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Losing the baby weight

I didn't realise a photograph could bring on a bout of morning sickness until I was faced with the picture perfection of Victoria's Secret model Doutzen Kroes (26) who, just eight weeks after giving birth to her first son, has regained her former figure and returned to work.

Yes: Eight. Weeks. She was pictured this week on Miami Beach, modelling a range of skimpy shorts and tops for Repeat Cashmere. Her tummy was taut, her legs lean and lithe and her expression supremely smug.

Postpartum weight loss is yet another behaviour that separates celebrities from civilians. Stars routinely lose their pregnancy pounds within a couple of months. Compare this to the average new mother who is still semi-functioning in a daze of sleepless nights, nappy changes and endless washing cycles, and too exhausted to consider counting calories. Never mind, actually watch them . . .

But don't forget that most new mothers have very little help with their newborns. Celebrities have entire workforces at their disposal: nannies, housekeepers, PAs, personal trainers and dieticians.

No wonder Adriana Lima, also a Victoria's Secret model, said, without even the slightest hint of condescension, that losing her baby weight was "easy".

Celebrities make it look easy. It's not . . . for the average woman at least.

"It is their job to look perfect at all times," reminds Stephanie Sinnott of Baby Body Fit (pre-natal and post-natal fitness company), "so they need to get skinny quickly after childbirth."

"It is completely unrealistic for all women -- even celebrities -- to attempt to lose weight before six-10 weeks postpartum. It is only a matter of another few weeks, so why not enjoy it while you can? Then you can focus on getting back into those jeans."

Lisa Wilkinson, owner of yoga and fitness studio The Elbow Room runs a range of pre- and post-natal yoga and Pilates classes, yet she also insists that women need to reserve their energy for the trials of motherhood before they consider weight loss.

"I would discourage women from changing their diet in any way, shape or form in the first six months, other than eating a balanced diet. They should really be resting and recuperating. There is a lot of healing to be done.

"It took me two years to shift my baby weight, and I have an okay metabolism and an active-ish lifestyle, but it wasn't on top of my list."

It's all too easy to compare ourselves to celebrities and adopt a "if she can do it, so can I" approach. Yet we forget that we simply don't have the time, money or required levels of insanity to lose our baby weight in record time.

More to the point, medical experts agree that a safe weight loss is one to two pounds per week. They also advise that women wait until at least six weeks after a normal delivery, or 10-12 weeks after a C-section or complicated delivery (and always with their GP's consent) before they begin a fitness programme.

In the meantime, small changes will yield long-term results. Swap coffee for green tea (but not if you're breastfeeding) and don't eat after 7pm. Take a daily walk or keep your nappy-changing station downstairs so that you have to use the stairs regularly.

Once your body has recovered, avoid fad diets. Exercise is the best way to lose baby weight, even for women who led a relatively sedentary lifestyle pre-baby.

And while a good night's sleep might seem like an impossible dream to new mothers, it plays a vital role in regulating weight. New scientific evidence has revealed that mothers who don't get enough sleep are more likely to carry post-baby weight. Researchers found that mothers who got less than five hours of sleep a day when their babies were six months old were three times more likely to be carrying 11 extra pounds at the child's first birthday than those who got seven hours.

Yet, according to the authors of book Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat?: The Essential Guide To Loving Your Body Before And After Baby, they don't. Authors Claire Myskoand and Magali Amadei interviewed 400 men and women about pregnancy and body image and found that 80pc of childless women "expressed concern about their body changes".

It's a dangerous collective mindset that TV presenter and recent mother Laura Woods is all too familiar with. When she signed up as a spokesperson for the Aviva Get Fit Action Plan, she said she was conscious of putting pressure on new mums.

"I put on a lot of weight. You're not smoking, you're not drinking and you're not exercising as much as you usually would. Plus, you are starving."

However, she is sensible about taking it off. "I'm aiming at losing one to two pounds a week. It's achievable and the weight will stay off."

Woods jokes that she and her husband, Mark, ate in every restaurant in Dublin by the time her baby Ben came along, but she is quick to add that she'll be less inclined to overindulge next time around as it makes the subsequent weight loss more difficult.

It should be added that the need to "eat for two" is a pregnancy myth. Contrary to popular belief, women don't need to increase their intake at all in the first trimester. In the last six months, they only need to increase their calorie intake by about 300 calories -- an apple and a Tracker bar, to put it into perspective.

It should also be noted that the aforementioned Ms Kroes Tweeted a photograph of herself breastfeeding her newborn last week (as did fellow model Miranda Kerr). Adriana Lima and Gisele Bundchen are also breastfeeding proponents. It seems to be quite the trend among Victoria's Secret models.

There is little doubt that breastfeeding enhances postpartum weight loss.

"It helps enormously with losing weight," says model Alison Canavan, who is still breastfeeding six-month-year-old James. "There are other benefits as well, of course."

Midwife Sally Donlon of Bump, Birth and Beyond explains the science. "Breastfeeding enhances weight loss as it leads to a release of hormones which makes the uterus return to its normal size.

Breastfeeding burns 500-600 calories a day (for women who don't supplement with formula). That's the same as two hours of aerobic exercise."

She also quotes a study by the American Dietician Association, which claims that breastfeeding reduces lower body maternal fat. Put simply: it specifically slims the hips and bums.

Even so, I'd be surprised to discover that breastfeeding was Doutzen Kroes only means of whittling her body back to its former loveliness in record time.

That type of weight loss takes hard work and most women expend that energy on being a new mother.

>www.baby bodyfit.ie >www.the elbowroom. com >www.bump birthand beyond.ie