The star of CBS's JAG on baby names, balancing work, and being bikini-ready.

Catherine Bell's acting career, which includes trying to seduce Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty and prosecuting military crimes as Lt. Col. Sarah "Mac" MacKenzie on the CBS series JAG, was her highest priority until she gave birth to daughter, Gemma, in April 2003. "Becoming a mom changed me in so many ways, but mostly it put everything into perspective," she says. "My job was no longer the most important thing in my life."

We checked in with Bell to chat about pregnancy and the first 21 months with child.

On being ready for a baby:

"I had a great mom so I wanted to be one, too, but I wasn't mentally or emotionally ready until I was in my 30s. I had a career I was working hard to establish, and I needed to feel on firm ground there first."

There are always a few reservations:

"I'm an only child so I never knew what to do with babies. I was that person who would hold a baby two feet away from my body. But most of it comes naturally, and you learn quickly. When it's your own kid, even her spit-up and poop are great."

Pregnancy style:

"I lived in my Juicy Couture sweats. I wore cute little dresses, too, but I wasn't really into showing off my pregnant belly. Maybe a few inches would peek out, but I was not the girl in a bikini or shrunken T-shirt all the time."

Choosing her daughter's name:

"My husband and I were in Italy when we were trying to get pregnant and fell in love with the country. When we looked through name books, we focused on the Italian section. We found Gemma, which is unusual, Italian, and strong."

Decorating the nursery:

"We went with an Italian theme to go with the name. There's an Italian landscape painted on the walls, complete with villas and Lake Como. If you look closely, you can see George Clooney waving from his house. Just kidding."

Writing her book, Bikini After Baby:

"I agreed to do a bikini photo shoot three months after Gemma was born, and I needed to get back into shape immediately. I had the help of trainers and a nutritionist, and it worked well for me. Not every mom has help like that, and I thought maybe others could benefit from my program. The book will have exercise and eating tips. It isn't impossible to lose baby weight, but it takes work."

Couple time:

"When she was around 4 months old, Gemma started spending the night at my mom's house once a week so we can have time together. She loves it."

Indispensable beauty item after baby:

"Under-eye concealer was my best friend for the first few months."

Sound sleep advice that worked for her:

"In the beginning I'd nurse Gemma, and later I gave her a bottle to get her to sleep at night. At about 10 months, we took on the task of training her to fall asleep on her own, which took about four nights of totally hellish crying. It killed me. I found that communicating the steps to her as we went helped. Now she sleeps through the night and is used to the concept of bedtime."

The product that makes life as Mom easier:

"Coffee. Sad, but true."

Favorite thing to do with your daughter:

"I love days when I get to go into work a little late. I make Gemma eggs and croissants and hang out at the breakfast table and just talk to her. It's the perfect way to start the day."

Baby number two anytime soon?

"Ask me again in two or three years."

Carrie Bell is an entertainment writer in Los Angeles.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, January 2005.

American Baby