The diet and weight-loss culture bombards us at the start of each new year. We receive messages from every direction telling us to lose weight under the banner of new year resolutions. In my own experience, diet and weight-loss culture bombard me most of the year anyway, but the messages feel especially loud this time of year.
I’m all for setting goals for ourselves and working hard to reach them. However, I’m more of a new year, same me type of person. I don’t think we need to have the mindset that we must throw out who we are to reach our goals. We can be gentle with and love ourselves, while still wanting to make healthy changes. I would even argue that we are better able to make sustainable changes when we are gentle with ourselves and work to stay away from the guilt and shame cycle.
That said, let's talk about our bodies after childbirth. You should know this isn’t an article about five quick tips to lose your baby weight. I’m not going to tell you to lose weight at all. There is nothing wrong with getting in shape, and I want you to take care of your body and help yourself live a healthy life. My focus here is how we deal with and, dare I say it, appreciate the physical changes that come with pregnancy and childbirth.
A year after my first child's birth, my body seemed to return to how it was pre-pregnancy. I've had a different experience the second time around. I have more belly and curves than I am used to, and they don't seem to be going away.
I have also had to do pelvic floor exercises so that I stop peeing my pants every time I sneeze or cough. I was hesitant to say that out loud, but I think we can be honest here. My allergies act up from time to time, and I would rather not have to try to sprint to the nearest bathroom before I let out the sneeze multiple times a day.
I wasn't spared the postpartum hair loss with either of my boys. It seemed like my replacement baby hairs that had grown in two years after my first son was born had finally started to get to a manageable length, when my hair started falling out again during the postpartum period with my second child. To top it all off, I went to the eye doctor recently, and my eyesight has decreased to the point that I need new prescription glasses. The eye doctor told me that a mother’s eyesight changes with each pregnancy. That was news to me!
Then there are the stretch marks. After the scars from actual tears or surgical cuts during the delivery process, stretch marks feel the most like battle scars. They are a small piece of evidence of the massive changes our bodies went through to form a child in our wombs and then birth them into the world.
I won't lie to you. There have been times I've looked at my body with scrutiny, been judgmental and unloving towards myself, or felt as though I didn't recognize my own body.
The changes after childbirth felt jarring. As a recovering perfectionist with a history of body image struggles, maybe the changes felt especially shocking in my case, but I honestly don’t think I’m alone in that.
Negative Societal Messages
It is especially hard to feel comfortable in our postpartum bodies when our society celebrates our pregnant bodies, only to yell at us to get back to normal once our babies are born. Messages like the two below get thrown at us in every way imaginable.
- Get Your Pre-Baby Body Back - There is something wrong with your postpartum body, and you need to fix it.
- Bounce Back Fast After Baby - You may be caring for a newborn while simultaneously recovering from childbirth, but you need to get to work reversing the changes in your body.
Exercising and eating healthy is good for us. What I’m referring to is the enormous amount of pressure put on mothers to make our bodies go back to exactly how they were pre-pregnancy. A lot of the messages we receive even make it sound like we lost our bodies during pregnancy and childbirth. Somehow we need to work to find them and get them back.
Often these messages exacerbate the negative thoughts mothers may have after delivery regarding the changes in their bodies.
Apart from weight gain, our society doesn’t talk enough about all the changes women go through when they have a baby. Hemorrhoids, sagging breasts, a belly pooch, stretch marks, hair loss, and lack of energy are all common for postpartum mothers. Since we don’t talk about these types of changes that much, it can feel isolating and we might think that there is something wrong with us for experiencing them.
Listen to me, friend. It is okay if you feel sad or have a sense of loss regarding the way your body used to be pre-pregnancy. However, there is nothing wrong with you or your body for how it has changed as a result of motherhood.
Something that has helped my mindset has been working to remind myself over and over again that my body grew a whole new life.
My muscles stretched to make space for a child.
My body nurtured and grew that child until delivery.
Then my body labored, stretched, and shifted parts around to birth my baby into the world.
To top it all off, my body did this twice for my two children!
I survived complications during labor and delivery for each of my children.Initially, I was angry that my body struggled the way it did. I remember thinking to myself, why can’t I have a normal birth experience like other people? (I realize now that most births rarely go exactly according to the mother’s plan.)
Now that I'm more removed from my deliveries, I'm grateful to be alive and can acknowledge my body's strength.
Here is my challenge to you in this new year: Speak to yourself as you would a best friend.
Our self-talk is often critical and unkind. We speak to ourselves in ways that we would never talk to a loved one, and our brains have been trained over time to follow these negative thought patterns. It will take a lot of work and repetition to reform new thought patterns. One way to start working on this is to challenge each negative thought with two to three strengths or positive traits you notice about yourself.
For example, if I think I hate how my stomach looks now, I can challenge it with:
- My stomach stretched so that I could grow my two precious babies.
- My loose tummy is evidence of my strength and the labor and deliveries that I have survived.
Friend, our strong and powerful bodies have grown and birthed human beings. That is a miracle! Our stretch marks, loose skin, widened hips, and bellies are all evidence of that miracle.
While some of these things may fade over time and others remain, the one thing that doesn't change is that birthing a child is one of the most intense things a human can do. You and I did that!
Let's appreciate our bodies for who they have given us and what they have carried us through. None of which needs to be perfect to be celebrated.
Our staff here at Ellie and Becca are in awe of you, friend. Strength displayed in motherhood is a wonder to behold. We want all mothers to feel confident in their bodies and the ways they have changed to bring about new life. That's why we create nursing dresses that empower you to breastfeed your children with ease and confidence.
So cheers to this new year, and you and I learning to appreciate the strength of our postpartum bodies and all they have carried us through.