It’s such a relief when you finally ditch the maternity pants for your favorite jeans, but how you get there is important. Drastically cutting calories, working out too hard and setting high expectations for weight loss isn’t good for you or your baby.

Experts agree with a healthy diet, gentle exercise and love for your body, you can safely and easily shed the extra pounds. Read on to learn their strategies.

Be realistic.
It took nine months to gain the weight so you have to give yourself at least the same amount of time to lose it. If you were overweight before you became pregnant, it will likely take longer.

You’ll lose a lot of water weight in the first few weeks after you give birth, but after that a halfpound to two pounds per week is a healthy goal, said Tamara S. Melton, an Atlanta-based registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND).

Hydrate.
Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated, especially because hunger can often be mistaken for thirst. Plus, drinking water can help you lose weight. In fact, a recent study out of the University of Birmingham found that obese adults who drank 500 milliliters, or about 17 ounces, of water before each meal lost nearly 10 more pounds than those who didn’t.

Fill up on protein.
Eating protein at every meal and snack will help you feel satiated, keep your blood sugar stable and give you energy for all those feedings and diaper changes.

Eat plenty of vegetables.
Try your best to eat five to nine servings of vegetables a day. Not only will you get a ton of nutrition, but vegetables are low in calories and high in fiber and water which will keep you feeling full longer. Add spinach to your eggs, have a salad for lunch and blend greens into your smoothie and you’ll get your fill in no time.

Cut carbs.
To accelerate weight loss, deemphasize carbohydrates and the empty calories that come along with things like bread and pasta. Too many carbs will spike and drop your blood sugar which will make you feel shaky and even more hungry.

“It’s a cycle that perpetuates holding onto extra weight that your body doesn’t actually need any more,” said Leah Keller, a pre- and post-natal fitness expert in New York City and founder of the Dia Method.

She recommends 50 grams a day for two weeks, 75 grams between weeks two and eight and 100 grams for maintenance.

Breast-feed.
Sure, breast-feeding can make shedding the weight easier, but just because you can have an extra 500 calories (if you’re exclusively breast-feeding), doesn’t mean you have to eat all of them. Listen to your hunger cues and be mindful of what you’re eating, since you can quickly blow the calories on high-calorie fare in one sitting.

You might also hang onto an extra five pounds until you’ve completely weaned your baby, Keller said. Once you do wean, you might see a small weight gain as your appetite gets regulated, but the rest of the weight will probably fall off without effort.  

Sit down.
Life is hectic with a newborn, especially during the first few weeks, but if you can carve out 10 minutes to sit down for a meal, chances are you’ll eat healthier, consume less calories and feel more nourished.

Track with an app.
Keeping a food journal or using an app to track your food is a good idea after pregnancy. It’s easy to eat mindlessly or overeat, especially if you have other children, are feeling overwhelmed, don’t have time to eat or are sleep-deprived and turn to food for comfort, Melton said.

Prepare meals.
Try to prepare dinners so you won’t be tempted with takeout. When your baby naps, set aside individual portions of healthy snacks such as vegetables and hummus, fruit and nuts or string cheese.

Give yourself time.
Most providers will give the green light to exercise between four and six weeks post-delivery, depending on the type of birth you had and other individual factors. Because you still have instability in the hips and pelvis, laxity in the joints, and your pelvic floor is healing, you’re more prone to incontinence and injury.

“There’s still a lot going on hormonally and your body has just been through a massive upheaval and transformation,” Keller said.

Restore balance.
In order to do other types of exercises safely, you need to restore strength and integrity to the core, which includes the abdominal muscles, the back and the pelvic floor, Keller said. Look for postpartum fitness programs that include deep breathing and gentle abdominal activation.

Ease into it.
When you feel ready, add light cardio and resistance training one to two days a week, which is good for restoring muscle tone and for metabolism, Keller said. Start out with brisk walking, the elliptical or an easy bike ride before diving deep into training for a 5K.

Splurge.
Let yourself eat a special dessert or a favorite dish once or twice a week. It will be easier to eat healthy 80 percent of the time when you give yourself permission to enjoy foods you love the other 20.

Be kind to yourself.
Stop comparing yourself to celebrities or other moms and let go of your expectations about the time and energy you thought you would have after having your baby. Instead of punishing yourself at the gym for that piece of chocolate cake, beating yourself up because you were too tired to work out, make your goal to be healthy and active as a gift to yourself and as an example for your family.

“Treat yourself and your body with the love that you want to extend to your child,” Keller said.

Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.