WITH THE ABILITY to bounce back into a bikini weeks after giving birth, are celebrity mothers setting a bad example? Experts agree that severely restricting calories can affect the health and wellbeing not only of new mothers but also their newborn babies. 'Low calorie intake affects the quality and quantity of breast milk - a mother not getting enough nutrients and energy also produces milk with less energy and nutrient content,' says Daphne Wu, dietician-in-charge at Matilda International Hospital on The Peak. 'Moreover, postpartum depression is not uncommon and low intake of energy or carbohydrate increases the stress hormone and may make new mums more prone to emotional fluctuations.' Despite the dangers, some new mothers still put being thin before being healthy. It would seem morning sickness is nothing compared to the nausea invoked by watching the likes of Denise Richards, Heidi Klum, Victoria Beckham and Britney Spears shimmy in their skinnies weeks after giving birth. Richards posed for Playboy months after her baby was born; Klum strutted down the Victoria's Secret runway weeks after having her second child; Posh Spice is thinner than ever after three children; and Spears... well, let's just say she wasn't afraid to let it all show just months after the arrival of baby number two. So is the idea of the 'yummy mummy' mere Hollywood fantasy? Back in the real world, according to a survey conducted by the British magazine Mother and Baby, virtually all new mothers are unhappy about the way their body looks after childbirth. The Body After Birth survey questioned 2,000 new mothers across Britain, who said seeing celebrities regain their figures so soon after giving birth 'puts immense and unwelcome pressure on ordinary mums'. Most women said they had still not regained their pre-pregnancy figures 22 months after giving birth. Eighty-three per cent said pregnancy had left them with a 'flabby stomach', 'stretchmarks' (62 per cent) and 'droopy breasts' (51 per cent) - and this was after just the first baby (the average age of the women surveyed was 28). However, 94 per cent of the men questioned by the magazine said they found their partners just as attractive as they had before. Even the women surveyed admitted that 'other women' are much more likely to criticise their post-pregnancy body than men. Commenting on the survey, Elena Dalrymple, editor of Mother and Baby, writes: 'After having a baby, mums should be revelling in the joy of their new baby and eating well so they can healthily breast-feed, not despairing about their body shape. But the pressure from super-slim celebrity mums to be a yummy mummy is so immense, ordinary mums feel they should have a film-star body and be back in their jeans days after the birth.' So how much weight should you put on during pregnancy, and how quickly? To avoid health problems (and stretchmarks), you should gain slowly and steadily - about 1.5kg in the first trimester, and 0.5kg a week after that. Unfortunately, eating for two is a myth. Pregnant women only need an extra 200 calories a day - and only after 27 weeks. According to Chrissy Denton, a nutritionist and trainer at Pure Fitness, women should gain about 11kg to 16kg depending on their weight before pregnancy. When it comes to taking the weight off again, the rule for non-breast-feeding women is no more than 1kg a week, but this does not apply to those who need extra calories for breast-feeding. 'Breast-feeding women who eat a well-balanced diet will typically lose between one and two pounds [0.5 to 1kg] a month in the first six months of breast-feeding,' says Denton. 'A faster weight loss of more than 700g per week can decrease the production of breast milk.' But before you think of jacking in the breast-feeding in favour of a starvation diet, remember that breast-feeding is not only considered key to building your child's immune system, it can also burn up to 500 calories a day. Women who breast-feed have been shown to return to their pre-pregnancy weight a lot faster than those who bottle-feed their babies. While celebrities have a personal army of dieticians, trainers and, yes, sometimes cosmetic surgeons on their side in the battle of the bulge, it is unrealistic for the rest of us to invest this amount of time and money in losing weight. The fact is that pregnancy and motherhood do take a toll on a woman's body to varying degrees, depending on genetics and pre-pregnancy eating and exercise habits. 'How fit you are and how much body fat you have before you get pregnant, as well as watching weight-gain during pregnancy, will determine how quickly you bounce back after the birth,' says Nathan Solia, a personal trainer at the Hong Kong Cricket Club, who advises his pregnant and breast-feeding clients to follow a wholefood diet. 'Opt for organic, choose grain-fed beef to avoid ingesting hormones and include lots of raw veggies to get more vitamins and minerals.' Solia also advises clients to continue exercising throughout their pregnancy, but only if they were exercising before, and to tailor their programme to ensure the baby's safety. 'Pilates, swimming, walking and cycling are great, but certain exercises that involve lifting above the head, such as shoulder presses, should be avoided as they can lower blood pressure, which increases the risk of fainting; and lying flat on your back as it can restrict oxygen flow to the baby.' In addition to helping keep weight gain to a healthy and manageable level, exercising during pregnancy can have other benefits. According to Fanny Leung, physiotherapy manager at Matilda International Hospital, exercise can reduce the risk of lower-back pain and maintain and improve pelvic-floor integrity. It also increases the chance of an easier labour, a faster recovery and reduces the risk of post-date delivery. Post-birth, the recommended timeframe before resuming an exercise programme depends on the delivery method. 'For normal delivery it is four weeks and for Caesarean section, it is six weeks,' says Leung. 'But before this period, women can do pelvic-floor muscle training and basic core-muscle control exercise to improve closing of the diastasis [abdomen muscle splitting].' Once the healing is over, the hard work begins. And, as with all fitness and weight-loss programmes, it's a case of no pain no gain. 'You need to combine weights and cardio to maximise results,' Solia says. 'Aim for an hour split into 30 minutes of cardio and 30 minutes of weights, five days a week.' Remember, it takes nine months to make a baby and it often takes at least nine months for a woman's body to recover.