According to the American Pregnancy Association, doctors recommend women gain 10-40 pounds after becoming pregnant, depending on their body size. Depending on the size of your newborn, the weight of your placenta and amniotic fluid, women can expect to lose 10-15 pounds during delivery. The rest of the pounds come from increased blood supply, an enlarged uterus, and increased fat and protein storage. Though every woman wants to immediately shrink back to their pre-baby size, the fact of the matter is that getting your body back in shape takes time and effort.
The more muscle mass you have, the more calories your body will burn while at rest, so strength training is key for fat loss. Aim for strength training 2-3 times per week and follow a program that includes full body exercises. You do not need a lot of equipment and most exercises can easily be done at home while your baby is napping or watching you.
Strength exercises for lower and upper body
If you do not have any equipment at home, you can get a fantastic strength workout using just your bodyweight. Squats are great for working your entire lower body and can elevate your heart rate to give you a cardio benefit as well.
The best way to get started with squats is to put a chair behind you and practice sitting down on, but not actually touching, the chair. Make sure your bodyweight is placed in your heels, keep your abdominals drawn in, and body stable. As you stand back up, squeeze all the muscles in your legs. Breathe and repeat 10-15 times. Once you are familiar with this movement, you can do them without the chair behind you. To add intensity, do a few sets holding dumbbells. Don't forget to listen to your body and go at your own pace.
Another exercise that is great for your lower body and glutes is the step-up. Stand in front of a bench or chair and step up with your right leg while keeping your left leg extended behind you. Again, feel the contraction (squeeze) of your muscles and focus on maintaining your balance. Breathe through the exercise and repeat 8-10 times on each leg.
Push ups will strengthen your chest and shoulders and can be done either elevated (hands on a bench or step) or on your knees. Make sure to keep your neck in line with your spine and to focus on lowering your body toward the ground, not just your head and neck.
Aim to do some form of cardio at least 4 times per week for maximum results. This can include walking, running, swimming, dance class, etc. It should be something you enjoy doing that elevates your heart rate and makes you sweat. Aim for 30 minutes or more per session.
If you have a jogging stroller, a great way to get your cardio workout done is with a brisk walk or easy jog with your baby. Start off slow---intervals are a great way to keep intensity while allowing your body time to recover. Here is a quick cardio workout to get you started:
Start off with a brisk walk to warm up. 20 jumping jacks Brisk walk or jog for 30 seconds 20 jumping jacks Repeat this cycle 8-10 times.
If you prefer to exercise inside your home, the stairs can also provide a great workout. Run up a flight of stairs and slowly walk back down. At the bottom of the stairs you can add in some jumping jacks or bodyweight squats and then run back up the stairs again. Repeat this 8-10 times for a quick, yet effective, workout.
The muscles of the abdominals and pelvic floor are stretched and weakened by the stresses of pregnancy and delivery so it is important to focus on rebuilding core strength. Planks, hip bridges, crunches, and kegels are all exercises that you want to incorporate into your routine. Aim for 2-3 sets of 8-10 exercises of each. Remember to contract your abdominal muscles by imagining you are pulling your belly button toward your spine.
Abdominal bracing exercises, like holding plank, are a great way to strengthen your core. Go down into a push up position and then lower yourself down onto your elbows. Hold your abs in tight, as if you are pulling your belly button into your spine, while also contracting your leg muscles. Hold this position for as long as you can before breaking form. Rest, recover, and repeat. As your abs get stronger, you will be able to hold this position longer.
Hip bridges and crunches
Hip bridges can be done on the ground or a stability ball. Make sure your glutes are held tight, as well as your core, as you slowly lower and then quickly lift your lower body. Make sure to breathe throughout the exercise. Do 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps.
Stability ball crunches will also strengthen your abdominals --aim for 3 sets of 10-15 reps each.
With any weight loss program, nutrition is key. Focus on eating as clean as possible. This means eliminating sugar laden foods, simple white carbs (such as white bread, crackers, chips, high sugar drinks, baked goods, etc.), and alcohol.
Your diet should consist primarily of organic green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, broccoli), lean protein (chicken, turkey, egg whites, fish), and complex carbohydrates (sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, etc). Make sure to drink plenty of water, especially if you are breastfeeding.
Your body needs fuel, so you must not skip meals or severely restrict calories. Remember, it took you 9 months to put on the baby weight, so it might take you 9 months to get back to your original size, and that's ok. Give your body the proper fuel it needs while exercising and you will see results.
Your body doesn’t just physically change during pregnancy. Increased estrogen production affects metabolism and high levels of progesterone cause internal organs and tissues to increase in size. Make sure to set realistic goals when losing your baby weight. Consult a doctor before opting for a workout and diet plan, and keep your body’s needs in mind. Listen to your body, exercise, and eat healthy meals and avoid being overly critical, and you will see the results.