Time flies when you have a newborn. Even though it was three months ago that you gave birth, it might as well have been yesterday by the looks of your belly. But don't get discouraged — even at three months post-pregnancy, you can start a diet and exercise plan to lose the belly weight before your baby reaches the "terrible twos." This is a good thing, because you'll need all the energy and strength you can muster to get through that challenging period of motherhood.
Get more exercise and control your calorie intake to start losing the post-pregnancy weight.
Make a Post-Pregnancy Plan
If you're three months postpartum and your belly is still big, don't fret too much — it's typically normal. If you've seen your OB-GYN and nothing is amiss, then it's just a case of eating too many calories and not getting enough exercise. It's the same reason women who haven't recently given birth retain body fat as well.
According to MedlinePlus, women should aim to return to their pre-pregnancy body weight by six to 12 months after giving birth. That means you have three to nine months to reach that goal — no sweat. But remember, everyone is different — so it may take you a little longer, especially if you're just getting started.
Decide today that you're going to commit to a new diet and exercise program. The hardest part is often making the time to work out daily and shop for and prepare healthy food, so create a specific plan for that. Arrange backup childcare, dig your workout clothes out of the closet and compile some energizing music playlists to get you in the mood.
Walk 30 Minutes a Day
Walking is the best exercise for new moms. It's gentle on your body, it's easily accessible and you can take your baby with you so you don't need to worry about childcare. Getting outside each day is also a great way for you and your child to get fresh air and bonding time.
Health.gov's Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that all adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. Brisk walking qualifies as moderate-intensity activity, and it's a good way to start burning the calories you need to lose to get rid of the baby belly fat. According to Harvard Health Publishing, you can burn 120 to 266 calories in 30 minutes of walking, depending on how quickly you walk.
Pushing your baby in a stroller will also increase the calorie burn slightly, as will finding some hills to walk up. Start with 30 minutes, five days a week, to meet the minimum goal and then challenge yourself to beat that goal by adding in two more days each week.
Read more: 10 Surprising Flat-Belly Foods
Clean Out Your Cupboards
Just what you needed — another cleaning project, right? Don't worry, this one will pay off. When you're busy caring for a newborn, it's too easy to reach for whatever is in the fridge or pantry when you're hungry. But all too often, those foods aren't healthy. They may be highly processed and high in sugar and/or fat.
Go through the kitchen and toss (or donate) these foods. Clean the slate and some cabinet space so you can stock your kitchen with whole, nutritious foods that will help you control your calorie intake and boost your energy levels. Some foods to get rid of include:
- Chips and crackers
- White pasta, white rice and white bread
- Cookies, cakes and candy
- Sports drinks
- Microwave popcorn
- Sugary cereals
- Coffee creamer
- Flavored yogurt
- Deli meats
- Processed cheese
- Dried fruit
This is by no means an exhaustive list. You can identify other foods to toss once you know what foods should be in your kitchen.
Practice eating mindfully. Don't eat because you're bored or stressed. Think about whether you really need that snack or whether a glass of water would do the trick. At mealtime, stop eating before you feel full.
Go Grocery Shopping
Go to the grocery store when you're not rushed or starving. And remember this one grocery shopping tip: Most of the healthy foods are primarily in the outer ring of the store — not in the aisles. The outer ring is where you'll find fresh foods that nourish your body and help you shed the post-pregnancy weight. Keeping this in mind, fill your grocery cart with:
- Lean meat and poultry
- Beans and tofu
- Whole grains
- Low-fat dairy
With these whole foods, you can easily prepare a wide range of meals and snacks that don't require a lot of slaving away in the kitchen. Fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts make grab-and-go snacks, and meals can be as simple as a serving of protein, a serving of whole grains and lots of fresh vegetables.
Opt for healthy cooking methods, such as steaming and grilling, and avoid using a lot of sauces and dressings (especially store-bought products). Olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar and spices are fresh, healthy ways to season your food.
You can't target only your belly for fat loss. You have to lose total body fat, some of which will come from your belly. Also, doing crunches won't help you burn stomach fat. But they will help strengthen your abdominal muscles, which is also important.
Increase Your Exercise Quota
Once you're walking regularly and have your diet on track, it's time to raise the stakes. According to Health.gov's Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, you get even more benefits if you increase the intensity and/or the amount of time you spend exercising each week. So if you're easily able to walk a few miles, start jogging instead. Next, add in some running intervals.
Join a gym to get you out of the house for some "me" time. At a gym, you'll have access to more types of cardio equipment — such as bikes, stair climbers and elliptical machines. Your gym may also have exercise classes, which many people find more motivating than working out solo. Try a spinning, step aerobics or cardio intervals class.
Whatever you choose to do, remember that intensity equals calorie burn. It's not necessary to work out at a high intensity all the time — but the more intensity you can bring to your program, the more belly fat you'll burn.
Add in Strength Training
This is the step that stumps a lot of people: You just want to burn belly fat, so why should you build muscle? Because one of the best ways to burn fat and to keep it off is to add lean muscle mass. Muscle is metabolically active, which means your body expends calories to build and maintain it. According to Paige Kinucan and Len Kravitz, Ph.D., at the University of New Mexico, muscle mass accounts for as much as 20 percent of your total daily energy expenditure; fat only accounts for about 5 percent.
You can start with simple bodyweight moves at home while your baby is napping — pushups, squats, lunges, bridges, planks and the "superman" are effective exercises to target your major muscle groups. You can also get a few dumbbells, a pullup bar and some resistance bands for an inexpensive home-gym setup.
You don't need to do much more than that even if you work out at the gym — although you'll have access to more equipment. However, the key to not getting overwhelmed and giving up is to keep it simple. Choose one to two exercises per body part and do three sets of eight to 12 reps. Choose a weight that's challenging but not so heavy that you can't complete your reps with good form.
Read more: Why Crunches Won't Give You Flat Abs