"I cried," Ryan, 41, admitted about the first time she left day Gisele in Los Angeles to go to work on the NBC show in New York. "It was especially hard since I've been with her nonstop since she was born."
The actress, who'll play "ball-busting" attorney Parice Larue in the episode to air April 7, terms her time as a stay-at-home mom as idyllic. "Gisele loves to be outdoors, and we garden together," says Ryan, whose vegetable garden includes broccoli, cabbage and carrots.
"She's a great eater. Any green vegetable, she'll go to town on. She has a very adventurous palate."
Months to Lose the WeightAnd after gaining 28 lbs. during her pregnancy, she is also back in shape. "It took me 10 months to get back to normal," says Ryan, whose exercise regime consists of Pilates three times a week. "It was a little frustrating, but I realize it's harder to take the weight off when you're 40."
The actress will reprise her SVU role this fall, and she looks forward to bringing her family with her to New York. "I loved my year off," says Ryan, who is married to chef Christopher Eme and has son Alex, 14, from a previous relationship.
"I milked [my maternity leave] for as long as anyone could milk it!" she says. "Now it's time to go back to work."