I was one of those naïve mums-to-be who thought that, even if not all my pregnancy weight gain would 'just drop off' after the birth, I would lose a good chunk of the baby weight.
So it was quite a shock when a couple of weeks after my son's arrival, having headed out without my baby for half an hour, someone asked me when I was due. 'It must be soon now?' said the lady concerned. The shame: I didn't merely look pregnant, but heavily so.
Of course I hadn't expected to snap back to my pre-birth weigh that early on but I hadn't realised quite what an immense (literally if I looked in the mirror) effort losing the excess pounds would be.
The problem is that a vigorous and time-consuming exercise programme just isn't top of the to do list when you're struggling to keep awake for more than a few hours at a time, let alone do the washing up. So, here at Parentdish, we've been looking at effective, but most importantly, realistic ways of shedding those post-baby pounds.
1. Join an outdoor post-natal class.
A fairly new trend but already a popular one, thanks to companies such as Buggyfit and Pushy Mothers who run classes across the country.
An instructor leads a group of mums around a circuit of exercises, usually through a park and crucially with little ones in tow, so there's no need to find a babysitter. As well as a workout, you and your baby get some fresh air and the opportunity to meet other new mums from your local area. Costs vary but typically start at around £5 for an hour-long class.
Both companies' sessions are suitable from around six weeks after the birth but do ask at your post-natal GP check up whether it's okay to start exercising.
Good for: Socialising afterwards – participants can head to the park café for a coffee.
Bad for: Babies who are a bit haphazard with feeds – you'll need to be able to get to the venue on time.
2. Switch on the Nintendo WiiFit Plus (£74.99 for WiiFit Plus and a 'balance board', www.nintendo.co.uk )
So much more interactive than a fitness DVD (although see below, some of those are good too), WiiFit Plus lets you exercise when you like and within reason how you like, given the wide choice of activities from yoga to aerobics.
Good for: Exercising during your baby's naps, and you can choose something suited to your mood, be it gentle stretching or a vigorous workout.
Bad for: It's easy to skip a session – you need to be self-motivated. And of course you need to have a Nintendo Wii (usually around £150).
3. Put a fitness DVD on.
Perfect for cash and time poor new mums, a fitness DVD is a cheap and cheerful way to get going with your post-baby exercise programme. Given creating a workout DVD seems almost obligatory for celebrity mamas these days, there are tons to choose from. Among our favourites are Davina McAll's My Pre and Post Natal Workouts and if you're feeling brave, US personal trainer Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred. The latter is a super-intense 20 minute work-out programme which is undeniably tough - definitely not for the faint-hearted - but highly effective.
Good for: As above – there's the flexibility to turn it on when it suits e.g. during your baby's nap-time.
Bad for: Again, you need to really want to do it or it's easy to just crash on the sofa in front of some daytime telly instead.
4. Walk with your baby in a carrier or sling.
Personal trainer Dax Moy says walking is a surprisingly effective way to lose weight: 'don't under-rate the fitness and health benefits of walking, especially uphill, cross country or carrying loads.' The obvious 'load' to carry here is your baby - in a sling or carrier. Most little ones love being held close to you in this way and you get to exercise as you go.
Younger babies need to be in a nicely supportive carrier or sling on your front (try the Baby Bjorn, whilst older ones will enjoy a piggyback-style position in a back carrier such as the Ergo.
Good for: Costing nothing (provided you own a carrier already) and being easy to incorporate into your day.
Bad for: Occasions when it's pouring down with rain and you'd rather stay at home in the warmth.
5. Speed walk/ jog with the buggy.
You'll ideally need a nice flat surface for this (going up and down kerbs and crossing busy roads will upset your pace) – a fairly big and empty park pathway is ideal.
For speed walking, a normal pushchair should suffice but if you'll break into a run, consider investing in a jogging buggy (try www.babyjogger.co.uk). It's not a good idea to jog too much with a younger baby who cannot support their own head - you might need to wait a few months before starting on full on running.
Read our Parentdish best buys guide to all-terrain buggies.
Personal Trainer Melissa Lorch who runs website www.fit4mum.com says: 'Aim to get out at least three times a week and gradually increase your pace week by week.' To have an impact, you need to be walking fast enough to be slightly out of breath but you should still be able to hold a conversation.
Melissa also advises ensuring your buggy's handle is high enough so your hands are in line with your elbows (this prevents excess rounding of your shoulders) and ensuring your posture is good: 'Keep shoulders back and tummy held in tight. Hips should face forwards as you walk - and remember not to leave your bottom behind you.....tuck it under and squeeze it with each step powering you forwards!'
Good for: You can fit it in any time of the day, taking your baby with you.
Bad for: Buying a special jogging pushchair can be expensive (although it's worth looking at secondhand ones on eBay.
Melissa Lorch's other post-natal tips:
1. Don't push yourself too much too soon. Take your time and set short, medium and long term goals. Understandably most new mums are anxious to get back to their pre-pregnancy weight quickly, but remember weight loss needs be gradual. Rates of loss after pregnancy vary, but most women can return to within two to four pounds of their pre-pregnancy weight by one year postpartum if they eat healthily and exercise.
2. During the first six weeks, no matter what fitness level you had before the birth, start slowly. But do get moving. Walk with your baby in their buggy and make sure you do pelvic floor exercises. Your first priority at this time should be caring for your newborn and yourself. After six weeks (sometimes later if you had a C-section), with the approval of your GP, you can gradually start to increase your exercise programme.
3. Practice pelvic floor exercises every day (imagine you are trying to stop yourself passing urine or wind) to strengthen your tummy muscles. Do one to two sets of five to 10 repetitions of slow holds and fast squeezes, gradually doing more week by week. Also hold your belly button into your spine as often as possible, keeping your waist tight – try not to slump. These exercises can be started 48 hours after delivery.
4. Eat healthily! Don't forget to combine healthy eating with your physical activity to give you plenty of energy. If you're breastfeeding, you are now the main source of nourishment for your baby, so it's important to make good quality food choices. If breastfeeding you will need up to an extra 450 calories per day, maintaining your iron & folic acid intake.