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Love Your New-Mom Body: Instant Energy

If you frequently find yourself thinking back to the days when you wore a pair of pants without an elastic waist and wondering how you're ever going to slip back into your pre-pregnancy jeans, never fear: Our ultimate body-after-baby plan is designed to help you lose weight, gain energy and feel great in just three months, without having to devote hours to the gym or slash hundreds of calories from your diet.

This month kicks off with an anyone-can-do-it series that will help you firm your core and regain strength -- not to mention tackle some of the stress that's an inevitable part of having a new baby in the house. Our experts provide easy ways to burn fat and smart, simple nutrition strategies to follow, even if you're nursing. Most of all, we've kept it easy and lots of fun because right now, you don't have the time or inclination for much else!

Start here:
• Get the OK. Make sure you check with your doc before beginning any exercise routine -- especially if you've had a C-section or given birth within the past few weeks. Generally speaking, most OBs advise waiting six weeks to allow your body time to heal from the rigors of birth.
• Find a few minutes. Practice our core-strengthening moves just two or three times a week, and you'll reap benefits. Squeeze them in during naptime or any time you need an energy boost.
• Move it and lose it. Try boosting your activity level whenever you can. Walk with the stroller to do nearby errands, or park in a central place and walk to each destination. Turn this into a steady-pace workout by walking for about 30 minutes, two to three days a week.

Core Connection (5-10 minutes)

For about nine months, your baby called your belly home. Now that you're once again the sole occupant of your core, it's the first place you should focus your fitness efforts. "Regaining core strength is critical for new moms," explains Elena Brower, owner of Virayoga [one word] in New York City and creator of the DVD, Element: Prenatal and Postnatal Yoga.

During pregnancy, the abdominal muscles stretch to make room for your ever-growing offspring. To regain lost strength and rebuild muscle, it's important to strengthen all of the muscles of your core, including the deep transverse abdominals, the external and internal obliques (sides), the rectus abdominals ("six pack") and the lower back. "You can do these strengthening and stretching moves almost anywhere, even if you have just a few minutes between feedings, changing diapers and laundry," says Brower. As you try the movements, "Focusing on your breathing can help you regain a sense of calm and control." Begin by taking a few breaths while staying in each pose. As you build strength, try to increase the number of breaths you take. "Stop when your breathing becomes too short or feels difficult," adds Brower. The whole routine should take only five to 10 minutes.

To see the moves, click here.

To see the moves, click here.

What you'll need: A yoga mat or towel

1. Standing Balance
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and take a few breaths to center yourself. Bring left knee toward chest, holding it with left hand. (Place right hand on a wall for balance if necessary.) Inhale to lengthen the sides of your body from waist to armpits, and exhale to ground right foot. Take about three to five breaths here; with each exhalation, gently draw belly and pelvic floor up and in for more stability. Switch sides and repeat. As your balance improves, try taking hand off the wall and placing it on waist.

2. Downward-Facing Dog
Come to hands and knees on mat, then walk knees back a few inches until they're behind hips. Inhale, tuck toes and slowly exhale, straightening legs as you bring hips toward ceiling. Keep hands firmly rooted to the mat, especially fingertips. Remain here for three full breaths, come down, and sit back on heels to rest in child's pose or on hands and knees.

3. Warrior 1
a. From downward-facing dog, step right foot forward between hands. Turn out left heel 45 degrees; keep entire foot on floor, especially outer edge. Bring hands to waist. Inhale, rounding back slightly to deepen breathing and reach hands behind you.
b. Exhaling, stand up, lengthening sides as you reach arms up past ears. Bow forward again as you inhale, then exhale and stand back up. Repeat three to 5 times. Return to downward-facing dog and repeat, this time bringing left foot forward.

4. Boat Pose
Sit tall on mat, legs extended and hands at sides. Lift feet off mat with knees bent and shins parallel to floor. Keeping abdominals engaged, lean back slightly but stay as far forward on sitting bones as possible. Reach fingers forward, keeping hands in line with shoulders. Breathe evenly, lengthening the sides of body as you balance on sit bones.

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).

After nine months of having a "what-the-heck-I'll get-the-fries-and-milkshake" attitude, you might be tempted to micro-size your meals to lose those extra pounds. Not so fast. "Cutting too many calories can also eliminate important nutrients from your diet, which can have a negative effect on your body, especially if you're breastfeeding," explains Elisa Zied, R.D., spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and author of Nutrition at Your Fingertips. "The key is to pay attention to the quality of food that you're eating as well as the quantity." For the first six months, nursing moms need about 300-400 extra calories a day. (After six months the number stays at 400.) Whether you're breastfeeding or not, make sure you're receiving the nutrients you need by including these power foods in your diet:

Low-Fat Dairy Milk, yogurt, cheese and other dairy foods are important sources of calcium, which is crucial for baby's strong bones and teeth, as well as your own, plus vitamin D, potassium, protein and B vitamins. Choose low-fat or fat-free options to save calories and fat (especially saturated fat). Lactose intolerant? Look for fortified orange juice, cereals, fish, beans and soy to get your calcium and vitamin fix.

Eggs Not just a great source of fill-you-up protein (typically 6-8 grams per serving), eggs are also loaded with important vitamins and minerals, like lutein and vitamin A for healthy vision, selenium for immune function and B vitamins for cell growth and metabolism.

Wild Salmon Rich in good-for-you omega-3 fatty acids, this cold-water dweller is a good source of energy, and it's high in protein, vitamin D, potassium and calcium. Research shows that a diet rich in salmon and other fatty fishes like sardines and herring can help reduce heart disease and improve brain function.

Blueberries Sweet and low-calorie, blueberries are a powerful source of antioxidants that help protect against diseases like cancer and improve brain, heart and vision function. One study rated blueberries tops when it came to antioxidant activity. Blackberries and strawberries have a similar effect.

Lean Meats "Many women don't have enough iron in their diets, especially in the weeks after pregnancy," says Zied. Low iron levels can lead to energy-sapping anemia. You need this vital mineral to help with red blood cell and muscle function. Chicken, turkey and lean beef (stick with lean cuts with loin or round in the name) are all good sources of iron, as well as protein. Not a meat eater? Fortified cereals, enriched rice, beans and even many tomato products (like sauce or paste) have significant iron levels.

Whole-Grain Cereals These fortified foods are a fantastic source of folate, fiber and iron, not to mention complex carbohydrates to give you an energy boost after an early wake-up call. One bowl typically supplies at least 10 vitamins and minerals. Stir in some berries and low-fat milk for a power-packed way to start your day.

Sweet Potatoes An excellent source of fiber, vitamin C, potassium, beta carotene and other disease-fighting antioxidants. Roast them in the oven, and they'll even satisfy a sweet tooth.

Bananas The perfect grab-and-go snack; throw one into your diaper bag for an easy energy boost. High levels of potassium help regulate blood pressure and keep muscles moving. They're also a good source of fiber and vitamins B6 and C.

Beans Canned or dried, kidney, black, garbanzo or navy-they're all great low-fat sources of protein, iron and fiber. Add them to a salad, soup or pasta as an inexpensive way to help fill you up without a lot of extra calories.

Water Last but definitely not least, new moms need to stay hydrated, especially when nursing. Try drinking a glass every time you breastfeed to keep fluid levels high.

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