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Post-Baby Body: How to Tighten Skin After Pregnancy

As any pregnant woman knows, giving birth doesn't return the body to its pre-pregnancy condition. Hormones continue to rage, soreness sets in and, even though baby is out, your body still looks like it may be harboring an extra human. In the first 6 to 8 weeks post-pregnancy, accept that your body is readjusting and will take time to shrink down. But, once your doctor has cleared you for exercise, you may get started on reducing the extra flab and skin resulting from your pregnancy.

How much work you must do depends on how much weight you gained during pregnancy, your genes, your normal body size and whether you exercised before giving birth.

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Realistic Expectations

Your belly took nine months to expand and carry a baby; give it some time to shrink back. Remember that abdominal exercises and skin-perfecting creams won't do much if you still have pounds to lose. Cardiovascular exercise done at least 30 minutes per day, five times per week, or more, can help you burn calories to lose weight.

Breastfeeding also helps you burn more calories daily to reduce excess pounds as does a diet that reduces calories below what you burn and consists of nutritious, whole, natural foods to fuel healing and breast feeding.

"Exercise is important, but that covers about 30 percent of accomplishing your fitness goals," notes Jerod Langness, elite National Academy of Sports Medicine trainer. "The other 70 percent is getting proper nutrition and recovery. For you to truly have healthy changes that stick, you have to improve the other 23 hours of your day when you're not exercising. How you eat, how you handle stress, and how you sleep are vital to getting the results you are looking for."

Avoid crash diets or consuming fewer than 1,600 calories per day. These tactics may leave you nutritionally bereft, especially if you're still breastfeeding. "The best approach for getting the best overall results is to take it on as a lifestyle change, and not a temporary fix," Langness says.

Diastus Recti

Before you start targeted abdominal toning, make sure you don't have a common condition known as diastus recti. In this situation, the muscles of the right and left side of the rectus abdominus separate—making it look like you are still several months pregnant. It might appear as loose skin, a ridge or pooch—and conventional abdominal exercises such as crunches and sit ups can make it worse.

Your doctor can easily let you know if you have this condition. If so, surgery may be recommended, although abdominal exercise, postural work and wearing corset-like undergarments may help, found a meta-analysis published in a 2014 issue of Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects.

Target the Core

If you've lost the baby weight—hopefully through a sustainable, moderate-calorie diet and exercise adjustments—and are cleared of diastus recti, but the skin is pooching and sagging, then it's time to do some targeted exercising to tighten the area up. Toning the internal abdominal muscles, such as the transverse abdominus, can help because they wrap horizontally and hold you in like a corset.

Hip bridges, side planks, reverse crunches and bird dogs—in which you kneel on all fours and raise opposite arms and legs—are valuable, the IDEA Health and Fitness Association notes. Perform these moves at least three times per week on non-consecutive days for 10 to 15 repetitions; or for three to five 10- to 15-second holds for the side plank. A regular mat Pilates class also focuses on these internal muscles; try it at least twice per week for the most effective results.

In addition, moves such as squats—add weight by holding your baby—and resistance-band rear deltoid flyes and rows also work the stabilizing muscles of the core as well as your total body. Do these also about three times per week for 10 to 15 repetitions.

"The exercises that will have the biggest impact in regard to making the biggest change are the ones that recruit the largest muscles and the most amount of muscles at one time. Our legs are the largest muscle group in our bodies, followed by our back muscles and chest muscles," Langness explains.The back exercises will also help build your muscles to deal with the strain of carrying baby and constantly picking up bassinets and car seats.

New Body

Even if you exercise, diet or resort to a risky, scar-inducing postpartum tummy tuck, don't expect your abdominal skin to look exactly like it did before you had a child. Your skin has stretched to accommodate extra weight and a baby—it is now different. "It is challenging to truly make everything disappear," Langness says, "but in my experience, I have seen women become so fit that these minor imperfections go virtually unnoticed by everyone but the mom who has them."

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Undergarments that help hold you in may be an alternative under clothing while you wait for exercise and diet to help. Today's versions are breathable and more comfortable than the clunky girdles of years past. Remember too, aids that promise immediate, easy results—such as jiggling ab belts and magic stomach-tightening gels—are unlikely to be effective. Good old-fashioned hard work and time will help your belly return to a flatter state.

Photograph by: Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images

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