According to research and social media surveys, body image concerns among postpartum women are at an all time high. And struggling with poor self-esteem while newly postpartum can be a significant source of mental and emotional stress, leading to depression, and struggles with breastfeeding.
This is a very vulnerable time for even the strongest of women, and I’m here to say that if you’re struggling with postpartum body image, you are NOT alone.
You see, I am standing in the in-between. The in the middle. The “my body just did something AMAZING, and I’m so fucking proud of it,” and the “I’m insanely uncomfortable in the aftermath of the miracle that my body performed.”
I am proud of my body and yet physically uncomfortable. Elated, and yet confused. I’m living in such an “I don’t know how to feel” world.
I didn’t want to be here. I said I wouldn’t be here. But I am.
On one hand, we should be totally proud of ourselves because of the obvious: Women’s bodies ROCK.
We create, grow, and give birth to humans. We give life. Our organs rearrange themselves and we expel eight pound humans after our bones shift inside us enough to let them through OR we undergo major surgery to deliver our tiny creations. What our bodies are capable of is miraculous. I am proud as shit of this.
On the other hand, we are taught to believe that if we eat well and exercise during pregnancy, we should be able to fit into our pre-pregnancy pants at 10 weeks postpartum. That we shouldn’t gain more than 25 pounds during pregnancy. That if we do gain more, we are doing something wrong.
Some influencers even make a living marketing their postpartum journey, workout programs, meal plans, and swear that if you do it “right,” you’ll get those flat abs back in just a few weeks. I’m not knocking on ya if this is you, but man, the majority of us aren’t like that. And we don’t need to constantly feel that pressure either.
We aren’t all the same. We all gain differently. Our bodies know what we need and our bodies are amazing at doing exactly what it needs to make a baby.
I was able to work out 5-6 days a week during this last pregnancy. I was less nauseous and fatigued than I was with my first pregnancy so I was STOKED to be able to eat and move well. Other than the two weeks I was told to slow down (because they thought I was going into early labor), I worked out all the way up to the 40th week!!
You know what? My body still put on 50 pounds. My body still swelled. And here I am, 13 weeks postpartum writing this and on one hand – I am back in the gym kicking butt and feeling as strong as ever – but on the other hand, I still feel bloated, heavy, swollen, and large. I do NOT fit into anything from pre-pregnancy, and am still in many maternity shirts.
The whole thing feels like a contradiction to me.
If you don’t appreciate your body for what it’s done, you’re seen as selfish, ungrateful. But if you don’t work on immediately “bouncing back,” you’re seen as lazy, making excuses, not taking the time for self care.
Not everyone bounces back in 10 weeks just because they stayed active through pregnancy. I don’t think new moms should be subjected to seeing SO MUCH of that on social media. It’s damaging. It makes us feel like failures if we don’t look a certain way by a certain week postpartum. And that’s not ok.
Most other cultures put priority on physical healing, restoring depleted nutrients from pregnancy and birth, and building up a solid milk supply for baby. Even European countries prioritize pelvic floor therapy and the mother’s general health and well being over how fast one can get abs back.
It’s a big game of tug-of-war.
Celebrate, relax, heal, bond with your baby, nourish yourself….but get back into your clothes, your heels, head off to work, into the gym in six weeks, and show it all off to the world that you can do it all.
It’s kind of exhausting to even think about the pressures put on newly postpartum mommas.
So I tell myself each day that it’s ok to be proud of something and pissed off too. And I don’t have to be just one or the other. I hate that I don’t fit into any of my clothes, that I can’t wear shorts or dresses this summer because my thighs rub painfully together. I hate that I still look pregnant (when my support/compression pants come off).
But I love and I’m incredibly proud that I’m back to crushing my workouts in the gym and feeling (almost) like my old fit self. I love that I have worked hard in physical therapy to be able to run and jump without peeing. I’m proud that at 25 pounds over where I began, I can still do strict pull-ups.
As much as I’m perplexed by my body, I’m also incredibly proud of it too.
I was able to have a healthy pregnancy and non complicated labor and birth two healthy kids. Many women walk away from birth often traumatized but I had relatively good experiences and I AM PROUD.
I’m so beyond blessed that I have the ability to eat healthy for myself and for my milk making abilities. I love that my body is a good milk producer, that my hormones are doing what’s best for me and for my baby, and I love MORE THAN ANYTHING being MOM to two amazing kiddos.
If you’re happy with what your body has done but frustrated with what shows, that is ok. Your feelings are valid. Because odds are, you’re working hard AF at taking care of yourself AND your family and THAT is definitely something to be proud of.
And if you are out there shouting from the rooftops that it’s not about how we look but how we portray ourselves and confidence to others, I hear you and stand with you!
It’s a very in-between, stuck in the middle world right now and I just want to say to anyone else struggling with her postpartum image in this in-between, IT IS OK! It’s ok to not lose weight right away, it’s ok to not be happy about that, we aren’t all IG models, and it’s also ok to be happy with where you are in your journey. This is a temporary time and we are in the throws of motherhood right now. It’s OK to struggle. It’s OK to be angry. And it’s OK to love and appreciate ourselves for what we have been through and are able to do. However you want and need to feel right now in this moment shouldn’t be shamed by anyone else in your space.
Always remember –
- Know that your feelings aren’t permanent and that you deserve to treat yourself with the same kindness and respect you would if talking to a friend. You performed a miracle – speak to yourself the way you know you deserve.
- Don’t rush into any fitness style that you’re not ready for – especially for the sake of losing weight. Seek physical therapy for your pelvic floor and work to reclaim your core strength.
- And I really hope I don’t have to say this, but if you’re breastfeeding/pumping, please don’t cut calories. Yes, choose “healthy” foods as much as you can (a whole foods diet is still better than a processed one for both healing and milk production), but PLEASE don’t cut calories just to drop weight. It’s not worth losing a milk supply over!
- Get off the scale and focus on small changes you can make that are easy to sustain. Whether it’s a healthier food choice, or getting out for a walk each day, or just 10 minutes of stretching (alone time!), focus on the small wins each day instead of the bigger end goal that seems to be too distant and difficult right now.
- Get off social media. As a blogger / fitness enthusiast – this one is tough for me. But as long as we’re watching others, we’re going to compare ourselves to others. If you find yourself speaking negatively about your body because of something or someone else you saw on social media, it’s ok to unfollow or take a social media break until you’re ready to get back on!
- Most importantly – give yourself time, grace, compassion, while being patient and consistent with your efforts. If you have a goal, nothing will get you there faster than consistency and patience.
I think we need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Accept being proud while frustrated. Understand all feelings are valid. We need to look deeper into our minds to fight the negative self talk and find some appreciation of the wonder and beauty of what our bodies can do.
Know you aren’t alone in this journey no matter where you may be.
And if you are struggling to accept your new postpartum body…I am with you.
Side note – I wrote this whole post on my phone while my baby napped in my arms. At the end of the day, nothing matters more than this. But I appreciate you taking the time to read my post about all my feelings. I hope my words can give comfort or a little bit of peace to someone out there feeling the same way that I am right now!