your milk supply. (Toxins that can make it into your bloodstream include environmental contaminants like the heavy metals lead and mercury, persistent organic pollutants like PCBs and dioxins, and solvents.)
Weight loss of about a pound and a half a week is safe and won't affect your milk supply if you're nursing. To achieve this, cut out 500 calories a day from your current diet (without dipping below the safe minimum) by either decreasing your food intake or increasing your activity level.
Eat up – and take your time!
With a new baby and schedule, it can be hard to find the time to eat. But skipping meals can make energy levels lag – and it won't help you lose weight. Many moms find that eating five to six small meals a day with healthy snacks in between (rather than three larger meals) fits their appetite and schedule better. (A small meal might be half a sandwich, some carrot sticks, fruit, and a glass of milk.)
Don't skip meals in an attempt to lose weight – it won't help, because you'll be more likely to eat more at other meals. And you'll also probably feel tired and grouchy.
Even if you've never been much of a breakfast person, keep in mind that eating breakfast can help keep you from feeling famished – and tired – later in the morning, and it can give you the energy to be more active.
In addition, numerous studies show that skipping breakfast can sabotage your weight loss efforts. According to the National Weight Control Registry, which has tallied the successful strategies of dieters who have lost an average of 66 pounds and kept it off for 5.5 years, 78 percent of the dieters eat breakfast daily. Slow your eating down, too, if possible. When you take your time eating, you'll notice that it's easier to tell when you feel full – and you're less likely to overeat.
Be choosy about foods and drinks
Research shows that consuming low-fat milk and dairy products and choosing whole grain products like whole wheat bread and whole grain cereal can help you lose weight. Other good choices include low-fat, high-fiber foods such as fruits (like apples, oranges, and berries) and raw vegetables (like carrots, jicama, and red pepper strips) for healthy snacks.
Other ways to squeeze in more fruits and veggies: Make fruit (or veggie) smoothies, use fruit or vegetable salsas or vegetable reduction sauces (sauces made from puréed vegetables) over fish or chicken, add shredded carrots to your sandwich, try grilled vegetables, and try puréed vegetable soups. (Puréeing your soup makes it creamy without having to add cream, which is high in calories and saturated fat. It's also a great way to eat veggies you might not ordinarily eat on their own.)
Fat has twice as many calories as carbohydrates or proteins, so trimming the extra fat from your diet is probably the easiest way to cut calories. Look for low-fat or fat-free dairy products (you don't need to drink whole milk in order to make quality breast milk!), choose broiled or baked rather than fried foods, and limit your intake of sweets, which have extra calories from sugar and fat.
Keep in mind, though, that fat is an important nutrient, so your goal isn't to eliminate it from your diet. In fact, including some fat at each meal will help you stay full and keep you from overeating carbohydrates. (Too many calories from any source – fat, protein, or carbs – can lead to weight gain or keep you from accomplishing weight loss.)
The trick is to choose "good" fats rather than "bad" fats. The best fats are mono- and polyunsaturated fats, like those in canola oil, olive oil, avocado, olives, nuts and seeds, and fatty fish like salmon. The oils to avoid are saturated and trans fats, which can contribute to heart disease and perhaps diabetes, and can be transferred to breast milk, too.
Saturated fats are found in meats and dairy products, and trans fats are typically found in many fried foods, snack foods, and baked goods. (Food labels specify which kinds of fats the products contain.)
Finally, although you should be drinking about 8 or 9 cups of fluids each day, watch what you drink – a surprising number of calories can be hidden in juice, soda, and coffee drinks.
Daily food plan for healthy post-baby weight loss
The food plan below adds up to 2,200 calories a day for breastfeeding moms. For non-breastfeeding moms, it totals 1,800 calories a day. Use this as a rough guide – your individual calorie needs will vary depending on your weight, metabolism, and activity level, and also on how much you're breastfeeding.
View and print daily food plan.