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Congratulations! Your body just grew a new human being. That’s super incredible!

If you’re like most of us, you’ve probably got a few “battle wounds” to prove you came through. Yup, we’re talking about postpartum fun like exhaustion, rollercoaster emotions, tears… and that postpartum belly.

On some days, you might even feel like you have to choose between a flat tummy and newborn cuddles! But at least initially, celebrate your body for what it’s done and know that an immediate flat tummy is overrated and perhaps better suited to celebrities with personal trainers and live-in nannies.

After that, you can take heart in knowing there are things you can do to lose the baby weight that seems to stubbornly hang out at your midsection.

Baby’s out… so what’s making the belly bulge? Is it belly fat or loose skin or hormones or what?

Well, it’s a little of everything. You gained some weight, which is exactly what you were supposed to do. Your abdominal muscles — two parallel bands of muscles that support your core — stretched out.

Think about it: The average newborn weighs about 7 pounds (3.2 kilograms). Your abdominal muscles (abs) and the connective tissue had to stretch apart to make room for that. At the same time, your small intestine, sigmoid colon, and stomach politely shifted over to give even baby more room.

On top of the weight gain and the stretching, your body produced hormones to make the connective tissue more elastic. Breathe in that newborn scent — you worked hard to earn it.

You know how you got it — now how do you lose it?

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that depending on your body mass index (BMI), you should have gained between 11 to 40 pounds (5 to 18 kilograms) during pregnancy. The good news is that you’ll lose some of that weight right away.

Baby’s weight comes off first — that’s obvious. You’ll also drop about another few pounds right away when you lose blood, fluids, and amniotic fluid.

For the first week after birth, you may find that you’re running to the bathroom more often and that when you wake up in the night, you’re pajamas are soaked with sweat. These extra nuisances are your body’s way of ridding itself of extra fluid.

By the end of the first month, you may have shed up to 20 pounds without too much effort. Wait another 2 weeks for your uterus to shrink back to its original size, and your tummy will look flatter.

And if you’re breastfeeding, know that breastfeeding isn’t only about feeding and cuddling — it may also help you lose weight.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, breastfeeding moms use 400 to 500 calories daily to make the full amount of milk that most babies need from birth to 6 months.

And at least one study showed that moms who breastfeed exclusively for more than 3 months tend to lose more weight than those who don’t. (That said, not all moms drop the pounds quickly while breastfeeding.)

Most doctors and physical therapists recommend waiting 6 weeks before starting a formal exercise program if you had an uncomplicated vaginal delivery or 8 weeks if you had a cesarean delivery.

So are you a couple months postpartum and feeling stronger and more like your old self? Here’s how to be proactive and safely wave adieu to your belly.

Exercise right

Getting some exercise and eating healthily will help you get back to your prepregnancy weight within a few months. But if you want to see that tummy flat, you’ll have to do some exercises that target your abdominal muscles. And here’s the secret: Don’t immediately go for crunches.

Remember the connective tissue between the bands of your abs that stretched out? A small amount of stretching happens in all pregnancies and that’s normal. As the tissue starts to heal, it’ll repair itself. But preliminary research shows that tummy crunches done too early actually stretch the connective tissue even more and make it thinner and weaker. Not what you want for a strong, supportive core.

To start off with the right exercises, you want to strengthen your deepest abdominal muscle — your transverse abdominis. Think of this muscle as your body’s internal “girdle.”

While you’ll want to speak to a physical therapist or your doctor for similar exercises that you can do safely, pelvic tilts are a good way to start off. Tie a sheet tightly around your tummy to support your abs and do this:

  • Lie on your back, place your feet flat on the floor, and bend your legs.
  • Pull your belly button in toward your spine and lift your pelvis off the floor.
  • Tighten your buttocks and hold for 5 seconds.
  • Aim for 5 sets of 20 repetitions.

Within 8 to 12 weeks, you should be ready to move on to deeper abdominal exercises. A study of 40 women showed that core-strengthening exercises work! Wondering how often is enough? According to the American Council on Exercise, you can perform muscle-toning abdominal exercises 2–3 times a week.

Here are some great tummy tightening exercises that you might want to try:

  • Forearm plank. Lie down with your forearms on the floor. Rise up onto your toes. Suck in your belly. Tighten your buttocks. Hold for 20 and build up as you get stronger.
  • Reverse crunch. Lie down on your back with your knees bent and your thighs perpendicular to the ground. Using your abs, bring knees towards your chest. Hold for 2 counts and repeat 10 times.
  • Scissor kicks. Lie on your back with your legs straight. Lift both legs off the floor and then scissor your legs by lowering and lifting them alternately. Do 15 to 20 repetitions.

Here’s something you should know: If your abs have separated more than 2 to 2.5 centimeters — diastasis recti — and you don’t see any closing of the gap with time and exercise, you may need surgery to correct this.

Eat well

When you’re caring for a newborn 24/7, it’s tempting to reach for the chocolate and banish healthy eating habits to the past — especially in the middle of the night when the rest of the house is fast asleep. So here are some easy, tasty, healthy snacks:

  • high-fiber cereal to keep your system running smoothly (no one told you that sluggish bowels are common after birth — blame your battle-weary digestive system and hormones)
  • cut up vegetables and fruit
  • instant oatmeal
  • low-fat yogurt sprinkled with granola or dried fruit

Belly wraps, girdles, and corsets — what’s right?

These will all support your stomach and lower back and give you a flatter belly, but they won’t change your shape. Moms who’ve had a cesarean delivery will often tout them because they can help the incision heal by taking off pressure. But c-section moms aren’t the only fans.

Here’s the nitty-gritty:

  • Postpartum belly wraps are made of adjustable elastic that covers your torso from ribs to hips.
  • Waist cinchers are usually made of a stiffer material, cover you from below the bust to the hips, and have a hook and eye closure. They give you extra compression which can cause more harm than good, so you’ll want to avoid these.
  • Corsets aren’t just a relic from the 1850s. You can still find them today, but they’ll give you the extra compression you want to avoid.

If your doctor recommends a belly wrap, you’ll probably wear it for 10 to 12 hours a day for 6 to 8 weeks. Sound tempting? Remember that you still need to work those abs before you can truly say goodbye to that belly.

Here are some belly wrap options to consider:

You’re eating healthily, exercising, working your abs… and your belly is still there. What now?

Don’t worry if you still have a belly at 3 or even 6 months postpartum. The saying “9 months to put it on; 9 months to take it off” may not be sound science, but it did come from the experience of many moms just like you.

If you feel that the baby weight has become part of you forever or you have any other questions, reach out to your health practitioner for help. And take another whiff of that sweet baby smell and resist the temptation to compare notes with other moms. Because we’re each on our own journey.