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Postpartum Secrets of Celebrity Moms

Movie star moms make it look easy. Catherine Zeta-Jones danced in Chicago months after giving birth to her first child, then performed again on Oscar night, eight months into her second pregnancy. Reese Witherspoon was back to looking leanly blonde just eight weeks after delivering her new son. And where does Kelly Ripa find the energy to skirt around New York City in high heels while filming two TV shows and raising three kids?

Although motherhood on the A-list may seem like magic -- the ultimate trick being a speedy return to normal after nine months with child -- Matrix mama Jada Pinkett Smith admits that celebrities are masters of illusion who get a lot of help from nannies, personal chefs, trainers, cleaning services, the works. "All moms struggle. Celebrities just know how to conceal it," says Pinkett Smith, who has two children with husband Will Smith and is stepmom to his first son. "While motherhood is a beautiful thing, it's traumatic to the body and the mind. I had some really down days after my kids were born. I thought I would never recover, even though I had a lot of help." Of course, you wouldn't have known it from looking at her. "The acting comes in handy," she admits. "We can pretend everything is great even if it isn't."

While you may lack their acting ability and the bank account for a team of specialists, you can still adapt some of the superstars' secrets for your own post-preggers routine. Follow these tips to bounce back and feel great.

Regular exercise is a must if you want to fit back into your prepregnancy jeans. "Committing to it is the only way to lose the weight," says Holly Robinson Peete, a mother of three who stars in Like Family. "Plus it makes you feel more energetic and strong. You'll need that when the kids start crawling."

Wait for your doctor to give you the go-ahead, usually about six weeks after you give birth. Then ease into exercise. And if you're currently with child, keep moving. "I never stopped exercising while I was pregnant," says Catherine Bell, who stars on JAG. "You should stay active all nine months, even if it's just walking around the block." Kate Hudson, whose son, Ryder, was born in January, agrees: "You can't do everything you did before, but you can adjust your routine."

Even if you weren't keeping in shape during pregnancy, there's hope. Trainer Gunnar Peterson, who works with star moms including Jennifer Connelly, explains, "If you're out of shape and start working hard, results will come quicker and easier." To keep things interesting, he recommends varying the exercises you do. "Trick yourself into thinking it's a good time," he says. Uma Thurman used her Kill Bill martial arts and sword training to shed 50 pounds; Catherine Zeta-Jones favors fencing. Other hot workouts include exercise boot camps, aerobic striptease, and spinning.

For a less cardio-intense session, celebrity moms such as Melissa Rivers, Brandy, and Vanessa Williams swear by Pilates, an exercise method that strengthens and lengthens muscles while increasing flexibility. Yoga, too, has a large cadre of A-list devotees including Madonna, Melanie Griffith, and Reese Witherspoon. It's become so popular that most YMCAs offer $10 classes, and for both yoga and Pilates there's a wide array of videos and DVDs, TV programs, and books.

You don't need a nutritionist to tell you to reach for an apple instead of a bag of chips or to eat baked chicken instead of fried. The problem with most of us is that we keep falling off the healthy-eating wagon because junk food is so convenient. For celebrities, though, avoiding sweets and fats is a job requirement.

Currently it's the rage to avoid carbs -- diets like Atkins, South Beach, and the Zone are huge in Tinseltown, though you may want to stick to a modified version, especially if you're nursing. The idea is to cut down on carbohydrates such as pasta and white bread and opt for more lean meats, fish, and veggies. Tips and recipes from Web sites like the-zone-diet-recipes.com can help.

Start eating right during pregnancy and just don't stop. "If you can keep up good habits after you give birth, you'll be ahead of the game," says Melissa Rivers, a host on the E! Entertainment network. Bell echoes that sentiment: "If you pig out during pregnancy, you might develop a taste for the bad-for-you stuff. You have to eat more because you're eating for two, but you should eat the right kind of food."

Other Hollywood tips include guzzling water all day and steering clear of the fridge at least two hours before bedtime. If you're at a restaurant and you can't seem to stop stuffing yourself, sabotage your plate: Celebs have been known to dump a drink in their dish to discourage picking.

"At first I fell behind at work. I stopped riding horses. I even left an exercise class because I felt so guilty about being away from my newborn," Rivers says. "It took me months to figure out how to balance all aspects of my life. But I realized that giving up hobbies and responsibilities didn't make me a better mommy. I was actually more bitter and more stressed than when I took time to myself."

A few activities just for you can make a huge difference in your happiness quotient. Can't afford the babysitter? Think about people who might owe you a favor. "Starting with your husband," says UPN star and two-time dad Flex Alexander. "He helped get you into this. The least he can do is pull some diaper duty."

And of course the two of you need couple time as well. Malcolm in the Middle's Jane Kaczmarek has said that one of the best pieces of advice she ever got was from Kate Capshaw, wife of uber-director Steven Spielberg and mom to seven children. "She told me that kids certainly need a lot of attention, but so do relationships. Our kids don't want us to go out, but as crazy as it gets with kids and jobs, the marriage is the backbone. We do the best we can with the limited time we have."

Faith Hill agrees. "You can't neglect your marriage, or it will fail," she has said. "Tim [McGraw] and I schedule dates at least once a week. Sometimes it's a fancy trip to the beach, sometimes it's just breakfast alone."

You may not have a stylist, but you can still look pulled together. "Clothes help make the woman," says Lisa Rinna, mother of two and host of Soap Talk on the Soap Network. "If you feel good in an outfit, you'll feel more confident, people will want to be around you, and you'll have a better time."

Treat yourself to a few new pieces of clothes. Get a stylish but easily managed haircut, and wear some makeup to bring emphasis back to your face. The best alternative to makeup is a glow courtesy of a bronzer or self-tanner. Victoria Beckham, formerly Posh Spice, looked as if she'd been in Barbados when she first appeared after giving birth to her son, Romeo. In truth, she hadn't left England.

As for acting calm and cool, do what you can to harness serenity. "You can't sweat the small stuff," says Matrix star Carrie-Anne Moss. "I don't want to create that kind of nervous, stressful energy around my kid." None of us do. Experiment with candles, meditation, massage, a hot bath, a cup of tea, and anything else that will ease your troubled soul.

And if you learn anything from the stars, let it be this: Go easy on yourself. There's no Superwoman, only a lot of women doing the best they can. "Everyone recovers at a different rate, and that's okay," says Pinkett Smith. "Give yourself a break, be patient, and let your body guide your comeback."

Carrie Bell is an entertainment writer in Los Angeles.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, March 2004.