Lost some or all of the baby weight, but somehow that belly pudge won’t budge?
It might seem that all of the the baby weight is only in your belly, but it’s actually evenly distributed throughout your body, according to experts.
“Even before you have a baby, that area can be pretty stubborn,” said Sarah Ann Corkum, a personal trainer in Manhattan and a certified expert for Zeel.com, who says that women tend to collect fat in the abdominal region anyway, which can make it even more challenging to lose after you’ve had a baby.
If you are ready to banish your belly pooch for good, here are five ways:
1. Start Slow
You might be eager to get back into your pre-pregnancy skinny jeans, but be patient. It can take up to a year to lose the weight and tone the belly, which is completely normal and even preferable, said Karen Ansel, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and co-author of The Baby & Toddler Cookbook. This is because your abdominal muscles stretched and your uterus expanded during pregnancy.
“After pregnancy a woman's body is depleted of many nutrients so this is an especially important time to eat right to rebuild and restock those stores,” Ansel added. “What's more, new moms need as much energy as possible so that they can have the energy to care for their newborn.”
The amount of time it takes to see results also depends on your pregnancy, whether or not you had a cesarean section and your own body. Be sure to get the green light from your doctor to start working out again, usually around six weeks postpartum.
2. Eat Right
A healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats or vegetarian substitutes, and low-fat dairy will help you lose weight and give you enough energy to work out and keep up with your baby. Be sure to eat three servings of low-fat dairy, or calcium-fortified soy milk a day, or take a calcium supplement equal to 1,000 milligrams. Ansel suggested the following system: Fill half your plate with vegetables or fruit, a quarter with whole grain, complex carbohydrates, and a quarter with lean protein. Choose healthy fats like canola or olive oil and limit fatty foods and sugar.
Breastfeeding is a good way to tighten the belly because it causes the uterus to contract and quickly shrink back to its pre-baby size. Women who breastfeed lose weight faster than those who don’t— up to 300 calories a day. And if you breastfeed for more than six months, you can burn up to 400 calories a day.
Fitting in 30 to 60 minutes of cardio most days is a great way to burn calories and lose belly fat, and it doesn’t have to involve making time to go to the gym. Put the baby in the stroller and go for a walk in the park. Do jumping jacks or download a workout app and get moving while your baby naps.
Add in resistance training and total body exercises to maximize your time and make your workouts more effective. Pick up some hand weights and try squats with biceps curls or lunges while twisting. Corkum recommended three sets of three different consecutive exercises that target different parts of the body to really burn calories.
“It really gets your heart rate up, and it challenges your muscles and it challenges your body to have one area rest while the other area works,” she said.
5. Pull In, Squeeze and Tighten
Not only does your stomach stretch during pregnancy to accommodate your growing baby, but the abdominal muscles may actually tear, Corkum said.
And if you lose the baby weight rapidly, it can be hard for those muscles to reconnect. So exercises that force you to draw the navel into the spine, or make you squeeze as though you’re going to be punched in the stomach, target the deep muscles underneath the rectus abdmoninus, and the external and internal obliques and help to engage the whole core. They also develop strength and help with posture—very important especially when you’re hunched over a changing table all day.
Try pelvic tilts, reverse crunches, plank exercises or a Pilates program.
“Pilates is a great way to really target that area because a lot of those exercises really focus on the deep core muscles that can get stretched out during pregnancy,” said Corkum, who believes it’s also important to squeeze the pelvic floor muscles, also known as Kegels, while you’re doing abdominal exercises.
Julie Revelant is a freelance writer specializing in parenting, health, and women's issues and a mom. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com