Becoming a new mum is an incredible experience for so many reasons. But for many women, it can be overwhelming, disheartening and scary to find yourself living in a body you no longer recognise.
Society celebrates the pregnant body so much more than the post-baby body and the pressure to get your pre-baby body back is strong, with images of mums who simply “bounced back” everywhere. No wonder we have such high expectations of our own bodies to recover within a few weeks, or months of going through pregnancy and birth, which are perhaps, the most demanding things we will ever ask of them.
What can you do about the fact that your body has changed so much? How do you deal with the fear and concern that comes with wondering if it will ever look the same again and if you will ever feel like yourself again?
The reality is that your body won’t ever be exactly the same as before you had your baby, but this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Your body has gone through an incredible transformation, from conceiving, to growing and birthing a precious tiny human. This is an absolute blessing and I believe we need to start focusing so much more on appreciating, respecting and loving our bodies for all they have done and continue to do, rather than berating them for not looking or feeling a certain way.
In my own experience, and those of many mums I work with, it is the changes that come from a place of love, kindness and gratitude for our bodies that have the most sustained and significant impact on our whole lives. When we fight against our bodies to conform to how we think they should look, the whole process becomes exhausting, hard work and such a negative experience.
As Body Beyond Baby affiliated trainers, we understand that there is so much more to you than how you look and it is our collective mission to inspire and empower new mums to focus on what they CAN do. We work on mums recovering post baby in the safest possible way, so they can go on to becoming the fittest and healthiest version of themselves.
I know it’s not helpful to simply say “change your thinking” or “be grateful for what you have”, so here are some practical tips that I believe can truly make a difference to how you’re feeling about your post baby body.
Stop with the negative self talk when you look in the mirror.
Instead, start choosing positive things to focus on – how amazing your tummy is for keeping your baby safe for all that time; how incredible your breasts are to continue nourishing your new baby; how beautiful your smile is that lights up your baby’s whole world; how strong your arms are to provide a safe and comforting space for your baby. Loving your body is about so much more than loving how it looks. It’s about love and acceptance despite how it may look. I completely understand that this concept can be hard to grasp at first, but please be patient and give it time. Start with simply smiling and saying, “I love you”. It feels silly at first until, over time, you start to believe it and it makes the most incredible difference to how you feel.
Stop comparing yourself to other mums
We have no idea of their story and how they are truly feeling. I know of loads of mums who in hindsight feel like they missed out on enjoying their new baby because they were so focused on getting their bodies back in shape. Or despite the way they looked on the outside, they were starving, exhausted and completely unhappy because working so hard to regain their figure meant sacrificing so many other things. You’re already dealing with so many new challenges and changes – don’t add to them with the pressure of getting your body back.
Start taking care of your body
You can do this by ensuring it is functioning well in order to care for your baby and return to exercise safely, when you are ready. Once baby is around 6 weeks old, make it a priority to see a Women’s Health Physio and get an assessment of your pelvic floor and core function as well as any other niggling aches and pains that might be creeping in. This is by far the best thing you can do for yourself before returning to exercise. Empower yourself with the knowledge that you’re exercising at the right level for you and any signs of pelvic floor dysfunction or diastasis recti (abdominal separation) can be addressed and dealt with before they become frustrating and impact on how you’re feeling about your body.
Focus on things you can do that help you to feel healthier and happier while supporting your body to repair and recover
Good nutrition, sleep (I know… But making it a priority increases the chances of getting more!), plenty of water and exercise that focuses on function and strength rather than fat loss, are all things you can do to set you up for feeling your best at a time when you may not feel like you look your best.
Follow real-life, unfiltered social media accounts
Try and follow ones that you can relate to, not ones that make you feel worse about yourself. When you look at these images, you’re comparing your naked body to the clothed bodies of those around you, or to photos that are not natural (think lighting, filters, angles, posing, and “sucking in”). There are so many people out there now who are focused on reminding us that we are so much more than our looks and they do a brilliant job of sharing the realities of mum life, rather than a filtered highlight reel. I believe this is so important for our mental health, helping us to remember that we are normal and we are doing an incredible job.
Choose clothes that fit and feel good!
Too many mums are wearing clothes they don’t feel good in, waiting for the day that they fit back into their pre-baby wardrobe. I urge you to invest in some pieces that are comfortable and help you feel good right now. If you’re breastfeeding too, there are so many great companies making beautiful breastfeeding friendly clothes that also make feeding far easier. New mums totally deserve to feel beautiful in the clothes they wear.
Finally, it can be helpful to remember that once a new baby is here, the changes don’t stop for a mum’s body. It can take up to 6 months for hormones to return to normal post-birth, even longer for a breastfeeding mum. This is an important consideration for women who have a weight loss goal because hormones, along with lack of sleep and such a massive life change are going to impact weight loss results, no matter how well you feel you are eating and exercising. Yes, many women lose weight from breastfeeding, but plenty of us don’t, or tend to put weight on. It doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you, it simply means your body is doing its best job of taking care of itself and a new life.
I do want to acknowledge the mums who have very strong and persistent negative feelings about their bodies. If you feel like it is impacting your daily life and the way you care for yourself or your baby, please reach out to a counsellor or your primary carer who can help you.
Alicia runs Feel Good Fitness in Feilding, Manawatu, New Zealand. To find out more about her and get in touch, click here.