Motherhood changes a woman’s body inside and out. In reality, these changes are all evidence of the work and journey it took to bring a new life to earth. But it can be hard for new moms to recognize the new woman they see in the mirror. On top of that, taking care of the newborn, alongside a million other things, can make it difficult for the mom to get the support she needs and allow her body to fully recover.
Accepting one’s new postpartum body is a struggle for many moms. And while it’s easy to tell a mom not to have postpartum body image issues and give her good reasons for it, it doesn’t take away from the fact that it is one of the hardest parts for women after giving birth. It’s one of the many things that are easier said than done. Studies have shown that most women go through the pain of feeling like they lost their old selves, and that pain can last for years after giving birth.
On top of all that, the pressure women face to bounce back to their pre-pregnancy bodies and look picture-perfect is crazy. Plus, social media has made it more challenging to deal with run-of-the-mill body image issues, let alone postpartum body image issues.
Sure, there are pictures of women embracing their stretch marks, saggy skin, and new curves, but there are just as many, if not more, pictures of women who look almost like they never had a baby. And something in many women’s brains tells them “those body love pictures are admirable and all, but I should look like those other moms.”
Before you end up in an emotionally exhausted heap, these are some things you should know.
5 things you need to know about postpartum body image issues
- Postpartum blues are 100 percent real.
Women are made to feel guilty or overdramatic for expressing their postpartum concerns. Because of this, many prefer bottling their feelings rather than talking about them. But, in reality, postpartum blues are as real as real can be. Hormone fluctuations and the body’s physiological processes can really take a toll on your mental state. And leaky breasts, sagging belly, stretch marks, weak pelvic floor muscles, semi-pregnant looking body, aching vagina, C-section wounds, and/or sudden hair loss don’t do much to uplift the mood.
Given that, struggling with body image after birthing a baby is absolutely normal. Losing your old sense of identity and having an abrupt shift in priorities would be hard for anyone, nevermind someone that has their hormones all out of whack and feels like a truck crashed into the bottom half of their body.
Becoming a mother can make you feel out of your element for what may seem like forever. But you will find your gravity again. It may take a little (or a lot of) effort and time. Know that you can get your confidence back, slowly but surely, and figure out your new self.
- Prioritize healing over losing weight
Women fantasize about having their old bodies back as soon as the baby pops out. Well, in real life, it doesn’t work that way. So many moms are surprised that their belly still looks pregnant when they look in the mirror for the first time. The reality is that your uterus grows from around the size of an orange to the size of a watermelon to accommodate your growing baby, and it takes about 6 weeks to shrink back to its normal size and go back in the right position. And your body builds up fat stores to provide for the baby and help prepare your body for breastfeeding (whether you actually end up breastfeeding or not).
Your body needs time to recover from childbirth. Coupled with exhaustion, lack of sleep, and a messed-up daily routine, the healing can take longer than anticipated. Note: The focus word here is healing and not “weight loss”.
Giving yourself a break from all you went through physically, mentally, and emotionally is essential. Body image issues are not always about weight again. Self-perception, self-esteem, and self-care all have to do with the way you see yourself. Either way, you’ll have to focus on healing from the inside out. The extra weight can be tackled once you are in a healthy place mentally and physically. It can be harmful in more ways than one to prioritize your weight loss over your healing.
- Remember that bodies change!
As mentioned in the last point, it can be hard for moms to accept that their body doesn’t immediately “bounce back”. The truth is that bodies are meant to change over time, especially when going through a major experience like childbirth. The stretch marks and changes in pigmentation and skin texture are some of the many common changes- sometimes they’ll fade over time, but in some ways it will always be different than before. After an event like childbirth, yes, your body will change in many ways, some of them permanent.
It’s important to remind yourself that all versions of your body are good. We grow and evolve as humans- that’s how it has always been and will be. Obsessing over your previously unstretched skin or former figure is not going to do you any favors and will only make you feel worse.
Instead of finding faults with yourself in the mirror, look at the body staring back at you with gratitude for growing and nurturing your little bundle of joy. Acknowledge all the complex processes it went through and the miracle of how it created and birthed new life. Change your perspective and honor your worth.
Personally, I don’t love the ways my body changed after having a C-section (due to breech) with my second, but I acknowledge that it was the best choice to ensure a healthy baby and delivery. Given the choice of a healthy baby or no scars/C-section shelf, I would choose the former every time. And any mom I know would say the same.
- Accept the change and work through it
Now that you have a better awareness of what’s going on, the real work begins- acceptance. You understand all the changes your body has been through and know your struggle with your new body is valid and common. You know that the sleepless nights, raging hormones, and all the responsibilities of taking care of your baby are affecting your emotional and mental state.
The pressure, the thoughts, and the worries may seem daunting today, but they will fade over time, as you accept the change and work through it. Again, you don’t have to love the changes, but accepting them will make a world of a difference.
Make time to take care of yourself, whether it’s something small like intentionally brushing your hair after a bath/shower or going to the salon on the weekend. Don’t put yourself last on the list. Attend your doctor’s appointments and take your postnatal vitamins. And if you find any images on social media feeding you unrealistic expectations or making you feel bad about yourself, mute them for now or unfollow.
- Live your life
Feeling unattractive or less confident after giving birth can affect many areas of your life. Some women feel uneasy in the bedroom, some avoid socializing with friends, and some avoid going out in public as a whole. And again, seeing images on social media or in magazines might make the problem worse.
Remember, motherhood comes with a wealth of joy and special moments, as well as many responsibilities and changes. You will never be exactly the person you were. Some of the changes are obviously for the better, and some don’t quite feel that way. Yes, the first few months may be really hard, but with intentional effort and time you will regain your self-esteem and lost sense of self.
Instead of dwelling on the what ifs and has-beens, focus on bonding with your new addition and adjusting to your new family structure, treat your body right with nutritious and delicious meals, move your body in ways that you enjoy and feel good, get some rest in when you can, spend time with loved ones, practice self-care, and do things you enjoy, like reading, playing music, dancing, drawing, etc.
Becoming a mother changes you completely, mind, body, and soul. Those changes are often hard to manage. Work on accepting your new life, new body, and new roles. The most important step to being confident in your skin is accepting that there is nothing wrong with the changes your body went through to bring your baby into this world. They are normal and proof of the miracle of creating life.
The pressure and thought of “bouncing back” can consume you mentally and emotionally. Don’t rush into going on diets or taking drastic measures to reclaim your old body. Acknowledge the changes, work on accepting them, and treat your body with respect and care as it heals from pregnancy and birth.
Remember to enjoy your life. Spend time with loved ones, get in the pictures, have fun, and enjoy your family. When your kids are grown, you’ll appreciate having the memories of living life with them and you’ll appreciate focusing on what really mattered.