The sight of 10 postnatal women benchpressing their babies in the local park may soon be commonplace in Britain. "Powerpramming" - exercising in open spaces along with your baby and other new mothers - looks set to be Britain's latest baby craze. Companies such as the newly launched Pushy Mothers, and its main UK competitor Buggy Fit, have spotted a gap in the mummy market and leaped to plug it. In the US, where mothers have been puffing round parks together for a while, the phenomenon is known as "baby boot camp" or "strollercize". Call it what you like, it is a great way to lose that extra six stone.
And lose it you must. These days, new mothers are supposed to immediately busy themselves by pinging back into tiptop shape. Those of us who fail to do this, perhaps because we are busy feeding and caring for a newborn, tend to feel appallingly fat and guilty.
The growing crop of bonkers celebrity mothers does not help this collective new-mummy panic. Victoria Beckham recently claimed her dramatic and instant post-childbirth weight loss was down to her "genes", and not any kind of eating disorder or tummy-tucking at all. Tom Cruise's fiancee Katie Holmes, meanwhile, was reportedly signed up for a special workout scheme designed for her by a company called Buff Brides before the epidural had worn off.
"The pressure on women to get in shape straight after childbirth is incredible and increasing all the time," says Judy DiFiore, Britain's leading pre- and post-natal exercise specialist and co-director of Pushy Mothers, which starts up in London this June with weekly "powerpramming" workouts.
Leaping into action too soon after childbirth is, she warns, "completely misguided". She and her co-director, Rachel Berg, are keen that new mothers should get fit in a reasonable and safe way. They advise all women to wait until they have had a six-week check-up before attempting any vigorous exercise. "You have to be sure that your body has healed from childbirth," DiFiore cautions. "If you had a caesarean, this could mean waiting until about 10-12 weeks after the birth. In fact," she says "I tell women it takes nine months to get the baby and nine months to return afterwards". That makes instant Beckham-style results unlikely.
Pushy Mothers classes - in the park with buggies - start off at a manageable walking pace. There are stops for "core-stability" moves and strengthening exercises, not forgetting that pelvic floor - vital if you want to "sneeze with ease" (ie, without leaking, as some postnatal ladies do). With fresh air and the chance to chat, this is a far cry from those desultory, hospital-based mother and baby classes.
The benefits of exercising after childbirth are well-documented. "It can lift your mood, give you energy to cope with parenting, improve your posture, your back, your flexibility and strength, and help you to lose the baby fat," says Berg. Performed correctly, it can also save you from painful internal injuries. "At around 20 weeks of pregnancy your pelvis tilts and the hormone relaxin makes your joints looser," Berg explains. "They stay loose and liable to strain, for up to five months after childbirth - so it is relatively easy to do permanent damage, especially if you exercise in the wrong way".
Which many of us apparently do. We panic when we can't get our "fat jeans" beyond our kneecaps and, in a sleep-deprived fug, roughly two to three months after giving birth, we shove on ill-fitting trainers and wobble round the block. "Running round the block is the worst thing you can possibly do postnatally," says Berg. "Apart from feeling very uncomfortable, your pelvic floor is weak and will be further weakened by this activity: you are probably heavier, with larger breasts. Your feet may be bigger so your trainers may not fit. The pressure on your body - your ligaments, joints and pelvic floor will be immense".
This does not mean you should just sit around enjoying your newborn. Oh, no. "You can actually start doing gentle abdominal and pelvic floor exercises in the delivery room," says DiFiore. Exercise may not be uppermost in most women's minds minutes after labour, but the sooner you start twitching these devastated muscle groups, the quicker they will ping back into shape.
Stomach crunches are completely out, however: "Crunches post-childbirth can actually lock your tummy muscles permanently in an 'open' position," warns Berg "giving you a jellyfish belly no matter how fit and skinny you are everywhere else".
Of course, many new mothers will never make it to the park at an allotted time. Most of us - particularly with the second or third child - find getting out of the house a major challenge. "If you wait for the perfect hour to go to the gym it just won't happen" says pregnancy and post-natal exercise specialist Alison Merry, who has been a midwife for 10 years. She has devised a "virtual" form of powerpramming called Blooming Fit, an online exercise programme for busy mummies.
"Many women totally lose confidence in their bodies after childbirth," says Merry. "I put on three stone with my second baby and it took a year to come off. I wanted to offer women a realistic exercise programme they can fit around motherhood". Blooming Fit offers exercises you can do while taking your other kids swimming, walking to the shops with the buggy or simply during brief naptimes. And if this still sounds like hard work you can always cheat. Gwyneth Paltrow swore by Spanx knickers after Apple's birth - they apparently hold in your floppy bits magnificently. Or you could shell out £60 for Agent Provocateur's newly launched "postnatal pants". Devised by holistic obstetrician Dr Gowri Motha, on a traditional eastern "binding" principle, they stretch all the way up your torso, squeeze your ribs and organs back into place and flatten your bulges - all without you breaking a sweat. Who needs powerpramming when you can have powerpants?