When fitness blogger Maria Kang released a photo of herself showing off a rock hard physique, with her three young children in tow, she set out to inspire her followers to get fit, too. But it was the caption posted above the muscular mom that set many readers off: "What's your excuse?"
Kang’s bold query has been labeled arrogant by some, but her boasting reflects a greater societal pressure for women to shed their post-baby pounds as soon as possible. The quick return of many celebrity moms to their pre-baby bodies has led to an unrealistic expectation that women can and should drop all baby weight within a short window of time after giving birth. Subsequently, crash diets and extreme workouts have come to seem like the norm.
Kang says she doesn’t take this approach, and that her own physical transformation is meant to inspire others. “I believe you can design your life,” she writes on her website. “You can mold your body. You can become your physical best—as long as you set goals, plan your attack, execute, reflect and repeat.”
Kang may look great, but her years as a fitness expert nevertheless make her situation unique. Here's what the experts say is a practical timeline for losing baby weight, as well as feeling confident before the extra pounds even come off.
Let's Get Real
Every woman’s body is different, so don’t waste time comparing yourself to others who have seemingly given their baby weight the slip. “The amount of time it takes for a woman to return to her pre-pregnancy weight is highly individual, and there are many factors that come into play,” says postpartum specialist Dayna M. Kurtz. “Genetics, nursing, how much sleep she is getting, or not getting, her emotional well-being postpartum, and how much help she has, are just some of the variables affecting the time-frame for weight loss.”
Women can begin exercising normally right after their six-week postpartum checkup, and fit women can usually lose all but the last pesky five or ten pounds within four months, says Dr. Amanda Calhoun, director of maternity services at Kaiser Permanente East Bay. For women who don't exercise as regularly, they may need closer to six months to see a change.
Keep in mind that the intensity of exercise will also likely differ for women who have had a C-section or an episiotomy during vaginal birth, and may need more time to heal. And as gentle as you may be, always consult with a physician before adding any new exercise regimen into your routine.
Work It Out
The best postnatal exercises are often the simplest, such as brisk walks outside or light weight lifting. As your body gets stronger, you can pick up the pace by jogging, even with baby stroller. Yoga is also a great way to center your mind while toning your body.
"I love barre, pilates, and yoga, as they help stabilize the core muscles," Calhoun says. "Mix this with some jogging, hiking, swimming, or dancing for a cardio boost and you will be off to a good start."
The consensus among experts is that new moms should avoid weight loss supplements and diet products. “Stick with whole, natural balanced foods,” says Annie Malaythong, a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and certified nutrition specialist. After all, when breastfeeding, “mom's nutrition will be baby's nutrition.”
Calhoun's best advice for getting in shape is to choose any activity "that makes you sweat and makes you happy." This should be reassuring for new moms who think they need extravagant gym memberships to get fit.
"The keys are getting more active, breastfeeding, boosting the metabolism, and watching out for mindless eating," she says. "Another important factor is to be on the look-out for postpartum depression, which can lead to inactivity and unhealthy eating, in addition to poor baby bonding, threats to relationships, and personal danger."
Blame the Media?
With pressure to return to their pre-baby bodies for movie roles and red carpets, celebrities will often employ any means necessary to get fit immediately.
But, as Kurtz explains, “most mothers do not have the time and/or resources to hire a personal trainer, nanny, and chef—luxuries that afford celebrity moms the opportunity to expedite weight loss.”
Don’t forget, you’ve recently experienced a huge change in your body. “New mothers should remember that their bodies have been through profound changes that have enabled them to carry and nurture a baby—a process that takes nine months!” Kurtz says.
Be Kind to Yourself
It’s going to take time to get back to what you consider a “normal” weight. In the meantime, you can celebrate the baby steps you've taken toward an ideal size, and work on being comfortable with your body.
“Accepting a little post-baby weight comes with refocusing on what 'health' really means for an individual,” Malaythong says. Real health, she argues, isn’t about starving yourself or working out excessively to reach an impractical goal.
“This is a time of transition, often marked with many emotional highs and lows,” says Kurtz. “There are new responsibilities and, for many women, a big learning curve. There is no reason to throw away the skinny jeans—it may just take some time to rock them again!”