Anyone who’s had a baby knows: It’s just about the most incredible thing you can do. There’s something about bringing a brand new life into the world that makes you feel like a total rockstar. Sadly though, in the weeks following delivery, many women report that their postpartum body has them feeling anything but.
In a babycenter.com survey of 7,000 mothers, a whopping 64 percent reported that their body image had gotten worse since having children, with many citing excess baby weight as a leading cause for their dissatisfaction.
The good news is, baby weight–like any excess weight–can be lost. It might be a bit more challenging since it likely takes a backseat to baby, but it can be done.
The most important thing to remember about your postpartum body is that you have to be realistic. You didn’t grow a human overnight, so it’s unreasonable to expect the weight to come off at that pace. In fact, experts recommend losing about a pound or so a week–a slow and steady approach that ensures milk supply isn’t compromised for breastfeeding mamas, and that’s sustainable long-term.
But you don’t have to wait till you’ve lost the baby weight to love your postpartum body. There are plenty of things you can do to feel great in your skin right now.
Here are eight tips sure to have you feeling better in your postpartum body :
1. Get Moving.
Although it’s harder to work in a workout these days, getting even just a little exercise can help you feel better in your postpartum body –and not just because it melts away baby weight.
Exercise can deliver a much-needed energy boost to even the most exhausted mamas. In a study published in the journalPsychotherapy and Psychosomatics, participants with fatigue who added regular physical activity to their routine reported dramatic increases in energy. And in a study in the Journal of Sleep Research, getting at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity weekly was associated with significant reductions in the severity of insomnia symptoms.
But that’s not all: A 2016 study published in the journal Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment found that people who exercise regularly tend to have better body image and self esteem. And multiple studies suggest that getting active can boost your mood and reduce anxiety and symptoms of depression.
Reap the benefits of exercise by making a daily walk with your baby a part of your new routine. Your little one will love taking in the fresh air, sights and sounds, and so will you. If the weather’s not conducive, head to your local mall to walk laps or squeeze in a sweat session at home. Do a workout DVD while the baby naps, or practice planks and push-ups during your baby’s “Tummy Time.” You can even do squats while holding your little one, raising him/her to the ceiling as you rise up from each squat for an added burn.
Or consider joining a “Mommy and Me” exercise class. In a study published in the Archives of Sports Medicine, moms who participated in these types of classes reported significantly less depressive symptoms in the postpartum period than those doing other activities–or none at all.
And if you can’t seem to find the time during the week, don’t fret. A study out of the United Kingdom found that people who squeeze their physical activity into one or two weekend sessions experience nearly all the same benefits as those who move more often.
Of course, make sure to clear all activity with your doctor–some women, especially those who’ve had a cesarean section, are advised to wait till their six week checkup to resume exercise. And if you’re breastfeeding or pumping, consider exercising after you’ve fed your baby, when your breasts are lightest.
2. Fuel Up.
Whether you’ve got a needy infant or a tornado of a toddler, making healthy meals for yourself is probably the last thing on your mind.
But eating well ensures you’ll stay healthy and energetic enough to conquer this whole motherhood thing. Plus, if you’re breastfeeding or pumping, you need some extra calories in the form of healthy, whole foods–exclusively breastfeeding mamas need up to 500 extra calories to support and maintain milk production, says the American Pregnancy Association.
Cash in on loved ones’ offers to help out, and send them to the store with a list of healthy staples you can toss in your slow cooker, like rice and beans, oatmeal and fruit or veggies and broth; and in your blender–think frozen fruit, greens and protein powder. Load up on healthy snacks that require little prep that you can munch on throughout the day, like apples, berries, grapes and bananas, whole grain crackers, baby carrots and celery sticks.
Better yet, try a meal delivery service that sends healthy meals and snacks directly to your door. This will save you time at the store and in the kitchen.
Nutrisystem is a great option because it delivers pre-portioned meals and snacks that are not only convenient and delicious (hello Mac n’ Cheese!), they’re designed for slow and steady weight loss–the exact approach you should be taking if you’re trying to shed baby weight.*
3. Dress Your Body Right Now.
Don’t compare your postpartum body to magazine pictures of svelte celebrity moms who have teams of personal trainers and chefs, plus Photoshop in their corner. For most women, it’s unrealistic to expect to squeeze back into their skinny jeans days, weeks or even months after having a baby.
It takes about six weeks for your uterus to shrink back to its pre-pregnancy size, reports the March of Dimes, which means you’ll still have a bit of a belly post-delivery. Not only that, your body will undergo hormonal shifts that can cause fluctuations in fluid levels and changes in your body even months after delivery.
Putting pressure on yourself to “bounce back” immediately after having a baby is not only silly, it’s a surefire way to feel badly about yourself. And so is trying to squeeze into your pre-pregnancy clothes.
Instead, consider purchasing a few basics to get you through the first few months post-delivery. Opt for loose or stretchy fabrics that are comfortable and will still fit if you drop a few pounds. Tops with ties and wrap dresses are great options as they can be adjusted. Yoga pants and jeggings are a new mom’s go-to for a reason: Most will grow and shrink with you.
