When my first son was 20 months old, I caught sight of my reflection in a store window and thought, "Wow! How did that extra padding get onto my hips?" It didn't make sense. I'd lost my pregnancy weight within six months of giving birth, I wasn't eating any more than usual, and I hadn't changed my activity level dramatically. What had happened was that, despite weaning Nate three months before, I was still eating as though I were nursing. I'd gained six pounds without realizing it.
When you become a mom, your habits can change so subtly that you may not even notice. Snacking with your kids, say, or walking just a little less now that you have a child to tote around can have a major impact. "If you burn off one hundred fewer calories a day than you did before having kids -- which doesn't seem like much -- you'll gain ten pounds in a year," says James Rippe, M.D., founder and director of the Rippe Lifestyle Institute, in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts.
The good news: Being a mom needn't be hazardous to your shape -- if you know how to avoid the most common pitfalls.
Trap 1: You're still eating as if you were pregnant or nursing.
While pregnant, you need an extra 300 calories a day; breastfeeding demands 500 calories more a day. (And 300 calories is just two cups of reduced-fat milk.) Often, moms-to-be give themselves permission to ease up on eating restraints -- and that can continue after pregnancy or nursing.
But once you're no longer pregnant or breastfeeding, your metabolism slows down to its prepregnancy level. To get back in sync with your body, "think about smaller portions, not dieting," suggests Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "Take about two bites less at every meal." One pregnancy habit you should retain, says Bonci: "Try to keep up the healthy eating behaviors you developed during pregnancy -- you'll benefit from them now."