September 02, 2004 12:00 PM

Gwyneth Paltrow and Apple Blythe Alison, 4 months

Forget the first smile (though they are heart-melting). The real milestones in a new mother’s life are: (1) Getting back into skinny jeans; and (2) Leaving the kid with a sitter for the first time. By returning to her yoga mat – which she had used throughout the pregnancy, alongside supportive husband Chris Martin – Paltrow, 31, turned up scarcely a month after Apple’s May 14 birth in a pair of slender Seven jeans. (Recently, Martin, 27, dropped the wife off at an East Hampton, N.Y., yoga studio to down-dog it alone.) Though she now jokes that “blush and a girdle” explain her enviable appearance just days after a 70-hour labor, she allows that losing the 35 lbs. she put on was “tough.” Tougher still for Paltrow is leaving her golden, delicious Apple at home.

Their daughter was 5 weeks old before Paltrow and Martin entrusted her with a non-relative – “a very sweet lady,” she told PEOPLE on the June night she and mom Blythe Danner went to an awards ceremony in L.A. These days awards mean little to her. “I’ve done everything careerwise that I wanted to,” says the Oscar winner. “Now I have the luxury to fully dive into this domestic bliss.” And going out is getting a little easier. On Aug. 29 she happily presented at the MTV Video Music Awards (page 68).

Daddy Duty: Martin “sings to her all the time,” says Paltrow. “Lullabies. Joke songs. She loves his music. I played it a lot while she was in my belly.”

"A sense of humor is key," says Shields (in L.A. with Rowan in June) about parenting.

Brooke Shields and Rowan Frances, 16 months

“I know every mother says the same thing,” says Shields, 39, apologetically. “But I think she’s the most beautiful baby in the world. Sometimes I look at her and I’m not sure I bargained to love that much. Did I really need to feel this much love?” Though she and her TV writer husband, Chris Henchy, 40, doted on Rowan after her May 15 arrival last year, Shields felt another thing she hadn’t counted on: post-partum depression. Since confronting the problem, the actress is writing a book, to be published next year, called Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression. Even in those early months, however, Shields could good-naturedly tease Henchy about their unequal division of labor. “I heard someone ask Chris if Rowan was sleeping through the night, and he said, ‘Yeah, she’s great.’ I looked at him and said, ‘Whose house are you in?’ He said, ‘Wait. That’s me. I slept through the night.’ ” Despite the dark days, and the rough time she initially had getting pregnant (Shields suffered a miscarriage and made six attempts at in vitro fertilization), she remains an optimist. “I really want to have other children,” she says. “A sibling is a bonus for a kid. If I can provide that, I would love it.”

Back to work: Later this month Shields will step into the lead of the musical Wonderful Town on Broadway.

The hands-on mom (with father-in-law Martin Sheen) took Sam to Canada to shoot the TV movie I Do (But I Don't) in July.

Denise Richards and Sam, 6 months

Shedding her pregnancy weight was easy: four weekly hour-long cardio-weight workouts starting six weeks after daughter Sam was born on March 9 did the trick. But shedding the guilt she felt about her decision to stop nursing at six weeks was another matter. “Breast-feeding was exhausting,” says Richards, 33, wife of Two and a Half Men star Charlie Sheen. “I’m glad I did it. I just really started to feel like myself and had more energy when I stopped.” Energy she can use for new hobbies such as Mommy and Me classes and, once a week, Daddy and Me time. “Charlie and I used to laugh when people would say they have a ‘date night.’ Now we get it,” says Richards, who adds that the real change is mental: “We have moments where she’s sleeping in her crib and we’re like, ‘Oh my God, there’s another person in our house, and she’s not leaving!’ ”

Body After Baby: She did a Playboy shoot in August. “It was weird,” she says. “I was like, ‘I’m a mom now.’ ”

After wearing sweats and flats for nine months, Messing (with Roman in May) says that wearing heels again "feels good."

Debra Messing and Roman, 5 months

For the first 2 1/2 months after Roman was born on April 7, “I did nothing but breast-feed and spend day and night gazing into my son’s eyes,” Messing, 36, says. Holed up at home in L.A. with her guys – Roman and her actor-writer husband, Daniel Zelman, 37 – she “just thoroughly enjoyed being a full-time mom.” Still, she was not entirely unhappy when Will & Grace began shooting on Aug. 4. (Last season she missed several episodes because of bed rest.) She likes, as she put it, “the consistency of . . . working every week.” So, it seems, does Roman. Messing is having the dressing room next to hers turned into a nursery, and while she’s on-camera, he stays backstage and gets “lots of attention,” says Janet Jackson, who guest stars on the Sept. 23 episode. “He is adorable and has these great big eyes.” No need to tell Mom. “I’m madly in love,” she says, “and the adventure has just begun.” Body After Baby: “I’m trying not to stress about [losing weight],” said Messing, who credits her slim figure to breast-feeding.

"Her priorities have changed," a friend says of Klum (in June).

Heidi Klum and Leni, 4 months

The only thing the German model misses about life before Leni is the food her mother made her during her pregnancy. As Klum, 31, wistfully recalls, “Sauerkraut soup. Schnitzel. Things I grew up with.” What she doesn’t miss? Traveling from New York to London to Miami on a typical week. Says a friend of Klum’s new nesting at home in Manhattan: “She doesn’t want to disrupt the baby’s schedule.” Still breast-feeding, Klum rarely leaves Leni’s side for more than a few hours – enough time to fit in her near-daily 60-minute workouts (which, along with a high-protein, low-fat diet, helped her lose 30 lbs.) as well as downtime with her beau, singer-songwriter-diaper-changer Seal. (She split from Leni’s father, racing tycoon Flavio Briatore, in January.) “People say, ‘Oh, [with a newborn] you’re in pain and you’re tired and you can’t have sex and everything is miserable,” she says. “For me . . . it’s the opposite. I guess I am lucky.”

Back to Work: Klum is a producer and host of the Bravo reality TV show Project Runway, which airs in November.

Though she is mulling several film projects, the contented mom (in New York City Aug. 13) hasn't said when she'll next work.

Kate Hudson and Ryder Russell, 9 months

“It’s the most incredible thing,” says Hudson of parenthood. “But nobody ever tells you how hard it’s gonna be.” Recently, Hudson, 25, husband Chris Robinson, 37, and son Ryder enjoyed a well-deserved vacation. Not only had she just finished her first postbaby film shoot, a New Orleans thriller called Skeleton Key, she had been working diligently since Ryder’s Jan. 7 arrival to drop the 60 (yes, 60) lbs. she put on while carrying him. “I did lose the weight pretty fast,” says Hudson, who relied on a 1,500-calorie-a-day diet and three-hour daily work-outs. It helped that she was nursing Ryder in her trailer, but dieting in the Big Easy wasn’t easy. Hudson and Robinson enjoyed crawfish, stuffed crab and cold beers. But Key’s physically demanding role provided its own exercise. “[I was] climbing up two-story trellises and running in the mud and knocking myself on crashing cars,” she says.

Marriage Monitor: “We’re sharing something so gigantic now,” says Hudson of parenthood. “I think it’s the best we’ve ever felt being together.”


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