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Shedding Pregnancy Pounds

Mom and baby in diaper

What could be more delicious than the chubby rolls and dimples on a baby's body? Unfortunately, the extra layers of fat that I love so much on my child are decidedly less cute on me. Our pediatrician says that as soon as our daughter starts moving around more, she'll drop the baby fat and become leaner. But what about her mom? Are the pregnancy pounds here to stay? Maybe not -- if I just follow my daughter's lead. Here's the plan:

1. Work in Some Tummy Time

When a baby is at play on her stomach, she strengthens her abdominal and back muscles. These "core" muscles are essential in helping her crawl and sit up. Moms need to focus on their core muscles as well. "Training the core is incredibly important and often overlooked because, like stretching, the benefits are very subtle," says Wendy Bryant, a Boston-based personal trainer. "But strong core muscles give you better control and support in all your daily activities."

It also makes you stronger so that you can benefit more from exercise. Children naturally move and stretch in ways that work their core. Many yoga moves could easily be taken from baby's playtime. (Child's pose, anyone?) Buy a yoga tape or take a class to reap similar benefits.

2. Eat Like a Baby

While most of us usually try to avoid getting food stuck in our hair and smushed across our face, eating like a baby can, in fact, be a key to losing weight. Munching small meals every three to four hours as your little one does keeps energy high and curbs cravings. In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine found that athletes who ate all day long had less body fat than those who consumed all their calories at dinnertime. Babies also stop eating when they're full, even if there's more food left -- a good lesson in portion control.

Also incorporate into your own meals the well-rounded samplings of the food groups she gets in all those baby jars -- squash, green peas, beef and rice, banana, and pear. Co-opting baby's menu means that you're eating healthier and raising your intake of fruits and vegetables.

3. Take a Nap

Babies sleep a luxurious 12 to 15 hours a day. Enough sleep may be the missing ingredient in your weight-loss plan. According to recent studies in The Journal of the American Medical Association and The Lancet, lack of sleep can affect hormonal levels, causing increased hunger and a slowed metabolic rate.

"Being too tired becomes an easy excuse to skip your workout and makes it harder to pass up foods you know you shouldn't be eating," adds Bryant. "And even if you do make it to the gym, chances are you're not going to have as productive a workout as when you're well rested. There is also a greater chance of injury because you're not as alert."

The answer: You've heard it before, but here it is again: Sleep when the baby sleeps. The laundry can wait.

4. Turn Off the Tube

Could the Teletubbies actually make your baby, well, tubby? Studies have found that kids who watch more TV have an elevated BMI or Body Mass Index. What does this mean for Mom? Researchers discovered that a person's metabolism while watching television is actually slower than when at rest. This means you'll burn more calories sleeping late (yet more reason to get those zzz's!) than you will watching your favorite morning show. The American Academy of Pediatrics actually recommends no TV for the first two years of life. Maybe you should follow suit.

If you do turn on the tube, look to your little one for clues on how to watch -- for instance, her clapping, jumping, and dancing to The Wiggles. In other words, instead of planting yourself in front of the latest reality show, use the TV as background while you keep your body active by crunching, walking on a treadmill, lifting weights, or doing chores.

5. Drink Your Milk

Babies are never as happy as when they're guzzling down the white stuff -- whether it comes as formula, from a cow, or straight from Mommy. Moms need their daily dose of calcium as well, especially when breastfeeding. But dairy for weight loss? Yup.

Recent studies have shown that calcium-rich dairy products rev up the body's fat-burning ability and increase metabolism, while maintaining your lean muscle mass. Michael B. Zemel, PhD, a professor at the University of Tennessee, director of its Nutrition Institute, and author of The Calcium Key (John Wiley & Sons), has discovered that calcium-rich diets, when combined with some form of calorie-restriction and exercise, can actually accelerate weight loss. In one of Zemel's studies, low-fat yogurt eaters tripled fat loss in the stomach area -- the body part new moms are desperate to reclaim.

The exact reason dairy targets stomach fat is still under investigation, but Zemel believes there is a certain hormonal action that takes place within fat cells in the stomach region when dairy is introduced. "When women become worried about their diet and body image," he says, "the first thing they jettison is dairy, and essentially they're shooting themselves in the foot."

6. Put Ants in Your Pants

Short bursts of energy, which are quite common among the knee-high set, can be beneficial additions to your own weight-loss routine. Studies suggest that brief amounts of cardio exercise are just as effective as a solid hour at the gym. "You may be better off if you kick up your metabolism several times throughout the day," says Kelli Calabrese, a New Jersey-based exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise (ACE). "As long as it adds up to 20 to 60 minutes in your target heart-rate zone, you can expect benefits." Plus, your body will continue to burn fat even after you've completed your workout--a fitness fact known as after burn.

Vary your routine by trying a new exercise every day, moving quickly from one station to the next at the gym, or experimenting with repetitions. "Any activity that gets you moving is better than none. And it doesn't have to be in a health club," adds Kevin J. Burns, an ACE-certified fitness instructor from Minnesota. "Take your baby and a stroller to the mall and do a few laps. When you're done at the grocery store, take an extra trip around the aisles with a full cart before you check out."

7. Make a Play Date

Playtime is much more fun when your little one has a friend to share it with. The same holds true for Mom. One of the biggest obstacles for weight loss is simply sticking to an exercise program. Including a friend in your workout routine is a great way to keep you both on track. You'll be more likely to go for that Strollercize walk if you have a pal to gossip with. Also check out Mommy and Me programs at health clubs and local community centers.

These groups not only help moms get back in shape, but they also provide a much-needed social support network to rely on during the challenging time of new motherhood.

Megan Kelley Hall is a writer in Marblehead, Massachusetts, and a mother of one.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, August 2004.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your won health or the health of others.