Take it easy -- there's no rush
2. Ease into an exercise program Everyone knows someone who was able to work out within days of giving birth, but six weeks is closer to the norm, says Liz Neporent, the New York City-based author of The Ultimate Body. When you start depends on what shape you were in prior to pregnancy and whether you had complications during delivery. Women who've had a c-section, for instance, need more time to heal. Avoid comparing yourself with others and get your doctor's okay before starting to exercise.
3. Take your time "We used to think women could get back to their prepregnancy weight in five to eight weeks," says Dori S. Winchell, Ph.D., an Encinitas, California, psychologist who specializes in weight management. "But to expect your body to go back to its former self so quickly is a self-sabotaging notion." You're more likely to succeed if your weight loss is slow and steady; severely cutting calories can cause your metabolism to slow to a crawl. Experts suggest losing no more than a half-pound to a pound a week, particularly if you're breastfeeding. If losing a pound a week is your goal, cut 300 calories a day from your diet (which should be between 1,800 to 2,200 calories a day, plus an additional 500 if you're breastfeeding) and exercise moderately for 45 to 60 minutes, six days a week. To drop a half-pound a week, cut 150 calories from your daily diet and exercise for 25 to 45 minutes, six days a week, or trim 300 daily calories and exercise three or four days a week for about an hour.
4. Do more than breastfeed Despite what you may have heard, "breastfeeding is not the magic bullet for weight loss," says Kathleen J. Motil, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine's Children's Nutrition Research Center, in Houston, Texas. True, nursing mothers expend an additional 500 to 600 calories a day, but they usually have voracious appetites, too, and need the extra calories to produce healthy breast milk. Most studies show that mothers who breastfeed exclusively are no more likely to lose weight and are no quicker at the task than those who use formula. Nursing is wonderful for your baby, however, and research shows you can safely curb your intake without reducing the volume of milk you produce -- as long as you don't dip too low in calories. In one Baylor study, breastfeeding mothers fully nourished their infants and lost weight while consuming about 2,200 calories daily.
5. Form an exercise group "Being able to commiserate and collaborate with other new mothers often makes a difference in sticking with exercise and shedding pregnancy weight," says Catherine Cram, an exercise physiologist in Middleton, Wisconsin, specializing in pre- and postnatal fitness.
6. Reduce the stress of babycare "When you're stressed, your fat cells freak out and store even more fat," says Debra Waterhouse, R.D., the Oakland, California-based author of Outsmarting the Female Fat Cell -- After Pregnancy. Moreover, the stress hormone cortisol stimulates fat storage, especially in the ab region. Recruit family members or friends to help, and just skip some of the housework.