4. Sleep When You Can.
In the early days, few babies have a set nap schedule or bedtime–and many get their days and nights confused. That, coupled with their constant need for milk and diaper changes… it’s no wonder new moms are so tired.
But sleep is important for a number of reasons. It will keep your head clear, which is necessary when dealing with a tiny human who relies on you for everything.
Plus, it will help you with that baby weight–multiple studies have established a correlation between a lack of sleep and weight retention. One study found that women sleeping fewer than five hours a night at the six month postpartum mark were three times more likely to have held onto their baby weight–and some even gained more.
Not only that, a study in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that adults who got fewer than six hours of sleep a night had worse self esteem and less optimism than those who slept seven to eight hours.
Not what you want to hear considering you’re not exactly choosing to sleep less… we know.
But there’s hope: While you may not be able to log eight uninterrupted hours, there are ways to increase your snooze time. The most popular sleep tip for new moms is to sleep when the baby does. You might be tempted to tackle the dishes or the pile of laundry during this time, but your sleep and sanity are more important. Think of sleep as a medical necessity and an obligation to your baby, and you’ll be less inclined to de-prioritize it.
A similar strategy? Go to bed when the baby does–even if it’s 5 p.m. Many babies do their longest stretch of sleep during the first part of the night, which means this is your best chance for uninterrupted sleep.
Work with your partner to create a schedule of overnight sleep shifts, so one of you is responsible for managing wake-ups during the first half of the night, and the other takes on the rest. If you’re breastfeeding and have to be up for every wake-up, have your partner handle diaper changes before or after feedings. Or consider adding an extra pump session in before bed and have your partner give a bottle during a night feeding.
Take advantage of extra hands whenever possible and catch a snooze while family members get some much wanted playtime with the baby. If your little one is old enough, schedule playdates with friends’ children, and head home for a nap when your friend is hosting. And always take advantage of days both you and your partner are home to squeeze in a few extra ZZZs.
5. Keep Your Hobbies.
In the days, weeks and months following your baby’s birth, it’s hard to imagine doing anything other than tending to your little one. But it’s important to carve out a little time for you. Don’t forget that there was a YOU before there was a WE.
Although having a new baby can mean you may have to table some of your more time-consuming hobbies until things settle, you don’t have to give up the things you love completely.
It stands to reason that the happier you are, the better mom you’ll be. And the science supports that: In a study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, people who engaged in hobbies had better physical and psychological well-being.
Have your husband watch your little one for an hour every evening so you can do something you love away from the baby–whether it’s taking a yoga class at the gym, meeting a friend for a bite, or reading a book in absolute silence upstairs.
Treat yourself to a massage or a get your hair done. Don’t feel guilty about doing something that makes you feel like you again. A happy mom is a better mom.
6. Stay Social.
Taking care of a newborn or young baby is a 24/7 job–one that leaves very little time for anything other than feedings, diaper changes and dodging spit-up. But it’s important to stay connected with loved ones, especially since countless studies suggest there are significant mental and physical benefits of being social.
If you can manage it, try to schedule a few brief outings with friends or family. If getting out proves too difficult, invite them over for a visit. They’ll love seeing your new baby, and you’ll love talking to an adult for once.
And, if you can swing it, try to carve out a little time to get yourself ready beforehand. It might seem frivolous–especially in the face of everything else that has to get done, but it’s amazing how much better it can make you feel to resume even a small part of your old routine, whether it’s doing your makeup, curling your hair or getting a manicure first.
During a time where your body feels completely foreign to you, it can be a comfort to see a familiar face in the mirror.
7. Schedule Date Nights (or Days).
Solo time with your partner might be the last thing on your mind, but research suggests it’s important for your relationship–and your self esteem.
A team of Dutch researchers who tracked nearly 85,000 women through their pregnancies and beyond found that for postpartum women, there is a strong association between relationship satisfaction and self-esteem. The better the romantic relationship, the better the woman’s self-esteem, and vice versa.
If evenings are hard to get out with your partner, try scheduling a brunch date. Tell family and friends who are itching to see the baby that they’re welcome to come watch your little one and, whenever their schedules allow it, take advantage.
8. Be Kind to Yourself.
Although it’s easy to look in the mirror and nitpick, you have to remember that your body just endured one of the most monumental things a body can go through. The stretch marks, loose skin, soft belly–they’re not signs that your body has failed you, they’re signs that it did exactly what it needed to do to bring new life into the world, and that’s incredible.
There is absolutely no reason to be ashamed of the “battle wounds” you acquired through your journey. Your postpartum body is strong and beautiful, and so are you.
If you’re having trouble remembering this, here’s a tip: Every time a derogatory thought about your postpartum body starts creeping in, think of the response you would give to a friend complaining about her own postpartum body. Chances are, you’d tell her not to be so hard on herself. Give yourself the same support.
*Note: If you’re still breastfeeding and want to try Nutrisystem, your child must be at least four months old and must be eating solid foods. You should continue taking a prenatal vitamin. In order to keep your milk supply up while losing weight, you will need more calories than what our regular diet programs for women provide. You must follow a special meal plan, which you can receive by calling 1-888-747-8446 and speaking to a Nutrition and Dietary team member.