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Managing Postpartum Body Image

Guest Post
By Jess Durando, Clinical Therapist & Owner
Mama Method Wellness

Postpartum is often perceived by many to be one of the most beautiful times of life. The image we see on social media is that of a mother who has just delivered her baby, and is basking in the glow of her newborn. Her makeup is perfect, her hair is curled, beautiful pictures snapped of her and her baby in matching pajamas, right before she heads home from the hospital in her pre-pregnancy jeans.

But the reality is this isn’t an accurate picture for everyone. In fact, the vast majority of new moms leave the hospital with a squishy, soft belly where their baby just lived. Under those pretty matching robes are pajamas, disposable underwear, Tucks medicated pads and breasts that enlarge as their milk comes in.  Mothers may continue to look pregnant for months postpartum and struggle to find clothes that fit their new body which lives somewhere in between pregnancy and pre-pregnancy.

Body image can worsen in the postpartum period and mothers may find themselves struggling with unrealistic expectations, negative self-talk and feeling uncomfortable in their own skin. Since it’s so important that moms feel informed, empowered and in control, let’s dive into 4 ways moms can find confidence in the postpartum period.

Understand what’s going on in your body

One of the biggest concerns I hear from clients regarding postpartum body image is that they didn’t realize they may leave the hospital still looking pregnant, and that it may take months (at a minimum) before they feel somewhat comfortable in their own skin. 

A postpartum woman’s body has just gone through the greatest physical feat a body can experience. Over the past 9-10 months their body has created, developed and delivered a human being from scratch, growing and changing to accommodate the demand. During the labor and delivery process a mother not only delivers the baby, but she also delivers the placenta which has taken charge of hormone production in the last half of pregnancy. As a result, a mother is left swollen, uterus still expanded, hormones plummeting, and with internal and potentially external wounds that need to be healed. 

For most women it takes around 6 weeks just for the uterus to return to normal size, and the healing phase can be incredibly dependent from woman to woman based on her delivery, her own needs, and her recovery during the postpartum period.

Breastfeeding can further impact a woman’s hormone production, her metabolic response, and her body composition. Clarity on what’s happening during the postpartum period can better help us create realistic expectations, and understand why we may not feel comfortable in our own skin.  

Maintain realistic expectations

While many societal standards still encourage a “bounce back” culture, the reality is that fitting into pre-pregnancy clothes isn’t realistic for many moms, at least not right away. During the postpartum period a mother benefits from setting realistic expectations- not only of what she expects of her body, but also what she expects of herself during this time. 

She may not have the same amount of time to dedicate to food and training as she did pre-baby. She may have a strong urge to settle in with her new baby, nursing, snuggling and sleeping. She may need more food to produce milk, and while some women may notice weight loss while breastfeeding, others may find weight loss to be difficult. 

And while she may be excited to return to training she may find herself feeling like she is “starting over”, rebuilding, and learning how training can look for this version of her. Setting realistic expectations can not only help a new mom accept the postpartum period as it comes, but it may also help encourage positive self-talk and empowerment.

Since many women don’t feel connected to their own body postpartum they may find themselves seeking out exercise in hopes it will help them look differently. However, many moms find their motivation increases when they focus more on how they want to feel versus how they want to look. If you’re trying to participate in healthy habits that can help you feel more comfortable in your own skin, let’s consider how you want to feel. Focus on asking yourself:

·      What would help me consistently get in the gym?

·      What feels fun and doable right now?

·      What helps me feel strong? Energized? Empowered?

·      What am I proud of my body for in this season?

·      What is my body telling me after I participate in self-care?

Focus on setting goals that prioritize how you can best feel in your body, regardless of what you look like day-to-day.

Give yourself some love

The way we speak to ourselves can create much of our reality in the postpartum period, especially when it comes to body image. Many new moms are so focused on bouncing back, they forget to remind themselves that the goal isn’t to go backwards but to move forward into motherhood and this season of you.

It’s okay to grieve the losses you feel in the postpartum period, including those around your body, AND it’s important to remember that your body is worthy and important, and is doing exactly what it needs to do. It hasn’t left you, or betrayed you. In fact, it’s shown up for you every day, in amazing ways. You are a miracle maker, and deserve some love. Consider, what can you celebrate about yourself today? What do you love? What makes you uniquely you?

Imagine your brain is like a muscle. Much like a muscle it needs to be trained, practiced and developed, the same way you would prioritize a muscle in the gym. Practicing positivity, complimenting yourself even when it’s hard, and modeling self-love is beneficial for you and for the little humans watching you.

Self-love call to action:  Try out a mirror mantra. Each week pick one thing you love about yourself, one thing you’re proud of, or one empowering saying. Write it down on a post it note and say it aloud to yourself in the mirror in the morning, at night, and any time of day you need a little boost. Bonus points if your kids hear you. It may feel silly at first, but writing, reading and speaking the affirmation can help it stick and shift your narrative. Plus, having your kids watch helps model these kinds of behaviors for them too.

Don’t forget that the way we think can create much of our reality. While our body image can greatly shift in the postpartum period recognize that the words you tell yourself matter, and you deserve compassion and celebration more than criticism.

If you need more help with mindset in the postpartum chapter, you can find out more about working with Jess at https://mamamethodwellness.com/

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