As in so many other aspects of life, pregnancy has been colonised by celebrities keen to evangelise their uber-glamourous approach to motherhood. Planet Celeb is populated by neat bumps and bodies that apparently ping back into size-four-jeans eight weeks after delivery. On planet Earth, of course, life is very different: interpreting your newborn's every whimper, mastering the correct latch and functioning as a human being while battling chronic sleep deprivation means there's little time to worry about a few excess pounds and a wobbly tum. For most of us, the old maxim about baby weight – nine months on, nine months off – is true and sensible.
When you do feel ready to get back into shape, it's cheering to hear you don't need an army of nannies and personal trainers. The key is to exercise smartly to maximise what little time you do have, says personal trainer Ricardo Macedo, who has worked with television star Patsy Kensit and fashion presenter Noelle Reno. "You can find half an hour while baby naps, 20 minutes after lunch, perhaps another 10 minutes later," says Macedo, who is based in Kensington, London. "By splitting your workout into shorter sections, your body has to work harder to recover and you get better results."
Make sure these short bursts of exercise count. "You need to get out of breath and sweat," says Macedo. "Pick exercises that use several big muscle groups at once so you burn more calories." Try this one: crouch down to the ground, then jump into the air in a full body stretch. "Twenty reps of that and you'll really feel the burn," he says.
If you're on a budget, pick an exercise that doesn't require costly equipment, membership fees or babysitters. There are many DVDs tailored to time-pressed mums working out at home. Avoid ineffectual celebrity cash-ins and pick tried and tested routines that deliver results, such as Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred or Tracy Anderson's sweat-inducing Dance Cardio Workout.
Exercise isn't just about looking good, it makes you feel good too, which matters when having a baby can leave you feeling adrift of the "old you". One group of North Shropshire mums has set up a school-gate walking club, dropping dress sizes as they pound the lanes – their top tip is to set a blistering pace, about four miles an hour. But there's another benefit: "It's my therapy," says one mum of two. "And when you're talking you don't notice the miles."
Group activities have anotherbenefit: you can't wimp out when people are relying on you. "It's the best motivator I've ever had," says Nadia Souverjtis, mum of two pre-schoolers and netball enthusiast. "It doesn't matter how you're feeling, you can't quit on the team."
If you're feeling self-conscious about your post-baby body shape, the right workout gear can help. Helen Canning, mum to one-year old Coco Lily and author of the cocomamastyle.com blog, says there's no need to splurge on high tech sports gear to put a spring in your step. "Avoid skin tight Lycra if you've fallen out of love with your body," says Canning, who recommends supermarkets and budget brands such as Primark for inexpensive, easy-layering basics. "Look for lightweight jerseys and try layering long line vests under straight cut, shorter tees with open necklines to skim your tummy."
So don your tum-skimming jersey layers, put your trainers on and just do it. You may not be a celebrity, but you're still worth it.