There's a good reason that you're feeling tired these days (besides all those late-night feedings, of course). In addition to supplying your baby with food and love during pregnancy, you also gave him something else. "A mother typically gives up to one-third of her oxygen to her baby while in utero, which can lower her endurance and perhaps her fitness levels," explains Mary Beth Knight, president and chief fitness director of StrollerFit Exercise with Your Baby. "So after pregnancy, you might not be as fit as you were before." Here's how to bounce back into shape safely:
1. Set a goal. Reach for about 30 minutes of moderate exercise three days a week to rebuild your aerobic fitness level. "It's important to have a strong base so you can safely burn off the baby weight while getting your hormones back in balance," says Knight.
2. Take it easy -- but not too easy. Do too much, too soon, says Knight, and you may rob yourself of much-needed energy. Exercise enough to break a light sweat: Your breath should be slightly faster than when at rest, but still in control; work at a pace you can easily maintain for 30 minutes. "If you were chewing a piece of gum and you have to spit it out, you're working too hard. If you're able to blow a bubble, you're probably not working hard enough," she explains.
3. Stay low. Choose an activity without a lot of impact. "The hormone relaxin [which relaxes the joints in your pelvis to ease delivery] is still floating around your system, and that can increase your risk of injury during high-impact activities," says Knight. A brisk walk is one of the best ways to raise your heart rate without stressing your joints -- and you can do it solo or with your newest family member. In fact, you'll burn about 20 percent more calories pushing a stroller than going solo -- up to 444 calories an hour at a brisk 3.5 mph pace. Other low-impact activities to consider include swimming, cycling (stationary or outdoors), and using an elliptical machine or stair climber.
4. Opt for easy indoor options. If you can't get outside (bad weather, cranky baby, too much laundry) and you don't have access to gym equipment, there are still plenty of ways to stay active indoors.
- Climb stairs. Research shows you'll burn about 10 calories per minute, which can easily add up to 100 extra calories a day. (just think of all that laundry!) Write it down in a log to keep tabs on how many steps you're climbing, then challenge yourself to tackle a few more flights each time.
- Crank up the radio and dance. Do it during playtime and you'll elicit baby giggles, or put her in a carrier and sway with her. (It might even soothe a colicky baby.) A fast-paced step burns more than 300 calories per hour; slow dancing burns about 200.
- Turn on the tube. There are hundreds of exercise DVDs for every taste and style, including many specially designed for new moms. Check out StrollerFit's Restore the Core Pilates series, $17 each (strollerfit.com) or Gabrielle Reece's The Complete Fit & Healthy Pregnancy Workout, $20 (collagevideo.com).