New moms! How to get a flat belly

Jun 8, 2011 at 3:30 p.m. ET

As a new mom, along with losing the baby weight, it's no surprise that you are particularly conscious of your midsection. The rigors of pregnancy stretch the skin, separate the abdominal muscles, and can seem like the last place you see results from exercise. We talked to Dr. Danine Fruge, associate medical director at Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa in Miami, about the best exercises for a flat belly. Dr. Fruge is an athletic dynamo who is also pregnant with her third child.

Fit mom with newbornPregnancy is about patience – and so is regaining your pre-preggo bod

Even though celebrity moms seem to slim back down to enviable proportions after they give birth, they also have a full-time staff of personal trainers, healthy chefs, nannies and fashion/beauty consultants who facilitate a fast slimdown. Does that mean you can't have the fab physique you had before you got pregnant? Absolutely not. But patience is a virtue, as Dr. Danine Fruge explains. "It is important to realize that it takes six months to a year for a woman's body to go back to its pre-pregnancy bone structure – your rib cage and hips expand during pregnancy," the fit doc says. "There is no reason you can't go back to your original jeans size, but give it time."

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Key to great abs: Exercise as soon as you are cleared

If you had a C-section or a particularly difficult birthing experience, you may have to wait a few weeks before jumping right into a fitness program. "After a C-section the typical time that doctors tell mothers to wait before exercising is six weeks, but depending on the mother and the extent of her delivery experience, it can be just a few days," Dr. Fruge says. "Some women are cleared by their doctors to begin specialized OB-core exercises the day after delivery and some are told six weeks before clearing." Even if it seems like forever before you can work out again, exercise as soon as you safely can, so it can become part of your daily routine.

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Health note: Regardless of your birthing experience, talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise regimen. You don't want to tear stitches, if you have them, and you certainly don't want to risk injury that would impair your ability to take care of your new baby.

The classic crunch can pooch your belly

Though crunches are a classic abdominal exercise, they are actually one of the worst exercises new moms can do for their midsection. "Women should avoid crunches or anything that causes valsalva – where you are crunching forward and straining muscles," warns Dr. Fruge. "This movement actually leads to pooching or pushing out the stomach, for an undesirable result." What's a new mom to do?

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The best exercise for a flat belly

The best exercises for women to tighten their tummies are done in the supine position — flat on your back. If your doctor clears you, you can begin this exercise from your hospital bed.

Heel slides

Start position: Lie flat on your back, right knee bent and left leg straight.

Movement: Drag your left heel towards your buttock and gently contract your core as you do it (belly button to spine). It is critical that as you drag your heel, you push your back muscles into the bed or floor (a Pilates concept). You should envision flattening out the curve of your back — this act of contracting slowly and in controlled manner is very effective.

Perform: Going back and forth between legs, hold the position at least 3 seconds for each slide.

If the heel slide is too advanced or not possible due to soreness, start out by simply squeezing your stomach and flattening your stomach into the spine. Hold the squeeze for 3 seconds at a time, then relax.

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Diet matters

Even though you aren't eating for two, don't starve yourself in hopes of fast weight loss or flat abs. "Don't be afraid to eat," says Dr. Fruge. "You may not be pregnant anymore but if you are breastfeeding you will be burning a lot of calories, and you will be up in the middle of the night needing energy." More important than restricting calories, she recommends re-establishing healthy lifestyle habits.

Dr. Fruge's healthy eating tips:

  • Get back to basics, like eating fruits and veggies.
  • Stay away from the pregnancy mentality of eating whatever you want (and you shouldn't have cravings anymore, if you're eating healthy).
  • Don't starve yourself – that is the worst thing you can do for you and your baby.

More post-baby fitness tips

6 Tips to get your pre-pregnancy shape back
4 Ways to combine playtime with your workouts
Fun fresh-air workouts for busy moms