Your body. Wow. It has stretched and expanded and GROWN AN ACTUAL HUMAN. It has housed nourished and birthed said human and is now changing again. It likely looks and feels much different from the pre-pregnancy body you once knew and that can be a difficult change to accept.
Our culture throws around some very confusing messages about women’s bodies. Especially postpartum. You’re told to “love your body” and “accept yourself” but also “get after it” and “don’t settle.” There’s this idea that you’re supposed to resume all normal activity after six weeks postpartum and you can easily find images of celebrities who have “bounced back” after multiple babies.
You’ve become keenly aware of just how much the people around you are paying attention to your body. It’s shape. It’s size. People love to comment about how you look when you’re pregnant. Then they love to comment about “how good you look” postpartum. Or they don’t say anything at all, which you can also read into as judging you for not getting right back into shape after baby.
You may also have your own desires and expectations. Maybe you think you should fit back into your pre-pregnancy clothes by now. Or that your body should look and feel the way it did before pregnancy.
I’m here to let you in on the truth: your postpartum body is AMAZING. You grew and nourished a whole human person! Your body is going to look and feel different after such a feat, and it absolutely should. Your body is forever changed by such a profound experience.
I know it’s different from what you once knew. If you’re newly postpartum there’s probably still quite a bit of change to come as your uterus shrinks and your body adjusts to baby being on the outside. If you’re breastfeeding you might be dealing with some aches and pains, breasts that grow and shrink throughout the day, and a body that doesn’t quite feel like your own as your tiny human needs access to it several times a day.
If you’re a few months (or even years) after birthing a baby, you may still have stretch marks or loose skin, a c-section scar, or weight that your body never quite let go of.
It’s also possible that you’ve experiences, as many do, some level of pelvic floor dysfunction. Perhaps you pee a little bit when you sneeze or have pain with sex that was never an issue before.
With all that I’ve mentioned above, it’s hard to imagine why I’d say anything about how incredible your body is. But it’s still 100% true. Let’s consider again what I’ve continued to point out: the fact that you grew and housed and nourished a human being. That’s a really big deal. Pregnancy is a common experience but that doesn’t make it any less profound or miraculous. Perhaps we need to adjust our expectations around how that experience will impact our bodies. Doesn’t it just make sense that our bodies will be different after such an experience?
Different is not bad. It may not be what you’re accustomed to, but that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with it. Different is simply different. And even though it’s unfamiliar, there are many ways to get to know this body that is different, and maybe even come to appreciate this new body.
3 Tips for getting to know (and appreciate) your postpartum body
- Wear clothes that comfortably fit your body right now, as it is. I know it can be tough to let go of the idea that you’re going to get back into your old clothes. And maybe you will at some point! But hanging onto them and having the constant reminder that you don’t fit into them now, is only causing you stress, and maybe even shame. If you’re not totally ready to get rid of them, pack them up in a box and put them out of sight so you don’t have a daily reminder every time you look in your closet. Buying new clothes can be expensive, so if this is a concern for you I have a few suggestions.
- Buy a few staple items that can be mixed and matched as you slowly expand your wardrobe.
- Buy from a thrift store or trade with a “Buy Nothing” Facebook group.
- Borrow from a friend or family member.
- Remember, the point is that you feel comfortable in your clothes, as you are right now. I promise it makes a big difference in how you feel overall.
- Practice gratitude for your body. When you’re feeling unfamiliar with the body you’re in it can be easy to fall into the habit of criticizing that body. You can quickly find fault in all of the ways it’s not exactly what you want it to be. But, my goodness, your body does amazing things for you every single day. Your heart beats, your lungs breath, your tongue tastes, and you don’t have to ask it to do any of these things! I suggest, at least once a day, taking a moment to find something about your body that you’re grateful for. Something that has nothing to do with appearance. Here are some examples:
- I’m grateful for my arms that allow me to hold my baby and hug the people I love.
- I’m grateful for my legs that carry me through this world.
- I’m grateful for eyes that allow me to see the beauty of nature and the people I love most.
- Practice basic self-care. Self-care is a hot topic these days. There are lots of ideas about what it means to practice self-care. When I’m talking with postpartum mamas, my encouragement is to practice the basics. This literally means: showering regularly, eating when you’re hungry, using the restroom when you need to (rather than holding it while taking care of others) and brushing your teeth twice a day. Even these basic things can easily go by the wayside when caring for a baby (or multiple kids). What does this have to do with body image? Sometimes neglecting these areas is a reflection on how you’re feeling about yourself. When you take care of yourself, you find that you start to feel better about yourself and the body you’re in.
- Sometimes basic self-care also means seeking professional support. If you are experiencing pelvic floor dysfunction, I highly recommend meeting with a specialized pelvic floor physical therapist. If you’re experiencing troubling or intrusive thoughts about your body, or if you’re concerned about your ability to nourish yourself as a result of these thoughts, that would be a great time to seek support from a licensed mental health professional, preferably someone who is familiar with disordered eating or perinatal mental health (or both!).
I’m just going to say it again, in case I haven’t been totally clear: YOUR BODY IS AMAZING. AMAZING! Even if and when you’re not feeling it, it’s still true. And I’ll be honest, you may not come to believe that your body is amazing the way I believe it’s amazing, but I bet if you give these 3 ideas a try, you’ll start to feel more familiar with yourself and this new, incredible body that has done and is doing wonderful things.