We’re used to seeing new celebrity moms standing tanned and svelte in their bikinis with a baby tucked under one arm like a Prada purse and under a headline proclaiming, "How I Lost My Baby Weight! 50 Pounds in One Month!" So when Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge and new mom to Prince George Alexander Louis, appeared in her blue polka-dot dress with her hands tucked neatly under her quite-visible postpartum tummy the day after giving birth—and looking absolutely beautiful—suddenly everyone was talking more about Kate and her belly than the new heir to the British throne.
The fact is, having a baby changes every woman. A lot. Not that we'd know it from what we see on TV and in magazines as an endless parade of supermodel moms make it look easy to be birthing a baby one week and walking a catwalk or red carpet the next.
I distinctly remember standing in line at the pharmacy just days after my fifth baby was born and looking at a picture of Heidi Klum strutting her stuff in the Victoria's Secret show even though her baby was only a few weeks older than mine. She was in sexy lingerie; I was still wearing my husband's flannel pajama pants and Pac-Man t-shirt. Like I had every day for a week. I wanted to cry.
But at least I didn't have to worry about anyone snapping my picture. Victoria Beckham reportedly went into hiding during the last month or so of her fourth pregnancy and refused to emerge until she was back in her pencil skirts so that there would be no chances for the paparazzi to snap unflattering pictures. The other new celeb mom of the summer, Kim Kardashian, hasn't been seen outside even briefly since the birth of her little one a month ago. And who can blame her after the way the media eviscerated her for her weight gain during her pregnancy?
Which is what makes Middleton so brave. According to Leslie Goldman, body image expert and author of The Locker Room Diaries, Middleton has reset the bar for postpartum women at a normal, healthy level. After women give birth, their stomachs typically take weeks, if not months, to deflate as the uterus contracts, skin snaps back, water weight drains, and pregnancy pounds are shed. And yet, Goldman adds, "This is the first celebrity-type new mom I can remember seeing with her post-baby bump so evident and just out there for the whole world to see." And if it's okay for a Duchess to sport a bump, then it's certainly okay for the rest of us!
So new moms, take heart from Middleton’s example and don't pressure yourself to look like you haven't just had a baby. Experts say that the uterus will naturally shrink back down to it's normal "walnut" size within six to eight weeks, no extra work necessary—which is why many doctors advise women to wait until after that point to resume regular exercise routines. However, Amanda Tress, author of the blog Fit Pregnancy and Parenting and a personal trainer who specializes in post-baby bods, adds that every woman and situation is unique. "Consult with your doctor to establish a realistic time frame to start exercising again after pregnancy."
No matter when you start, she advises beginning with light activities like walking. "Consider what you usually do. Then cut that in half," she says. Pay careful attention to how you feel the next day before adding more exercise, and monitor your lochia (the bloody discharge that can last for several weeks after birth). If your flow gets heavier, then you are doing too much.
And above all, be gentle with yourself! It took you nine months to put on the weight, and you get at least that long to take it back off. Plus, now you have much more important things to worry about—like how to change the diaper fast enough so you don't get peed on. Goldman adds, "I feel like Kate's stomach was the furthest thing from her mind. She had a beautiful, healthy baby—that's what she deserves to be focusing on."