Pregnancy puts a woman’s body through some incredible changes to bring life into the world. As a woman’s waistline expands, it’s normal for her to get self-conscious about her figure and worry she may never return to her prepregnancy build. After delivering her child, she can be left with extra fat, loose skin, or both. But, if you’re an expecting mother reading this, don’t let that psych you out. Every year, plenty of women reclaim their prepregnancy figures (and sometimes a fitter body) through following tried-and-true principles, which I’ve condensed into the rules below, the same rules I followed to get a fitter body after having my son.
Rule 1. Eat Nutrient-rich Foods + Avoid Empty Calories While Pregnant
Pregnancy is not a free pass to overeat or eat whatever you want, despite “eating for two [or more if you’re having some combination of twins].” Pregnancy is the most crucial time in your child’s life to introduce vital nutrients and a variety of wholesome foods. As a developing human, she or he deserves optimal nutrients to thrive. Eating nutrient-dense foods is also beneficial for the mother in more ways than one: energy maintenance, illness prevention, stable mood, and ease of fat loss after labor.
Rule 2. Breastfeed Your Newborn
Producing breast milk burns calories! Typical daily caloric burn for a mother nursing one child is between 200 to 500 calories. Moreover, the process of breastfeeding your child releases progesterone, a hormone that reconstructs the uterus, which in turn tightens the abdominal wall. I’m living proof of this benefit. Before having my son, I never had a six-pack, but after one month of breastfeeding him, I saw the first signs of a six-pack and never went back.
Breastfeeding has been linked to post-baby body reconstruction for a long time. The benefits of high daily caloric burn and abdominal wall tightening are partly why so many celebrities are encouraged to breastfeed their newborns. I say it is nature’s way of getting a mom back in shape – in addition, to giving their newborns the best nutrients on earth for development and good health.
Warning: take care not to use added caloric burn from breastfeeding as a tool for fat loss by purposely eating less and creating a dangerous caloric deficit. An extreme calorie deficit can jeopardize the nutrient density of the milk you produce, thus robbing your child of adequate nourishment. Consult a doctor about how many calories you should consume based on your body mass and energy needs while breastfeeding.
Rule 3. Follow a Regular Exercise Routine
I didn’t exercise regularly before having my son; in fact, I hated working out and avoided it, opting for excessive calorie restriction and dead-end dieting practices. But, after being released from the hospital with my newborn, I began exercising every other day at a 3-days/week maximum. My routine wasn’t hardcore; I just followed moderate-intensity, at-home workouts on FitTV (when the channel existed). A few months later, I developed the habit and began exercising every day, even if only for 20 minutes per session. After taking a liking to Cathe Friedrich’s training style via FitTV, I adopted a split strength training schedule and officially began my lifelong fitness journey (seventeen years as of this post).
Note: before starting any post-pregnancy exercise routine, consult a doctor. Below are some general tips for success:
- Start with a few moderate-intensity toning and cardio sessions per week, then gradually build up to more strenuous exercise sessions.
- Take your newborn on stroller walks or runs or to mommy/baby exercise classes.
- If exercising with others motivates you, seek other new moms to train with. Sites like MeetUp.com can help you find a parent workout group in your area.
- Listen to your body. Don’t go overboard with exercise in a fight to get your prepregnancy figure back. With steady training (and a plan) it will come. If tips 1-3 are followed along with the nutrition tips below, getting your pre-baby body (or better) back can take one month (yes, one month) to a handful of months.
Bonus tip: If you’re breastfeeding, pump or feed your baby before exercise, as this can help prevent the discomfort of having heavy breasts during exercise.
Rule 4. Continue Eating Healthfully After Pregnancy
Ever heard the saying, “abs are made in the kitchen”? It’s true. The best way to lose fat and keep it off to expose your abs is not through doing hundreds of crunches or hours of exercise, but through sound nutrition. What, how, and when you eat play principle roles in your body composition and how quickly and optimally you obtain results post-workout. To get started, follow these 4 simple nutrition rules:
- Never skip meals. Skipping meals slows down your metabolic rate, meaning you will process food less efficiently and quickly, which can lead to fat retention if you’re not eating lean, nutrient-dense foods, or if you’re eating certain macronutrients at less-than-optimal times of day (further explanation below).
- Eat every 2 ½ to 3 hours, about 5 and 6 small meals a day, with healthy snacks as needed to keep up your energy for your child. This proverbial practice is said repeatedly throughout gyms and diet programs for a reason: it speeds up your metabolic rate.
- Time matters. Eat according to what activities you will be doing each day. For example, on days that you work out, it can be beneficial to have a slightly higher caloric intake than on days you don’t train. The nutrients you eat can also be better utilized when the element of time is considered; i.e., carbohydrates are a primary source of energy for high-intensity exercise, such as strength training. Eating complex, natural sources of carbs before and after a strength training workout can fuel the workout and help you recover. Neglecting proper pre and post-workout nutrition at this time can be detrimental to results. Conversely, carb loading for a moderate-intensity workout or on a day you are not training can lead to a nutrient surplus, causing your body to store unburned glycogen (sugar from carbohydrates). To learn more about when to best utilize certain nutrients, I recommend reading Burn the Fat Feed the Muscle by Tom Venuto.
- Macronutrients matter. Meaning your ratio of carbs, fat, and protein should be considered. Each food source serves its purpose for different activities you perform throughout the day. Choose the right fuel for a given activity, and you’ll burn that fuel more efficiently with little to no waste (meaning, minimal fat storage). Further, not all calories are created equal. A body shaped by a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet of fatty foods versus a body shaped by a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet of a variety of lean, natural, unprocessed foods looks, functions, and feels wholly different – and I know which body we all would prefer. To learn more about macronutrients, I recommend reading Burn the Fat Feed the Muscle by Tom Venuto.
Reclaiming your prepregnancy figure after giving birth is possible so long as you have a plan; a plan that need not be more than four steps long: 1) eat clean and healthfully while pregnant; 2) breastfeed your newborn (if possible); 3) exercise regularly, especially post-pregnancy; and 4) eat clean and healthfully post-pregnancy. By following these four rules, you can get your prepregnancy body (or better) back within months of giving birth.
“16 Effective Tips to Lose Baby Weight After Pregnancy.” https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/weight-loss-after-pregnancy#TOC_TITLE_HDR_5
Burn the Fat Feed the Muscle. Tom Venuto. https://amzn.to/33h4SFA
“Labor and delivery, postpartum care.” https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/labor-and-delivery/in-depth/weight-loss-after-pregnancy/art-20047813
“Losing the Baby Weight: The Truth About Shedding Pounds After Birth.” https://www.whattoexpect.com/first-year/losing-baby-weight
“Maintaining a Healthy Pregnancy.” https://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/healthy-pregnancy#nutrition
As an athlete for over 19 years and a broke single mom for most of that time, I created brokesinglemomfitness.com, now LLAFIT.com, to aid anyone who believes the road to fitness requires a lot of cash or time. In reality, the way to fitness is paved with knowledge and firm principles; teaching readers how to master both is the goal of this site. LLAFIT – Lifelong Applied Fitness