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Celebs and civilians alike expected to 'bounce back' after baby

By Shanon Cook, CNN
updated 3:12 PM EDT, Thu May 31, 2012
Both celebrity moms and regular women can experience pressure to slim down after giving birth.
Both celebrity moms and regular women can experience pressure to slim down after giving birth.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Actress Bryce Dallas Howard was criticized by TMZ.com readers for weight after baby
  • Celebs such as Heidi Klum are known for "bouncing back" to pre-pregnancy bodies quickly
  • Regular women can face the same pressure to lose weight, tone up quickly after pregnancy

Editor's note: Shanon Cook is an entertainment contributor for CNN and has interviewed Peter Gabriel, Sting, Britney Spears, Kanye West, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys and Yo-Yo Ma. Cook grew up in Australia and now lives in New York with her husband and daughter. Follow her on Twitter @ShanonCook.

(CNN) -- Is it just me, or are we a little obsessed with how celebrities look after having babies? Sure, famous people are always fun to watch (especially when they do cool things like Mila Kunis and save lives), but could all this ogling their midsections, thighs, butts and boobs shortly after they've experienced one of the most natural and precious experiences of their lives be a little ... twisted?

I'm going to go out on a limb and say yes.

Kudos to Beyonce for looking like, well, Beyonce when she first stepped out post-baby in a hot red dress. You could almost hear champagne corks popping the world over in celebration of her knack for not making a total mess of her lovely body. And then there are the endless magazine covers showing awesome (airbrushed!) abs with headlines akin to "From baby to bikini in five minutes!"

And what's with the neonatal nastiness movement? Jessica Simpson was brutally mocked for the weight she gained during pregnancy. And you can bet photographers in Hollywood are champing at the bit to be the first to snap her re-emergence now that she's had the baby. Let's hope for her sake she escapes unscathed, unlike actress Bryce Dallas Howard. She got ripped apart by commenters on TMZ under paparazzi photographs taken over Mother's Day weekend (classy!) of her looking heavier than usual while in public with her 4-month-old daughter.

The latest victim is Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, who has been slammed in her native India for not having shed all the pregnancy pounds six months post-birth. There's even a snarky video report online that shows before and after pictures of the former Miss World to the sound of elephants trumpeting.

Couldn't these moms just be left alone? They're already battling a whole host of post-birth issues -- soreness, hormone hurricanes, and for the first-timers, a stunning reorganization of their self-identity.

And is the media's obsession with a star's ability (or inability) to downsize rapidly after having a baby creating anxiety in noncelebrity moms?

CNN\'s Shanon Cook has found positive changes in her body post-baby
CNN's Shanon Cook has found positive changes in her body post-baby

"Yes, it really does put undue pressure on women," says Geraldine Fitzgerald, an Irish mom to a 14-month-old. "It trickles into the mainstream, and there's a ferociously competitive element among other mothers to 'look presentable' ASAP after birth.

"The constant bombardment of images of neatly pregnant females who are back in their teeny jeans quickly has a huge impact on the self-worth and outlook of people who struggle, for whatever reason, to regain their figure. In an era when women are having their first child in their late 30s/early 40s when your body is not so forgiving, it can really make you feel frumpy and hopeless."

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Sally Langeveld had her first baby 9 months ago, and while she's pretty happy with her body, she's disgusted by the digs at Simpson and Rai.

"It's just highly offensive," she says. "It seems pregnant women and recent moms are (fair game). I think generally there is still inherent pressure that women can have it all -- be successful, have a baby, be thin and fabulous. Maybe it's just me -- but of course you look at post-pregnancy pics and think wow how did they do that so quickly, and I want to be back to my pre-weight."

But not all moms are concerned with the elasticity of their celebrity counterparts.

"I really don't give a rat's ass," says stay-at-home mother of two Sarah (her name has been changed at her request). "It's rubbish! I just don't have time for it. If I had the kind of money to hire a nanny, a baby nurse, a personal trainer, a chef ... best believe I would do the same. But at the end of the day we are all women, so I say good on them for getting their bodies back."

