Getting fit after baby arrives

by Julie Snyder Fitness after babyYou've brought a new life into the world. You probably spent your first few days in awe, amazed by everything from the tiny fingers to the soft chubby thighs.

Speaking of which, when you look down past your baby, is your body not quite how you remembered? Do you feel like a large, deflated balloon? It can be discouraging especially when you read about some celebrity who was prancing around in her size 0 jeans in just two weeks.

For at least a year, your body will probably be larger than it was pre-pregnancy. There is good news -- you will bounce back. Combining a healthy diet with exercise can be your magic bullet to getting fit after baby arrives.

Staying well-nourished

You're probably anxious to drop that extra baby weight, but a healthy diet these first weeks helps your body recover from pregnancy and childbirth.

If you eat healthfully and exercise moderately, you'll find that the extra weight takes care of itself. Are you familiar with a good postpartum diet? This list will help you make good food choices.

Whole grains: A serving is 1 slice of bread, 1/2 bagel, 1 ounce cereal, 1/2 cup brown rice or pasta. (Postpartum -- 6 servings; nursing -- 9 servings)

Low-fat dairy: A serving is 8 ounces low-fat milk, 1 1/2 ounces cheese, 2 ounces processed cheese, 1 cup yogurt, 1/2 cup ice cream. (Postpartum -- 2 servings; nursing moms -- 3 servings)

Fish, poultry, meat, eggs: A serving is 3 to 4 ounces fish, poultry, lean meat, 1 large egg, 2 medium eggs. (Postpartum -- 2 servings; nursing moms -- 2 servings)

Nuts, legumes: A serving is 1/4 cup nuts, 1/2 cup dried beans or peas, 2 tablespoons nut butter. (Postpartum -- 1 serving; nursing moms -- 2 servings)

Vegetables: A serving is 1 cup salad, 1/2 cup vegetable cooked or chopped, 1/4 cup vegetable juice. (Postpartum -- at least 4 servings; nursing moms -- at least 4 servings)

Fruits: A serving is 1 piece of fruit, 1/2 cup cooked fruit, 1/4 cup dried fruit, 3/4 cup fruit juice. (Postpartum -- 2 servings; nursing moms -- 3 servings)

Plant oils: A serving is 2 teaspoons (Postpartum -- 2 servings; nursing moms -- 2 servings)

Body mechanics for new moms

You lift baby up and down all day. Taking care of a new baby can wreak havoc with your lower back. You might find you're so focused on your new babe that you aren't paying attention to your own body.

Prevent back problems

Holding your baby: The best way to hold your newborn is in the center and close to your body. Infant carriers and slings protect your back and leave your hands free to do other things. Carrying your baby on your hip creates muscle imbalance and can lead to lower back problems.

Using your stroller: Before you buy a stroller, give it a test run. You should be able to walk comfortably with your elbows at a right angle and in good posture. Walks with baby help you get back in shape. You can practice belly breathing and Kegel exercises as you walk for extra toning.

Placing baby in the car seat: Bending and twisting from outside the car seems easiest, but isn't best for your back. Instead, hold your baby and get into the side of the car opposite your car seat. Turn your whole body towards the car seat and then position your baby safely.

Exercising with a new baby

The first few weeks after birthing your baby can be hectic. Even scheduling a shower seems a big accomplishment. Exercise can help you recover and help your body get back its pre-pregnancy proportions.

Get into a routine

You can start when your healthcare provider gives you the green light. "Be sensible and take it slowly," suggests Bonnie Berk, author of "Motherwell Maternity Fitness Plan." It takes most new moms 6 months to a year to return to their pre-pregnancy shape.

Walking: Start by walking with your baby for 15 minutes. Can you fit in two sessions? Eventually try to walk for at least 30 minutes or two 20 minute outings.

Tip for nursing moms: Nurse before your session and wear a supportive bra. Some moms find wearing two bras more comfortable. You may want to wash your nipples after exercising and before nursing. Some babies dislike the taste of sweat.

Mommy and me classes: These are designed just for moms and new babies and focus on a routine geared for your changing body. Network with other new moms!

Dance time! Dancing with your baby is another good weight bearing exercise. The movement and music may stimulate your baby's development and if nothing else, some moms find it lulls a fussy babe to sleep.

An exercise session should feel good and enhance your sense of well-being. If you experience pain or heavy bleeding, stop exercising and contact your health care provider.

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.