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Hanging On to Healthy Pregnancy Habits -- For Good!

During pregnancy, I swapped my journalist's diet (reheated coffee and Snickers for dinner, anyone?) for fruits, vegetables, and plenty of water -- and a day didn't pass without a 30-minute brisk walk. But after the birth of my daughter (and 21 months later, my son), I found myself fueling up with a cup of Starbucks and a Krispy Kreme just to watch the kids crawl around at Gymboree. I was irritable, exhausted, and nostalgic for how great I'd felt during pregnancy. And then it hit me: It wasn't just the hormones that kept me energetic -- it was my pregnancy lifestyle.

Pregnancy is one of a few windows of opportunity when women make significant changes to improve their health, says Raul Artal, M.D., professor and chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine in Missouri. (The others include after an osteoporosis diagnosis or a heart attack.) But after childbirth, many women -- overwhelmed and exhausted -- abandon their healthy regimens. Here's how to hang on to those good-for-you habits.

Pregnancy keeper: Mini-meals and snacks

Why: Frequent little meals keep your energy level up and your mood and blood sugar stable after the baby is born, says Debra Waterhouse, R.D., author of Outsmarting the Female Fat Cell After Pregnancy. Tempted to cut back on calories so you can fit into your jeans? Don't. Waterhouse's stats show that women who diet postpartum retain twice as much weight as women who don't.

Good habit helper: Stock up on healthy snacks (fruits, easy-to-eat vegetables, whole-wheat crackers, and cheese), and while your baby naps, prepare small bags to carry with you. Identify your "energy food" -- the one healthy snack that always gives you a boost -- and make sure it's on hand. Good ones to try: peanuts, bananas, energy bars, and yogurt.

Pregnancy keeper: Lots of water

Why: Dehydration is the number one cause of fatigue, says Waterhouse. We drink about two glasses per day, but our bodies need six to eight.

Good habit helper: Always carry a water bottle with you, even around the house. Remember that the caffeinated beverages you cut back on during pregnancy are actually diuretics (they dehydrate), so don't replace water with cola or coffee. Exercise, Kegels, and calcium

Pregnancy keeper: Regular exercise

Why: Working out can help prevent weight gain and disease, and help you drop postpartum pounds. It also helps new moms sleep better and fight after-the-baby blues.

Good habit helper: Since your child is not going to work around your schedule, work around his. "I would put my baby in a Snugli and do lunges across my living room," says fitness expert Denise Austin, author of the new book and video Pilates for Every Body as well as Bounce Back After Baby. The good news for time-crunched moms is that a new study by Irish researchers found that three 10-minute workouts a day gave as much benefit as a 30-minute block of exercise. Working moms may want to exercise to a video with their babies nearby each evening, while at-home moms may need a brisk walk and some alone-time after Dad returns from work.

Pregnancy keeper: Kegels

Why: They're not just for childbirth. These vaginal-tightening exercises help strengthen the pelvic floor, can prevent bladder problems, and add to sexual satisfaction.

Good habit helper: This may be the only exercise you can do while watching TV, sitting in the car, or talking on the phone. As a reminder, to locate the muscles, try stopping and starting the flow of urine -- that's the motion of the Kegel. (Don't do the exercises while you're urinating, however.) The National Institutes of Health recommend doing 10 kegels three times a day, and Austin does them for five seconds a few times a day. Start them after childbirth (check with your doctor first), and keep doing them until you're a grandma!

Pregnancy keeper: Extra calcium

Why: If you think you only needed extra calcium to build your baby's bones, think again. Almost 80 percent of women don't get the calcium they need daily (1,000 mg), and up to one-half are at risk for osteoporosis -- fragile bones susceptible to fractures. Research has also shown that calcium alleviates PMS.

Good habit helper: Keep taking your prenatal vitamin as long as your doctor recommends it, and then switch to a daily multivitamin. Make foods high in calcium (yogurt, milk, kale, broccoli, and salmon) part of your diet.