Now even mere mortal mums can have a perfect post-baby body . . .
One month after giving birth, Monica Bellucci looks stunning. Here's how you too can look fabulous. By Susan Daly
They don't call her La Bella Bellucci for nothing. Actress Monica Bellucci looked stunning when she stepped out for a fashion party last weekend in a black Dolce & Gabanna dress. She turned heads not only because, at 45, she could still fit into the skintight dress she first wore at the Rome Film Festival two years ago -- but because she could fit into it just one month after giving birth.
Bellucci wore her baby bump with pride for the duration of her pregnancy, posing semi-nude for Italian Vogue while heavily pregnant in March. She still looks a healthy weight, unlike certain robotic celebumoms who return to a suspiciously tight six-pack stomach the instant they give birth, the result of over-zealous exercise, starvation diets and -- whisper it -- tummy tucks at the moment of C-section.
But the question remains: How did she manage to fill out THAT dress, without bursting it at the seams?
The answer is probably a 50-50 recipe of prevention and illusion, and as such, can be equally useful to the rest of the post-partum population, the MMMs (Mere Mortal Mums). MMMs may not have to brave the paparazzi's flashbulbs after having a baby. The summer season does, however, bring weddings and social occasions where a new mum may have to bring her post-baby bulge out of hibernation.
Not everyone can afford personal trainers and calorie-counting cooks. It is also recommended that losing baby weight happens in a controlled manner over many months.
This is where the illusion comes in. Monica Bellucci might have won the good looks lottery but she is also Italian, a nation that believes in rigorously-constructed undergarments as an everyday necessity. We think of girdles as something our grandmothers wore but they have never gone out of vogue on the continent.
"In Italy and France, women's underwear generally has built-in girdles," says Carmel Moran of Naissance maternity shop in Wexford. "When Rachida Dati went back to work five days after giving birth to her baby, people in France didn't bat an eye-lid about how she looked."
Dati, the French minister lambasted by some for going back to work so soon after having her baby girl in January 2009, drew no criticism for her svelte post-partum figure. It emerged that she was a fan of the post-pregnancy corset created by expensive lingerie brand Agent Provocateur.
Actress Gwyneth Paltrow and pop star Gwen Stefani are advocates of the Agent Provocateur garment, both saying they wore it after the births of their children to help regain their figure. Even petite Jessica Alba declared: "I wore a girdle after having my daughter."
Hollywood royalty Tori Spelling and Nicole Ritchie considered it a badge of honour to attribute their flat bellies immediately after having babies to wearing Spanx panties.
It seems Granny and Gwyneth aren't wrong. Pregnancy can wreak some serious changes on the body, realigning the pelvis bones and even pushing out the rib cage. The idea of wearing a girdle to literally shove everything back in place sounds archaic but there is a medical basis for it.
"Stomach muscles tend to separate at the end of pregnancy," says Carmel Moran, who sells practical post-partum corsets by the Jolie Maman label in her Naissance shop.
'You can think of the corset as being like a plaster, holding two pieces of skin as they knit and heal together. It does the same for muscles. Our corsets are not pretty but they do what they say on the tin, and physiotherapists and midwives recommend them."
The search for a 'Mummy's little helper' has also seen a business idea by Co Cork sisters Sinead and Carmella O'Donovan go stratospheric. They invented the 'Recovery Shorts', made from a blend of Spandex and polyester, aimed at mums who have just given birth. "The shorts provide gentle compression but allow the muscles to be continuously active," says Sinead. "This helps prevent baby belly because it also helps to push the extra post-delivery fluid out of your body."
A year later, the Recovery Shorts are selling in 16 countries worldwide and Carmel Moran says she has recorded a 400pc jump in sales in her post-pregnancy corsets.
Pre-pregnancy preparation is also a significant factor in the body bouncing back quickly. Model Heidi Klum clearly has good genes to thank for her slim post-baby body but she also said that because she was in shape before her pregnancy, her body had a "muscle memory" that was easy to tap back into.
Linda de Courcy of Pilates for Life in Dublin says Pilates core-strengthening exercises can really help a body prepare for pregnancy. "There is also anecdotal evidence that women who have practised the exercises into late pregnancy can find the body goes back quicker to its pre-pregnancy condition."
One of the oft-cited advantages of breastfeeding is that milk production burns 500 calories a day but de Courcy, also a nutritionist, warns that women need to avoid low-fat diets to keep their energy up and to make sure their babies get all the fat-soluble nutrients they need.
TV style guru Gok Wan suggests optical illusions like wraparound tops with ruching on the belly that hide a pouchy tum but "suggest a long-lost waist". He also advises wearing sleeves rather than a bare shoulder while hips are still wide in order to balance out the proportions of the body.
Carmel Moran says we should look to our grannies again for another body-flattering tip. "I tell ladies to consider wearing an old-fashioned slip underneath a dress. The dress then skims the slip rather than hugging the body in the wrong places."
Another trick is to detract from the body altogether with some statement jewellery, fabulous shoes or -- in the case of Christina Aguilera -- with an amazing hair colour.
She was still voluptuous when she turned up at a red-carpet event three weeks after giving birth to her son Max -- but all eyes were on her hair which she had newly bleached a platinum blonde.
She also had on a low-cut top which displayed her baby-enhanced assets. Result? No-one was looking at her mummy tummy.