Years ago, I remember being asked by a man I knew through the Pilates industry if I ever wanted to have children. When I responded: “I think so – maybe in another few years.” He interrupted me to say” “You shouldn’t “ruin” your body because you’re in such good shape.”
Thanks for the uninvited, sexist, body-shaming input disguised as a compliment. I’ll leave out the expletives that – to this day – still run through my head when I recount that exchange.
There seems to be an unspoken – or maybe too spoken – idea that it’s undesirable for your body to change after having a child. Why?!
The whole idea of “bouncing back” after baby is ludicrous.
Your body change constantly throughout your lifetime and growing a brand new life is a pretty good reason for your body to change. For those that choose to breastfeed, feeding that life is another good reason for your body to change.
I think it’s normal to want your body to return to the way it was. After all, this is the body you’ve lived in for 2 or 3 or 4 decades before having a baby. There’s naturally a period of mourning that comes with these changes.
Not only is your body different, but your whole life is different.
How you spend your time (or don’t) and where your attention and priorities lie can shift overnight. There’s nothing wrong with mourning the loss of your old self, nor is there anything wrong with aspiring to be strong and healthy. But these are tricky feelings to navigate in an image-obsessed culture that publishes photoshopped images of celebrities in bikinis 2 weeks postpartum.
How do you bridge the gap between missing your old body and embracing your new one?
This summer, I reached out to moms for their take on these issues. I asked them how they felt about their bodies before/after having a baby, what they wish they had been told to expect about their postpartum body, and where the pressure comes from to “bounce back.” I’ll be sharing their responses in a series of posts called Post Baby Body Love.
Here’s the first installment, courtesy of Caitlin Beale of Caitlin Beale Wellness.
Post Baby Body Love
Recall the first time you looked at your body in the mirror after having a baby. What were your thoughts?
Honestly I dealt with (undiagnosed) postpartum anxiety and possibly depression after a long, traumatic labor that ended with an unplanned c-section with my first (in 2013) so I have a hard time remembering the first few months with him in relation to feelings about my body. But currently I’m dealing with the mixed feelings of “I know this is the way my body should look” with “why am I not ‘bouncing back’ the way I expected to” following the birth of my second (in 2017). I also have diastasis recti/abdominal separation so despite losing the majority of my baby weight my stomach still looks a bit pregnant. I also think that being a dietitian makes me feel that others expect me to immediately look “back to normal” as I am supposed to be the expert in getting my body back. This is likely not actually true but it’s how I end up feeling.
Is there anything you miss about your body before baby? (Or anything you would change about your current body if you could?)
Since I’m only three months postpartum – absolutely! I had just really gotten back into shape, felt very strong and comfortable with my body before getting pregnant again. I am trying to be so careful with safely getting back into exercise given my diastasis recti so I miss some of the high intensity exercise/strength training I was doing. I also am still numb in areas of my lower belly after having another unplanned c-section and worry that I may never get the feeling back which is a very strange feeling.
What do you wish you had been told about postpartum recovery/bodily changes?
I think it’s so important to know that the majority of women DON’T look like the instagrammers/facebookers/fitness professionals that post pictures 2 weeks postpartum with flat bellies. The rest of us aren’t posting pictures because our bodies do not look that way even if we ate well, exercised, and generally took care of ourselves during pregnancy. It takes time to get comfortable with your body again. The recovery process is tough – sleep deprivation, hormones, emotions, breastfeeding, and even physical pain all take their toll so the most important thing is to be gentle and kind with yourself (something I’m still working on).
If you feel/felt pressure to return to your “pre-baby body” or “bounce back”, where does that pressure come from (best guesses)?
This pressure was completely internal but likely stemmed again from seeing things on social media while pregnant that made me think “that’s what I’m going to do” when in reality my body had different ideas.
How have you come to accept (possibly celebrate or adore) your post-baby body?
I’d like to say I’m always able to celebrate my body and be proud of what it’s done (and continues to do while EBF my littlest) but it’s not always the case. That being said when those negative thoughts come around I look at my children and think “wow – I actually created and grew those children with my body (both during pregnancy and breastfeeding)”. It’s pretty amazing when you stop and think about it. I also try to think about how strong I have to be to have endured two major surgeries, though not what I wanted or planned for. I felt so sad after my first that I wasn’t able to have the sweet, natural birth I had planned for but this time having already been through the journey (recovery, making it through the first year, breastfeeding for 18 months etc) I know that I will come back stronger on the other side, I just have to remind myself sometimes! But I do truly feel that I am a stronger woman both physically and emotionally after having my kids, likely because I know what I am capable of.
I want to sincerely thank Caitlin for sharing her feelings and contributing to this series on post baby body love. The first year postpartum is challenging to navigate in our busy, modern lives. External pressures about how your body “should” or “shouldn’t” look only add to an already lengthy list of things to worry about.
I loved this quote from Caitlin:
Wow – I actually created and grew those children with my body (both during pregnancy and breastfeeding)”. It’s pretty amazing when you stop and think about it.
Your body is amazing. Take a moment to thank it for all that it has done for you – and continues to do – each and every day.
Did this resonate with you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. How did you navigate the postpartum body expectations from yourself or others? How have your feelings changed over time?
PS – If you’d like a chance to be featured in the Post Baby Body Love series, answer these questions. I realize this is a sensitive subject, so you can choose to share anonymously. xoxo
10 CommentsLeave a comment
Thank you for this article. I have birthed and breastfed 4 children, and with the last 3, my body returned to my prepregnancy weight rather quickly. With this last birth, I have retained about 20#. I feel very discouraged that I cannot diet and exercise to get it off. I have a history of an eating disorder, and I home school my children. Thank you for giving me permission to accept my body as is and move on.
You deserve a mama medal, Jennifer! 😉 You absolutely have permission to love your body as is.
By the way, I’m not sure how far postpartum you are, but if you’re doing all the same things as before and having trouble shedding the extra weight, it’s a good idea to get your thyroid checked. Postpartum thyroiditis is very common (yet rarely checked for) and very much impacts your metabolism and many other areas that affect your quality of life.
I really loved this article, Lily. This discussion is so, so needed. I’m looking forward to the rest of the post baby body love series!
Good to hear. Stay tuned for the next installment. 😉
Just had a chance to read this after coming out of my postpartum haze:). Thanks so much for including me and for addressing such an important topic!
Thank YOU for taking the time to share! Postpartum haze is accurate. Sleep deprivation is brutal.
I’m still deep in the post natal fog (my daughter is almost a week old) and this article resonated with me! As more sleep deprivation hits me in the coming months I suspect it will more so After another emergency caesarean I fear my lower tummy is unsalvageable…it feels nasty and I can’t bring myself to look at it just yet! Thanks for addressing this topic Lily x
This resonates with me as well. 2nd c section, 3 months post-partum I have trouble looking a my belly in the mirror. Working on it and working on eating better.
So thankful for this conversation! I would love to contribute, but the link isn’t working?
Thanks for letting us know. We’ll fix the glitch.