Celebrity mum Victoria Beckham appeared looking svelte in her slim-fitting jeans only weeks after giving birth to baby Cruz, as did fellow 'yummy mummies' Liz Hurley and Claudia Schiffer. Women's Editor Lindsay Jennings looks at the pressure on women to snap back into shape after giving birth and the safest way to lose th post-baby pounds.

AS the world's most glamorous mum, it was only to be expected that Victoria Beckham would appear after the birth of baby number three looking somewhat sylph-like. Only five weeks after baby Cruz's arrival, the former Spice Girl arrived at the England football match in Manchester wearing a pair of figure-hugging jeans and a fitted motorcycle jacket. It was the same after the births of previous sons Brooklyn and Romeo - almost as if her swollen belly pinged miraculously back into shape each time she gave birth.

But Victoria is not the only "yummy mummy" to appear in public after giving birth with her pre-pregnancy figure intact, which she says is down to working out in the gym and healthy eating. Liz Hurley, for example, may have hidden herself away with a personal trainer and yoga and pilates instructor following the birth of son Damian, but soon emerged for a glittering film premier having reportedly shed just under four stones in as many months.

But while celebrities can afford an array of nutritionists, personal chefs and trainers to help them in their quest to regain their figures, for the majority of new mums it is not an option. And with most women gaining around two stones during pregnancy, the sight of a svelte Victoria Beckham slipping back into her pre-pregnancy jeans is enough to use her picture as a human dartboard.

In a recent survey of 2,000 mothers by Mother and Baby magazine, 93 per cent said celebrities losing weight so drastically after giving birth put immense pressure on them to follow suit. The same survey found that only three per cent were happy with their body after giving birth and that the majority were not back to their pre-pregnancy shape two years after the birth.

Says Elena Dalrymple, editor of Mother and Baby and mum of an 18-month-old daughter: "Mums should be revelling in the joy of their new baby and eating well so they can healthily breastfeed, not despairing about their body shape and semi-starving themselves.

"But the pressure from super-slim celebrities to be a 'yummy mummy' is so immense that ordinary mums feel they should have a film star body and be back in their jeans just days after the birth.

"They are comparing themselves with women whose jobs depend on looking great all the time, and who have plenty of help from an army of people to get them looking that way."

According to Dawn Shotton, weight management lead dietician at Bishop Auckland Hospital, in County Durham, expecting to lose all post-pregnancy weight weeks after giving birth is unrealistic.

"If it takes you nine months to put the weight on then you can realistically say it can take nine months to take it off," she says.

"Giving birth is a major life change and seeing images like Victoria Beckham puts women under undue pressure and can make them feel inadequate if they're not a size six in a few weeks. Physically, it is exhausting bringing up a child and mum needs all the energy she can get. Going on a strict diet will just bring her energy levels down."

Just as in pregnancy, the safest way to shift extra pounds, says Dawn, is by eating plenty of fresh foods and fish oils.

"During pregnancy your body changes and becomes much more absorbent of nutrients and minerals," she says. "Post-pregnancy, iron is one of the key elements needed, particularly if there's been any blood loss, and you need to eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables."

Breastfeeding women should be taking in 500 calories per day, including lots of fluids and calcium, in addition to the minimum 1,200 calories a day needed to stay healthy. Though milk production is largely independent of nutritional intake during the first few months of nursing, if the diet isn't adequate, mums are more likely to feel lacking in energy and listless. Many nutritionists recommend waiting at least six weeks after birth before thinking of slimming.

North-East celebrity Donna Air lost two-and- a-half stones within three weeks of giving birth to daughter Freya, which she put down to breastfeeding and the help of a personal trainer. But breastfeeding does not automatically mean the pounds come off.

"There isn't any evidence to suggest that women lose any more weight by breastfeeding," says Dawn. "But it does help pull the uterus back so they get their shape back more quickly and they feel as if the flabbiness goes quicker."

In Liz Hurley's case, she has put her famous figure down to eating just one meal per day. But it is not a diet that Dawn advocates, particularly for new mums. "We say eat small regular meals," she says. "There is also evidence to suggest that anyone who skips meals has a tendency to over compensate on the next one."

Another way to help shift the pounds is to take up some form of exercise, be it walking with baby in his buggy or joining a gym. A woman who gives birth naturally can begin with gentle walking and stretching exercises, but many doctors and midwives advise waiting until after the post-natal check up (usually six weeks after delivery) before starting an exercise regime. Some gyms have specific post-natal exercise classes.

Mums-to-be should also be wary about slimming during pregnancy as a way of trying to keep their weight down after they give birth. As well as needing additional nutrients such as iron and a folic acid supplement to combat spina bifida in their babies, if a pregnant woman goes into starvation mode she will produce ketones, created when the body breaks down fat for energy, which can cause mental defects in children.

Essentially, new mums need to give their bodies time to recover from their life-changing experiences, particularly as it can take up to a year to re-stock on nutrients. Those women who feel they need to starve themselves post-birth should also think about the long-term damage they could be doing to their health, such as the brittle bone disease osteoporosis due to a lack of calcium.

Says Dawn: "If you don't get the right nutrients, it's really your long term health that is being compromised. You may not see it now, but it could be an underlying thing in the future."