When I was pregnant with my first child, I gained more than 40 pounds—something I attribute to eating whatever and whenever I wanted.

A bagel and cream cheese was my go-to breakfast and chocolate was an everyday indulgence.

I mistakenly thought—as many women do—that I should be eating for two.

When there was a family gathering or party, I wouldn’t think twice about taking an extra treat because, I figured I was pregnant and I deserved it.

As my belly grew, the number on the scale got higher and I moved into the final weeks of pregnancy however, people would ask me, are you sure you’re not having twins?

Not exactly what a pregnant mom wants to hear.

When you look at the research, it turns out that my weight gain, albeit unhealthy, was on par with other women. According to a June 2017 meta-analysis in JAMA, 47 percent of women gain more than the Institute of Medicine guidelines.

Gaining too much weight during pregnancy is linked to a host of pregnancy complications, problems during labor and delivery and postpartum health conditions.

Unfortunately, studies also show that after pregnancy, the pounds linger.

According to a January 2015 study in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, 75 percent of new moms weigh more a year after giving birth than they did before they became pregnant. In fact, 47 percent were 10 pounds overweight while 24 percent were 20 pounds overweight.

Of course, losing the weight reduces your risk for obesity, chronic health conditions, and things like high blood pressure and gestational diabetes during subsequent pregnancies.

By the time I became pregnant with my second child, I knew a lot more about pregnancy nutrition and by making healthy choices and not overeating, my weight gain was within normal range.

Although the weight was slower to come off the second time around, by eating healthy, exercising and a few other tricks, I lost the baby weight with both pregnancies. Here’s how I did it.

Breastfeed

The day I left the hospital with my first child, the nurse told me, if you breastfeed, the weight will come off in no time.

I had already made the decision to breastfeed because of all the amazing benefits, so I figured if that was the case, even better.

It turns out, that nurse was right.

I found that when I was breastfeeding I was ravenous all the time and I definitely ate when I was but by 6 months, I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight.

It’s definitely not a hard and fast rule, but exclusive breastfeeding can torch some serious calories—up to 500 calories a day or the equivalent of running 6 miles!

According to a December 2014 study in the journal Preventative Medicine, women who exclusively breastfed for at least 3 months, lost 3 pounds (by the year mark) compared to women who didn’t breastfeed or breastfeed exclusively.

Yet other studies have shown that breastfeeding may not lead to weight loss, since the hormone prolactin increases appetite and may lead women to consume too many calories.

Obviously, the decision to breastfeed shouldn’t be because of weight loss, but it could be an awesome extra benefit.

 

Eat whole foods

When you have a new baby at home, having time to cook, much less eat a meal can seem impossible.

A granola bar or a bag of crackers can help when you’re on the go, but if you’re relying on processed snacks all day, you’re not giving your body the nutrition it needs to lose the baby weight in a healthy way.

To lose the baby weight, I focused on eating whole foods which are not only packed with nutrition but also stave off hunger. Eating a salad every day for lunch proved a great way for me to stay on track.

I also made it a point to get plenty of protein, green leafy vegetables and healthy fats from foods like avocado, nuts and seeds.

Exercise

After you have a baby, going to the gym is one healthy habit that can easily be put on the back burner.

Between back-to-back feedings, diaper changes, laundry and fighting through fatigue, working out is the last thing on your mind.

And if you have postpartum depression like I did, getting out of the house can be a struggle.

Yet after you get the green light from your provider to start exercising again, usually around 6 weeks postpartum, it’s one of the best things you can do not only to lose the baby weight but also for your health and your mood.

In the first few weeks of bringing my daughter home, I’d put her in the stroller and take walks in the neighborhood. When I was cleared to work out again, I started walking on the treadmill, then running and lifting weights.

If the gym isn’t your thing, there are so many ways to get in a workout.

Try the free or subscription-based workout apps or head to the park with your baby. At the very least, getting out prevents isolation and can help you meet other like-minded moms.

Don’t diet

To shed the baby weight, I never thought that what I was doing was a diet.

I didn’t count calories or put restrictions on what I was eating, although I did follow the WW (previously Weight Watchers) plan—more for the accountability than anything.

I knew that diets don’t work—it has to be a lifestyle—so I focused on giving my body what it needed—whole, nutritious foods. I ate when I was hungry, kept my portion sizes in check and always left room for treats.

Eat snacks

When you’re trying to lose weight, many experts say to stick to 3 square meals a day—no snacking allowed.

Since I was breastfeeding however, snacks helped to satisfy my hunger, especially between lunch and dinner and prevented overeating at meals. Also, since I have anxiety, low blood sugar is never a good thing, especially when caring for a baby and running around.

Experts recommend exclusively breastfeeding moms need an extra 300-500 calories, which can be built into your diet with snacks.

Drink water

Any time you’re trying to lose weight, experts will advise you to drink plenty of water. According to National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, women should aim for 2.7 liters, while lactating women should get more—

3.1 liters a day.

Thirst can often look like hunger so drinking up before reaching for something to eat can help you decide whether you’re hungry or not.

According to a 2014 study in the Journal of Natural Science, Biology and Medicine, overweight women who drank an additional 500 ml of water 30 minutes before meals lost weight and fat and lowered their body mass indexes (BMI).

Since water takes up space in the stomach, it promotes fullness and can stave off hunger. It also helps to metabolize carbohydrates and stored fat in the body and can keep your energy levels up so you’re less likely to reach for something to eat.

One trick that helped me to drink enough was to re-fill a re-usable water bottle and carry it with me everywhere I went.