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Getting Your Body Back After the Baby

A fitter pregnancy

One way to avoid the extra-weight-gain trap when you're expecting is to exercise regularly. Doing so also helps labor go more smoothly, reduces the risk of gestational diabetes, lifts your spirits, and boosts energy. For a decade, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has been clear that most women can maintain prepregnancy workout routines -- and that healthy moms-to-be who haven't been active can start to exercise. But this advice hasn't filtered down to many women -- or their doctors.

"A lot of expectant moms are still fearful about being active," says Kieffer. "There are misconceptions about what's healthy and what's safe." It's fine to do almost any physical activity or sport -- dancing, low-impact aerobics classes, swimming, brisk walking, jogging -- at moderate intensity, as long as you don't become exhausted, dehydrated, or very overheated. Just steer clear of sports in which you're more likely to take a fall or otherwise get injured: soccer, basketball, hockey, gymnastics, horseback riding, skiing, and scuba diving.

The more a woman knows, the easier it is to get fit and stay that way throughout the pregnancy. When Heidi Sowers of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, wanted to conceive, she started going to the gym nearly every day. She'd been walking a couple of miles a day, but now she added step-climbing, treadmill running, and strength training on machines. When she found out she was pregnant, she tapered her routine to walking a mile or more each evening, plus once-a-week water aerobics and yoga.

"I know it's going to be hard to take off weight after pregnancy," said Sowers at the time. "But I think if I maintain a healthy diet and exercise, I'll be okay." (And she was. Sowers weighed 170 pounds before she got pregnant and 183 when she gave birth to her son, Mason; within a few months, her weight was 168.) Others become more active after the baby arrives. "I started exercising about five weeks after my second daughter was born, and I noticed a difference within a month," says Carolyn Mastrangelo of Roseland, New Jersey, mom of Isabella, 3, and Kate, 9 months. "The weight came off slowly but steadily after that. I ran on a treadmill for forty-five minutes four times a week." Her eating plan was just as simple: "I was careful with what I ate, but I wouldn't call it dieting. I tried to do things like eat a turkey sandwich instead of the grilled cheese I was making for my older daughter. I snacked on low-fat yogurt instead of cookies. I just made it a priority to lose the weight."

The best time to shed postbaby pounds may be that first six months. In a study by epidemiologist Brenda Rooney, Ph.D., of the Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center, in La Crosse, Wisconsin, women who didn't lose the weight after six months were more likely still to be overweight ten years later. "Six months isn't a magic point," says Rooney. "It's not hopeless after that, but it is a good time to take stock. Not being able to lose all the weight at the half-year mark may be an indicator that you can't get a grip on controlling your weight."