Body image is an issue that’s really close to my heart and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how it affects new moms. It seems to me that women’s feelings about their postpartum bodies often get overlooked, likely because there’s rarely discussion about it.
To start the conversation, I reached out to my amazing community of women, “Hey mama friends, I’m writing a piece about embracing your beautiful postpartum body. Would love to hear your experience!” The poignant, real responses I received from my friends made me cry. I chatted with each of them, thanking them for their honesty and asked if it would be okay to share their stories. They all graciously agreed. In the words of my pal Lindsey, “Anything in the name of female empowerment.” I’m so honored to share their strength, humor, and open-heartedness with you.
I think the first step is just like the first step in any change – acknowledging that your body is different and that it’s okay to hate it. It’s okay to hate your stretch marks. It’s okay to mourn the loss of your once bouncy, perky boobs that your breastfeeding child deflated after 3 years of sustenance. It’s okay to hate the fact despite running 30 miles a week and vigilant dietary + cardio + strength training efforts and wearing a size 2/4, there’s always a minutia of pregnancy pouch that lingers after a C section (that was 6 years and like 40 pounds ago, but that’s another story altogether – le sigh). To be real, I was never one of those people who “loved” their postpartum body – I hoarded those last 20 pounds until my daughter started eating mostly solids. I literally wanted to punch those women in interviews and articles who’d say stuff like “breastfeeding just made me drop all that pregnancy weight.” But I digress.
Four years after my daughter was born, I ran, swam, did yoga and pilates and HIIT workouts and kettlebell and was still disappointed – which was silly because it was a beautiful body. We all have beautiful bodies! The sheer marvel that we can grow a child is amazing, but rerouting your brain to understanding what you’ve accomplished and shifting the focus on what it can do from what it looks like is hard.
I think the real first step in feeling confident is changing your perception of what beauty looks like and more what beauty FEELS like – and I think that starts with carving out time for yourself that makes you feel rejuvenated. Whether it’s a nap or a massage, reading a book, a face mask or a mani/pedi – investing time on yourself and having some purely-for-you-selfish moments is so essential to how you feel about yourself and how you feel inside your skin. I don’t think, despite all my attempts toward beauty in my workouts, I started to feel quite so confident after having a child until I started painting again. There are so many changes in your life as is, having some time to reroute and reintroduce yourself to you is necessary to feel confident again – painting used to feel like to me like releasing a deep breath after a long day. As humans, we all need that – but I don’t think anyone needs it more than new parents to bridge the gap between “old me” and “new me.”
So many feelings. Mostly, IDGAF that I am still 20 pounds heavier than my pre-pregnancy weight. As a woman who has struggled with weight/food/disordered eating my whole life, this is the first time that I’m not consumed with what my body looks like. Do I love the changes in my breasts? No. But they are supplying my baby with literally ALL of the nourishment he needs to grow and thrive. My body GREW him and now keeps him alive and healthy. For that, I feel super proud of myself. My belly still looks 3 months pregnant some days, but it’s nothing a pair of high-waisted jeans can’t handle. Of course, I still focus on eating right and being active, but the fact that the way my body looks isn’t a source of anxiety for me right now is so, so, so liberating. Of course I WANT to fit my old clothes again, and I will get there, but personally, it’s one of the best things to come out of pregnancy for me besides my son.
Being a dancer and fitness instructor, I was always in tune with my body and understood it. Getting pregnant and having a kid changed all of that. I remember telling my husband “I have literally no idea what this body is.” Obviously, I was prepared for some of the external changes that I would experience, but there was something else internally that shifted (uh my organs, perhaps?!) that was confusing and unsettling. Like knowing something for your whole life was suddenly and dramatically different. I gained a bunch of weight while pregnant, like most. But I thought I’d lose it quickly after giving birth. Not the case. I actually left the hospital at the same weight I came in before my delivery. My body held onto weight, I’m assuming because I was breastfeeding but I never in my life had to try so hard to lose weight. It was depressing. And when I tried to exercise, there was my body reminding me again of how I wasn’t who I used to be.
It wasn’t until a year later that I actually lost the weight when I made time for myself (physically) and mentally. I had to take the time to find something I loved doing before I was pregnant, since you spend all your time focusing on taking care of someone else. But the bottom line is, if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else. I always think about that line when you’re on an airplane, put your oxygen mask on first, then assist others.
It’s pretty disheartening at first because you’ll still look preggers even after pushing out a 7 lb baby. You’re also initially bloated and the water weight usually drops, but you’ll still have your belly. I kept hoping that the miracle of breastfeeding would keep the pounds down, but it really kept with me at least the first six months.
When I stopped breastfeeding (my daughter was six months old), my hormones started to be normal again and that’s when I started to feel more like myself. Not just with my body because that’s when I felt the weight was starting to come off. It was hard though because I wanted to eat enough to make milk, but self-consciously didn’t want to eat as much. I felt pretty blah, but luckily dresses saved me because it was summer and it hid anything and everything. But I remember having to go back to work and feeling stressed about what to wear that was breastfeeding-friendly.
Ultimately, I would say it took a whole year to feel like myself and happy with my body. I’m still not at pre-pregnancy weight — I can’t shed those last 3 lbs!!! I can wear normal clothes again and I’ve accepted the extra pudge in my belly. Lol. It’s a reminder that I stretched it out to carry my daughter.
But I think when your body goes through something like that, you’ll never be the same and you can’t expect it to be the same. That’s just normal logic. Honestly, what made me feel good again on a superficial level was the high-waisted jean. It’s trendy now and really sucks it all in for you haha.
My boobs are definitely not the same as they once were, which is sad, but I don’t really care? It’s odd. I care about my body, but at the same time being able to eat what I want to eat and exercise when I can (I wish more, but realistically it’s not going to happen) is good for me. There are still moments I get sad that I still have the belly and weight, but I know what makes me happy and I’d rather sit here with a belly and 3 lbs heavier than having to stress about losing the weight. I would rather spend my time with my family and eat with them.
So, to all my new moms out there, I hope my friends’ stories have given you a little boost. I hope hearing their experiences might encourage you to start the conversation with your own community of women. I bet you’ll find that your seemingly singular experience is, in fact, a very universal one. No matter what your relationship with your body is at this moment, just know that you are beautiful, your body is beautiful, and so is that baby you made. Keep on keepin’ on.
Photo credit: Ashlee Dean Wells for the 4th Trimester Bodies Project