During pregnancy, many women experience a little reprieve from the pressures of having to look skinny or perfect. In fact, for the first time since we were children, we are expected to gain weight! It may be challenging to have so many physical changes in pregnancy, but we as a society, expect women’s bodies to grow and soften in pregnancy.
After birth, the woman’s body isn’t viewed with the same acceptance or reverence. Even if you lost a good amount of the weight you gained in pregnancy (eg 10-20 lbs), there are still many changes to your body and it will not look or feel the same.
Many people will comment on a woman’s weight or appearance freely in postpartum “you look good”, “you have almost lost all the weight”, “don’t worry, the weight will come off” “keep breastfeeding” etc. while very little focus is placed on her transition to motherhood, her emotional needs and the amazing work she is doing.
Nevertheless, the changes to our bodies, combined with the many life changes, loss of control over our time, energy etc, can make us feel like we have lost control of ourselves at a very primal and physical level. The body is your “home in the world” and when it changes we might not “feel like ourselves”. It might feel tighter in some areas, looser in others, rounder, softer, achier. One mom described it as “feeling like she has a new body, over her old body”. This change can make us feel quite out of sorts and grieving for a time when we had more freedom and choices.
Also, the hormonal changes can last 12-24 months, especially if you are breastfeeding. The relaxin hormone changes how the joints move and fatigue makes us feel sluggish and clumsy. Muscles that care for baby have to strengthen in new and often uncomfortable ways while stress cumulates in the shoulders and back.
Given the tremendous impact of the bodily changes, it is important not to diminish this experience as simply vanity or a need to be “skinny” again. Adjusting to this new body involves…
- Grieving the physical changes and loss of how we saw ourselves before
- Adjusting to the constant physical attachment to another (i.e. baby) and needing to make ongoing physical changes to accommodate baby, from sleep changes, to body movements, to feeding etc. You might lose that sense of yourself as an independent person.
- Learning to work with the new and changing body – it’s limitations, strengths, weaknesses.
There are many changes that happen to the body in postpartum – not just weight changes. At times it can feel as if this body will be your reality forever, but the changes continue to happen and slowly you begin to regain strength and flexibility. Give yourself time to reflect on these changes.
Take out a sheet of paper and jot down some answers to the following questions….
- Based on what you read, heard, saw etc. what expectations did you have of your postpartum body at this stage?
- How is your reality different than what you anticipated?
- Which of these changes have been the biggest challenge for you?
- What do you tell yourself, ABOUT YOURSELF, when you look at your postpartum body? (eg lazy, disorganized, not as good as others etc.
Treating your body lovingly vs Loving your body.
Often we hear people tell us to “love our bodies”. Perhaps this is too much to ask of anyone, and especially of a woman during postpartum. “Loving your Body” might become another should on your list of self-expectations.
Instead consider treating your body lovingly vs loving your body.
Consider this question: If you were to treat your body lovingly (and remove all pressure to love your body), what is one small thing you would say to your body? ….Take your time.
Tuning in….Now take a moment and breathe in those words, close your eyes and sit comfortably. Try to release little bits of tension from your shoulders and jaw – everything is ok in this moment. Relax your belly and breathe in and out. Say those words to yourself. What changes happen in your body when you repeat those words to yourself?
A small take-away….
What is 1 small thing you would like to do for your body today to feel more at home?
Eg. rest your shoulders when you remember, neck stretches while breastfeeding, relaxing your jaw each time you feed, take a walk, enjoy the food you eat no matter what it is – really taste it.
Take your time. Postpartum adjustment happens gradually and you are not alone.