I'll admit, interviewing Heidi Klum when I was in my second trimester was beyond thrilling. To me she was some sort of pregnancy goddess who moved in and out of being knocked up as effortlessly as she switched her wardrobe with the seasons. (Remember her Victoria's Secret runway romp a mere six weeks after birthing baby No. 4?).

And I was a little disappointed with Klum's "fewer carbs, more protein" answer to my question about her post-pregnancy regime. Couldn't she have just slipped me some magical Germanic crystals that would do the trick?

But this whole notion of "bouncing back" after baby -- just how realistic is it anyway?

"You're never a hundred percent back to that pre-marriage fighting body," says Jacques Moritz a New York obstetrician who counts celebrities such as model Christy Turlington among his patients. "Things get a little bit looser in a lot of different areas. And I think we have to stop selling people the idea that they're going to be absolutely back to the way they were. They still might have some stretch marks. The skin on their abdomen -- except for the really lucky few -- is never going to be the same."

Breasts can alter in all manner of ways (and directions) after pregnancy and breastfeeding, too. And then there's what Moritz refers to as "the dark secret" -- the changes that occur to the genital area after a vaginal birth.

For those who worry about how that region will, er, shape up, Moritz says he sends them to a specialist who teaches strengthening and tightening of the pelvic muscles through very specific exercises.

Vagina rehab! I've now heard everything.

The point is, "bouncing back" is a flawed concept. Even for supermodels who have been to elite trainers. And vagina rehab. Sure, it's entirely possible for moms to get back in shape and look fantastic -- that's not in dispute. But they'll be a new version of their old self.

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"I have come to grips with the fact that my body is more curvy than it used to be," says Sarah, 36, whose youngest child is 2. "And while I miss having slightly smaller boobs and rock hard abs, I continue to embrace the more womanly body I now have."

Sounds like she's doing an admirable job at keeping things in perspective; however, Moritz, who's been delivering babies for 25 years, says he's noticed his patients all lack one thing post-delivery -- patience.

"Everyone is asking when they can go back to the gym," he says. "And some of the moms who ask have never been to a gym in their lives. There's obviously a concern of 'when can I get back to myself?' "

Fred Borzumato is a personal trainer to celebrity moms such as actress Vera Farmiga, so he knows a thing or two about their determination to be red-carpet ready in a flash.

"My clients feel an incredible amount of pressure to get back in shape," he says. "They get photographed so often, everywhere they go. They also want to get back to work so they need to get fit fast. They show up to train like going to work -- very serious. It makes my job easy."

Borzumato says he puts clients on a high-protein, low-carb diet, and they're required to work out at least four days a week. Each session involves 45 minutes of weight training (to build up metabolism, he says) and at least 30 minutes of cardio.

And that's on top of caring for a newborn? I think I need to sit down.

"It's really hard work, but it works," Borzumato says. "Many times they have better bodies after having a baby. I think it's because they are so determined to get their old bodies back, and they really learn how to train and eat."

Most health experts, Moritz included, will tell you it takes at least a year for your body to return to its prior state "as best it can" post-birth. And the good news is, moms might actually approve of some of their new features. My arms are more toned than they used to be thanks to all the infant lifting. Some women report having better sex post-baby due to increased sensitivity (hello!). A friend recently bragged she'd discovered her G-spot, something she's convinced is attributable to changes that occurred during delivery.

Yeehaaaaw! Who'd want to bounce back from that?!

"I can in all honesty say that there are times I feel more beautiful and sexy than I did before I had children," Sarah says. "I suspect that has more to do with a certain sense of maturity I've acquired since becoming a mom. It also helps that I have a supportive and wonderful husband who absolutely adores me and loves my body -- even the squishy bits!"

That doesn't sound like a mom who just bounced back. More like one who is very much moving forward.

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