Include physical activity in your daily routine

In the past, women were often told to wait at least six weeks after giving birth to begin exercising. Today, however, the waiting game is over.

If you exercised during pregnancy and had an uncomplicated vaginal delivery, it's generally safe to begin light exercise within days of delivery — or as soon as you feel ready. If you had a C-section or a complicated birth, talk to your health care provider about when to start an exercise program.

When your health care provider gives you the OK:

  • Get comfortable. If you're breast-feeding, feed your baby right before you exercise. Wear a supportive bra and comfortable clothing.
  • Start slowly. Begin with gentle aerobic activity, such as walking, stationary cycling or swimming. As your stamina improves, gradually increase the length and intensity of your workouts.
  • Target your abs. Losing abdominal fat takes dietary changes and aerobic exercise — but abdominal crunches and other ab exercises can help tone your abdominal muscles.
  • Include your baby. If you have trouble finding time to exercise, include your baby in your routine. Take your baby for a daily walk in a stroller or baby carrier. Lay your baby next to you while you stretch on the floor, or include your baby in strength training activities — such as lifting the baby above you while you lie on your back.
  • Don't go it alone. Invite other new moms to join you for a daily walk, or try a postpartum exercise class at a local fitness club, community center or hospital.

Remember to drink plenty of water before, during and after each workout. Stop exercising immediately if you experience pain, dizziness, shortness of breath or a sudden increase in vaginal bleeding. These might be signs that you're overdoing it.

Set realistic weight-loss goals

Most women lose more than 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) during childbirth, including the weight of the baby, placenta and amniotic fluid. During the first week after delivery, you'll lose additional weight as you shed retained fluids — but the fat stored during pregnancy won't disappear on its own.

Through diet and exercise, it's reasonable to lose up to 1 pound (0.5 kilogram) a week. It might take six months or even longer to return to your pre-pregnancy weight, whether you're breast-feeding or not. Even then, your weight might be distributed differently from how it was before pregnancy.

Be gentle with yourself as you accept the changes in your body. Above all, take pride in your healthy lifestyle.

July 26, 2012 See more In-depth