The changes that come along with having a baby are numerous and often surprising. We live in a society where women are expected to “bounce back” from pregnancy and childbirth - resume work or your typical daily routine, somehow exist on little sleep, and get your pre- pregnancy body back. How many times have you heard someone say “she looks great for just having a baby!” or “she still has some baby weight to lose”? It’s as if losing the baby weight is your next greatest achievement in life.
I think it’s fair to say that just like your life is changed in some small and big ways, so is your body. And there is nothing wrong with that. In our society though, that’s a hard pill to swallow for most women. Here are some tips to help you embrace your postpartum body:
1. Consider your ideas about body image and try to adjust your expectations.
Where do your beliefs about the ideal or healthy body come from? Society, family, your culture? What are the messages you get from there? Thin is the standard to achieve. How thin? What is good enough? What do those perspectives say about postpartum bodies - do they have the same standard or different postpartum?
In our society we have this notion that new moms need to get their body back and should do this quickly. Bouncing back is a total myth - we live in a heavily image focused culture, where thin is the standard to achieve. Even celebrities’ bodies don’t stay the same, although you hardly ever get to see that side of them! They increase or change their workouts and eating habits to prepare for their upcoming work or events. And remember images are also photo shopped. What you see is not 100% reality. So please do not compare or hold yourself to ridiculous celebrity standards.
2. Give yourself time.
Be kind and patient with yourself. Easier said than done, but keep reminding yourself of this.
Some self-compassion can go a long way. Your body has taken 9 months to grow your baby and is still recuperating during the postpartum year. Is it really fair to expect it to go back to what is was, especially with everything else you are juggling now?
Set small, realistic goals. Your life just got a lot fuller. You cannot expect yourself to do everything you were doing before and meet all the demands of a new baby. Start with just finding some physical activity you can do for a few minutes. Build up to more time as you can. This may fluctuate from one week to the next. That’s ok.
3. Focus on the positive things your body has done through pregnancy and the postpartum period. Think about your body in different terms. For pregnancy, your body has housed and nurtured a baby. Your body endured whatever circumstances it had to for the birth of your baby. For postpartum, you somehow find the strength within to get up and tend to your baby despite running on little sleep and energy. Your arms carry your baby. Your heartbeat, voice, and even your scent are all sources of comfort for your little one.
Mantras can be excellent reminders of these things. Pick one or two statements that you like and repeat it to yourself at a certain point in your day, as well as when you find yourself feeling badly about your body.
Studies have shown that repeating a mantra quiets the part of our brain that is responsible for self-reflection, self-judgment, and thinking about the past or future. Even if you don’t 100% believe your mantra yet, you will at least be quieting that critical part of your brain for a few minutes.
4. Think beyond appearances.
What else is your body capable of? It gets you from place to place. Maybe it carries you through a challenging workout. It does a whole lot of functions all day long, day in, day out, to sustain your life. It allows you to affectionately connect with your loved ones. It fights off illness. Pretty amazing powerhouse when you think about it.
5. Do your best to maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine. Both will help with your mood and are also good ways of taking care of yourself. Adjusting your expectations with your eating and exercise are important. Exercising even for 15 or 20 minutes will benefit you. Small steps are better than none at all. For your diet, consider what will work best while caring for a baby. Small meals through out the day or precut vegetables may be useful to keep on hand.
6. Don’t compare. It’s difficult not to when you’re unhappy with your body, but we usually only notice those comparisons which make us feel worse. When in fact, if you were to compare to every postpartum woman, you would inevitably find some that you would make you feel better about your body. Social media is a comparison nightmare. Consider limiting or taking breaks from social media.
7. Tend to your needs. Babies need a lot of care and demand a lot of your time. It can seem impossible, especially in the beginning, just finding time to shower or to eat. But your needs are just as important and are vital to your well-being. When your needs are being addressed, you will feel better overall and will be less likely to overly focus on things that don’t make you feel good about yourself.
8. Buy some new clothes. In the beginning, many women will wear their maternity clothes. After some time has passed, wearing maternity clothes can emphasize negative feelings you may have about your postpartum body. Often your pre-pregnancy clothes don’t fit right either and you may feel disappointed by this. Rather than repeatedly feeling disappointed every time you look in the mirror, try buying some new clothes that you feel good in.
We also tend to view our maternity and pre-pregnancy clothes as belonging to different categories. Maternity clothes were for pregnancy. “I'm not pregnant anymore, so why are my maternity clothes the only thing that fits?” Pre-pregnancy clothes, we associate with where we are supposed to be. “I’m supposed to get my body back. So why aren’t I there yet? I don’t think these will ever fit again….”
I know that embracing your postpartum body may sound undesirable or just too difficult. That’s ok. That’s how you feel today. Maybe tomorrow you’ll see things differently. Maybe you can just try one of these tips and see if it helps. However you may be feeling about your body, know that you are not alone. Try talking to a friend about it. And if you need more support, contact me.
Laura Winters, LCSW is a therapist specializing in infertility and prenatal/postpartum stress. Laura's practice is located in Chatham and Mountain Lakes, NJ. Learn more about her services here.