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To sort out fact from fiction in the realm of post-baby bodies, weight loss and dietary needs for new moms, we've enlisted the help of experts to give us the low-down dirty truth.
Fiction No. 1: Your post-baby body will never look the same as it did before you had a child.
You've heard the urban legend: Your body changes after you give birth—and it doesn't exactly bounce right back. But is that true? "BS!" says New York-based trainer and fitness expert Larysa DiDio, who has trained Olympians like Beijing all-around champ Nastia Liukin. "Your body can look great or even better after. You just have to exercise, and do the right kind." What is the right kind? DiDio says new moms need a balanced program that is "efficient and effective." Strength training is essential for building back your fat-burning muscle, and to fill in areas with loose or sagging skin. She likes Pilates abs to tone and strengthen a mom's core; 20 to 30 minutes of interval cardio on a machine, or another type of your choice; and stretching or yoga to manage stress and loosen up those overtired muscles. (Hey, being a mom can be tough!)
DiDio says that the biggest post-pregnancy pitfalls aren't your basic dieting and exercise issues, though. It's the added pressure of motherhood. "Lack of sleep, bad eating habits and stress can make you feel crappy and not motivated to work out," DiDio explains. "It's the main reason why women have trouble getting their bodies back."
Fact #2: You can lose your baby weight just by chasing your kids around, and relying on good genes.
It's the celeb weight-loss secret we all have trouble believing, but shockingly, there is some truth in it. "Chasing around your kids definitely helps, because it increases 'the fidget factor' and revs up your metabolism," DiDio says. "Plus, if you're running after your kids, you're usually not snacking."
Although simply being an active mom might help shed a few pounds, it's still important to get an exercise routine going post-birth. "Consistent strength training and interval cardio is what gets a mom's body into seriously tip-top shape," DiDio explains. "Unfortunately it's hard to do that while you're watching the kiddies!" DiDio says the trick is being quick, yet effective. Put in five or six days a week, but only 30 minutes at a time. For example, do interval strength training with stretching and yoga on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and then some cardio with stretching on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Fact #3: I am still "eating for two," and need to consume more calories when I am breastfeeding.
The eating-for-two thing is a total myth. You still should watch your portion size. "As a breastfeeding mother, you're not eating for two," says nutritionist and eating strategist Rania Batayneh, MPH. "That would mean that you're eating for another full-sized woman! Calorie-wise, you're technically eating for about one and ¼."
Dr. Tanya Altmann, pediatrician and author of Mommy Calls: Dr. Tanya Answers Parents' Top 101 Questions About Babies and Toddlers, says breastfeeding mothers should be adding a little something extra to their diet—it just needs to be healthy. "You want to start cutting back on the indulgences you had during pregnancy," she says. "But you still want to make sure you're eating 300 to 500 additional calories more than you normally would. Breastfeeding or pumping will burn those 300 to 500 calories. I tell moms it's basically like jogging 3 miles!"
Bottom line: No starving yourself. Batayneh says you have to go with your gut (literally!) and eat accordingly. "If you're truly hungry, you should eat more," she says. "Most breastfeeding mothers are hungrier than normal, as their bodies are working to produce breast milk, and caring for an infant takes energy. Take note, however: the extra calories in your post-pregnancy diet should be just as nutrient- and vitamin-filled as the rest of your diet—not a reason to splurge on your cravings. If you're not getting enough nutrients, your body will ultimately draw from its reserves, leaving you with possible vitamin and nutritional deficiencies."
Fact #4: Losing weight post-pregnancy will take much longer than it might have pre-pregnancy.
"Nope, not true," DiDio says. Isn't that a relief?
Part of the reason this myth is perpetuated has to do with moms losing the energy to exercise. So even though you're taking care of a new little one, make sure to take care of yourself. "The big thing that zaps metabolism and motivation is lack of sleep," DiDio says. "Moms can be very sleep deprived, so that can slow weight loss, but it's been my experience that if they take naps during the day moms actually lose weight more quickly."
Permission to nap? Go right ahead, insists Dr. Altmann. "It's all about taking care of your body," she says. "Getting enough sleep, eating right and exercising will help you get back to your pre-pregnancy weight. Another good thing about napping is that if you're awake and overtired, that's when you start snacking. If you're asleep, you're not eating."
Fact #5: My metabolism slows down after pregnancy, so I need to change my old diet habits.
Yes, you do—but probably only back to your regular, pre-pregnancy habits. As long as those were healthy for you! "During and after pregnancy, hormones levels fluctuate naturally," says Batayneh. "These hormones affect stress, fatigue, appetite, energy and many other factors, so they can also indirectly affect weight gain and loss. Metabolism increases during pregnancy, to account for the increased energy demands, so it does decrease following pregnancy, but usually to your normal, pre-pregnancy levels. There are plenty of other factors that may affect weight gain and loss—including less time to eat right, exercise and sleep."
Fact #6: You will probably have to give your workout routine an overhaul after having a child.
Completely change your routine? Not necessary. DiDio says your routine might change "slightly." Making adjustments that target how your body has changed during pregnancy is smart, though. Work on adding muscle tone to get the most bang out of each workout. "Strength training is one of the best things that a woman can do to overhaul her body after baby," says DiDio. "It increases the metabolism, lowers fat and makes the body look more toned. Because moms are so time constrained, efficient and effective exercises are necessary. What mom has time to work out for two hours a day?"
Fact #7: You should wait several months after the birth before working out, and definitely not while nursing.
Get up, and get at it! "False," DiDio says. "Typically doctors recommend starting a workout after the six-week checkup, or after you've stopped bleeding. Check with your doctor first, but exercise is not only great for your body, it's also great for your head."
Dr. Altmann agrees the six-week rule isn't exact, and moms should check with doc. Start small, and the sooner the better. "I recommend my moms start exercising as soon as possible," she says. "It depends on each individual pregnancy, on the type of delivery, and on your previous fitness level, so check with your OB/GYN. For me, after my pregnancy, my doctor said I could get back to it whenever I felt like it. And there's a number of things you can do to get active again. Simply taking your newborn out and wheeling him around the driveway is great. Then, build up to wheeling him around the block and so on."
Fact #8: If I simply eat small portions, I can lose the baby weight in a hurry.
Right after the birth your job is simple: Listen to your body's hunger signals, and eat enough to nourish yourself and your newborn. Save major dieting for later. "Eating small portions and cutting your calorie intake drastically can affect you and your baby in negative ways," says Batayneh. "Most physicians advise their patients to wait six to eight weeks to start cutting calories. As a new and busy mom, small meals and snacks—as opposed to three big, square meals—will fit into your schedule better, provide lasting energy, and curb hunger pangs. Each meal should be balanced with quality sources of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. High-fiber foods, including whole grains, beans, legumes, and vegetables, can reduce hunger and aid in weight loss, and lean protein—chicken, turkey, eggs, fish—are satiating and provide you with energy."
And you've heard it a million times. Eat. Breakfast. "A healthy breakfast is especially important for a new mom," Batayneh insists. "It jump starts the metabolism in the morning and provides the backbone of energy for the day. A University of Missouri study shows that high-protein breakfasts are the most satiating, but if you're more of a cereal person, high-fiber breakfasts are healthy, too. Aim for about 350 to 400 calories of lean protein and high-fiber calories."