What to Expect After Expecting

What we can learn from Kate Middleton’s post-baby bump.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 23: Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, depart The Lindo Wing with their newborn son Prince George of Cambridge at St Mary's Hospital on July 23, 2013 in London, England. The Duchess of Cambridge yesterday gave birth to a boy at 16.24 BST and weighing 8lb 6oz, with Prince William at her side. The baby, as yet unnamed, is third in line to the throne and becomes the Prince of Cambridge.
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American paparazzi is child's play compared to the British national pastime of royalty obsession. And so, not long after the royal baby watch peaked with the clutter of shutters capturing 2-day-old Prince George, the cameras turned back to his new mum, specifically, her royal baby bump.

"Kate's Post-Baby Weight Loss Regime," was touted on the cover of a special edition OK!, a British tabloid claiming that, according to Kate Middleton's trainer, "her stomach will shrink straight back."

Meanwhile, readers struck back. Rebuking unfair beauty and body standards placed on women, and new moms, British TV anchor Katy Hill tweeted a picture of her own portly post-partum body and summarily sparked a rallying cry. In calling for praise, not punishment of women's post-baby bodies and a boycott of OK!, Hill elicited thousands of laudatory tweets and retweets in an episode now dubbed babyweight-gate. The magazine owners, in turn, defended their admiration of Mom Middleton. "Like the rest of the world, we were very moved by her radiance as she and William introduced the Prince of Cambridge to the world. We would not dream of being critical of her appearance."

New Mums. If the @OK_Magazine #Kate cover has made you feel bad, here's me 2 months post baby. YOU MADE A HUMAN! x pic.twitter.com/EQUGv8iTxa

— Katy Hill (@KatyHillTV) July 23, 2013

Hill has since become a celebrity crusader for women's healthy body image, her Twitter feed still atwitter with comments like, "Thank you for speaking the truth! The only word for a bump is beautiful."

[Read: Examining Your Pediatrician's Feeding Advice.]

Amid the hoo-ha, U.S. News aims to clarify what women, and those who love them, can realistically expect of themselves and their bodies in the weeks and months after childbirth. For starters, that baby bump on Middleton the day after giving birth? Totally normal. It takes several weeks for the enlarged uterus to return to the pelvis, says Myra Wick, an assistant professor of medical genetics and obstetrics and gynecology at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

As for returning to one's pre-pregnancy weight, that can happen in as little as six weeks, but four to six months is a more reasonable time frame, says Laura Riley, director of labor and delivery and obstetrics and gynecology infectious disease at Massachussetts General Hospital and author of "You & Your Baby: Pregnancy." "It took you nine months to put the weight on, it's going to take you some time to take the weight off." To get there, she recommends a healthy, balanced diet – especially for breast-feeding – and exercise, specifically a program that involves cardio and core work. Restoring muscle is the only way to "get all of the jiggly pieces back together, frankly," she says.

[See: 7 Mind-Blowing Benefits of Exercise.]

"The tough part is, in order to do that kind of dedicated exercise, you gotta have resources," like people who do your cooking, Riley says. "The Kate Middletons of the world and the Kim Kardashians, they have those people come to their house. The rest of us mere mortals have to figure it out," and try to find 30 minutes to exercise with a video.

"It is not easy, and I think that that always gets forgotten," she says. In those first four to six months after childbirth, "the vast majority of people are still trying to figure it out ... still have a marriage, still have their sanity – and lose weight? It's hard."

[Read: The Working Parent Dilemma: Less Time for Healthy Meals?]

Women can begin light exercise like swimming or walking as early as 24 hours after delivery, Wick says, adding that "it's important to listen to your body when you're getting back to exercise." If you're tired or seeing increased vaginal bleeding, scale back, she says.

In any case, women should not expect their bodies to look like or behave as they did before pregnancy. Much of the changes that can occur – like darkening of the skin, commonly called the "mask of pregnancy" and an enlarged vagina – can be cosmetically adjusted if patients want. While most women can "get their abs back," sagging breasts seem to be "the one thing that sticks," Riley says. "They look fabulous, and then they deflate." As for sex, the dive in sex drive that follows childbirth should eventually return once hormones stabilize, vaginal healing takes place and exhaustion subsides.