After having your baby, you look in the mirror and realize things do not look the way you remember them. Your boobs, belly and butt have all changed, and you are faced with the expectations of accepting your body after pregnancy. Postpartum bodies have performed a miracle, and yet there can be a lot of pressure on women to “bounce back” or “get your body back.” As a new mom, your goal is not to move backward, but to move forward. To develop a healthy relationship with your body after baby. We want you to be healthy in all ways, and that means knowing, honoring and taking care of your postpartum body.
Your Body Before and After Pregnancy
Many people like to make comments and admire the body of a pregnant woman. You may even receive unsolicited comments or that random lady in the grocery store asking to touch your 38-weeks-pregnant baby bump. Society idolizes the anticipation of birth. It’s a miracle – you’re growing a baby! So people want to remark on that, participate, connect with you. (Though you have every right to set your own boundaries regarding touch and what is said to you.)
Once the baby is born, however, there’s a sudden and different understanding of the body. A lot of the attention shifts to the (very adorable) baby. For many women, the messages become about a ‘before’ and ‘after’ body, after hearing language echo around her, such as: “bounce back” or “lose the baby weight.” Health and mindfulness
are most important, not the numbers on the scale, the way you look in postpartum photos, or how your body compares to another woman, even a woman who had her baby around the same time. You are on your own unique journey into motherhood.
Many women grow up internalizing ideas of what your body should be. We grew up with images splashed on the grocery store tabloids criticizing celebrities who had put on weight during pregnancy. We watched TV shows and movies that never accurately depicted the truth of what goes on during the long hours, sleepless nights, overwhelming days, and challenging weeks after having a baby. Social media adds another frustrating layer of opportunity to compare our bodies to women we will never see in real life. Naturally, for many women, the idea of your body looking different and not “snapping back” immediately after a baby can feel upsetting. It’s a complex issue, though.
The Importance of a Positive Body Image After Baby
Whether it’s been two hours, two days, two weeks, two months or two years after baby, your body image may still be at the top of your mind. At each stage, your postpartum body is going through different changes and recovery from giving birth. Having a positive body image allows you to take care of yourself and your needs as things progress. A positive body image gives you the ability to honor the realities of the birthing and recovery process. In developing a healthy body image, you are also able to be a positive example for other women (who may or may not become pregnant) and eventually for your own children (who also may or may not have children of their own). Together, with healthier body images, we allow our children to grow up with fewer pressures and unrealistic expectations and rather more confidence and acceptance. You can model a positive image for others, but you yourself will benefit from your body acceptance the most.
What Your Post-Baby Body May Mean to You
Beyond what you see in the mirror, your body likely represents more to you than a clothing size or image. For many women, our bodies are connected to our identity, our intimate relationships, and our social experiences.
What has your body meant to you throughout your life? Perhaps you spent a portion of your life as an athlete or dancer. Maybe your body has helped you achieve something you are proud of or has been an important part of a job or hobby. If you feel disconnected from parts of your identity due to the changes in your body, acknowledge that.
Our bodies are a huge part of our intimate experiences. For many women, body changes impact confidence levels and the fundamental understanding of what intimacy with a partner truly means. Many women I have interviewed about body image admit that they are nervous about connecting with their partner after the baby’s born, because they are unsure of how their partner will accept and experience a changed body.
Going out to new places, meeting new people, hanging out with friends, and other social experiences can prompt us to think about how our body looks and how others may perceive it. Chances are, we think about it way more than anyone we’re meeting does. We need other people in our circle as we raise our child and grow in motherhood, so it’s important that we do not let these thoughts keep us from meaningful connections and experiences. Try to remember that most everyone is focused more on themselves. Enjoying yourself no matter what only makes you more attractive. People truly do respond to confidence.
5 Tips for Improving Your Body Image as a New Mom
- Learn about the actual changes your body is going through. Many women never learn about the changes that happened in their body after having a baby. During pregnancy, we have regular appointments and learn how babies and moms are growing and changing. However, after having a baby, the body continues to change and heal, but many women are not taught about these changes. Things like the shrinking of the uterus, core strength, hormone levels, and more continue to change and recover way beyond the first few days and weeks. Once you understand that, just like it took a long time to grow and nourish your baby, it takes time to recover and that looks different for everyone, you can honor and celebrate what your body has done (and is still doing!) Timelines like ‘6-week postpartum body’ or ‘3-month postpartum belly’ can cause stress and make it hard to listen to your body and what it needs as you go through these changes.
- Move away from unhealthy comparison. It can be easy to get sidetracked from a healthy body image when we find places of comparison that trigger our self-criticism. If you notice that a certain TV show or social media account is causing you to make unhealthy comparisons, take a break from it. Keep your mind in spaces that allow you to have a positive relationship with your body. Stick to conversations with professionals about how to best take care of your body.
- Fill your “viewing” spaces with positive mantras. Mirrors, closets and refrigerators are great places to cover in positive mantras. Why? Because these are where we become aware of our bodies most. Come up with mantras that make you feel confident and healthy and put them in the places you need them most.
- Buy clothes that fit in this season. While there is nothing wrong with saving your favorite pants for a day when they fit again, you also deserve to have clothing that fits your body comfortably in each season. Celebrate the changes you have gone through with something that you can feel happy and confident in.
- Have honest conversations with your partner and/or support person. Sometimes we get caught up in cycles within our own minds. With less sleep and less time to connect, we can assume that our partner or support person is thinking something that may not be true. Many women I talk with assume that their partner is disappointed or not attracted to them after the baby because of their changed body. In many cases, this is not true. Have honest conversations about how you are experiencing these changes and how you need support, affirmation and connection.
Remember that part of self-care as a new mom is having a healthy mindset. After pregnancy, you are going through many changes and it can be natural to feel out of place with how your body looks and feels different. Taking the time and steps needed to have a positive body image after a baby not only improves this season of your life but allows you to grow and improve your body image for the years to come. Advocate for yourself and reach out for help and support.