Pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding change more than just your daily life: they also change your body, and your body image. How can you love and embrace your pregnant and postpartum body? Here are 9 tips:
1. Don’t compare your pregnancy to another woman’s. Every pregnancy is different; every baby is different. Here are just some of the factors that will effect how much weight you gain during pregnancy, as well as how easily you’ll lose it after giving birth: The size of your baby. Your physical fitness. How much you exercise. Whether or not you have bedrest. Your age. Whether you have a vaginal birth or a c-section. The difficulty of your birth. Your baby’s temperament. Having a multiple birth. The time of year your baby is born. Your support system. How many other children you have. Whether or not you work outside the home. I can go on and on. My point? Have compassion for the unique circumstances that affect you and your body. Release the expectation that your experience – and body – should be like everyone else’s.
2. Don’t compare your current pregnancy with previous pregnancies. For the same reason, don’t think that every one of your pregnancies will be the same. In my last two pregnancies, I gained nearly the same amount of weight. And yet, while it took 8 months to lose the weight with my 1st son’s birth, it took me nearly 16 months to lose the weight with my 2nd son’s birth. Why? Because of a confluence of circumstances that were, for the most part, out of my control. Instead of criticizing myself for my lack of progress, I gave myself understanding: compassion that I was doing the best that I could, given my situation. This enabled me to relax about my slow weight loss, and accept that, while I may not like it, I didn’t have to fight it.
3. Don’t compare yourself to celebrities. The modern celebrity gives birth and slinks back into her skinny jeans a mere weeks later. Achieving this goal involves lots and lots and lots of work, a helping of good genes, and loads of support, everything from a nanny to a personal trainer to, perhaps, a tummy tuck. Celebrities make their living by their appearance, and live according to a different set of rules than the average woman. Where women get into trouble is when they think that these rules apply to them, and to their bodies. Give all women a break. Accept that a celebrity’s choices is her business, and that your choices are your business.
4. Give yourself time. I know you want to lose the weight as quickly as possible, but our bodies may be operating at a different time table. A reasonable expectation is 12 months to lose your baby weight: enough time so that you can lose the weight healthfully, without resorting to drastic measures, and yet meet your need for a trim, fit body that slips back into your clothes.
5. Take breastfeeding into account. I’ve nursed 4 babies, and have heard all the stories about how breastfeeding supposedly takes off baby weight. In my experience, this is a lie. Instead, your body tends to hoard fat as a new nursing mom, to ensure that your baby is getting proper nourishment. Over time, yes, nursing will shed pounds: but not in the first 3 months. So if you’re nursing, accept that you may hold onto an extra 5 or 10 pounds for a while.
6. Buy yourself an interim wardrobe. Wearing clothes that are too small will always make you feel fat. And yet, your size vacillates tremendously during pregnancy and after birth. Be kind to yourself, and buy yourself an interim wardrobe for those times when you’re too big for your normal clothes and too small for maternity clothes. This will boost your confidence and lessen the fat, frumpy feelings that accompany tight and schleppy clothes. A huge part of the reason why we want to get back into our normal size is to get out of our maternity clothes and into something pretty. Honor that need for beauty now, not in 6 months when the extra pounds are finally gone. You’ll have an easier time accepting the transition, and the time it takes to achieve your goal weight.
7. Groom yourself impeccably. While the demands of a new baby can be overwhelming, taking the time to get dressed, style your hair, and groom yourself can ease your anxiety about the extra weight. It may not be realistic to make time for this everyday, but if you have older children, friends, or a spouse who want to help, let them watch the baby while you indulge in your favorite beauty rituals. Make self-care a priority: the dishes and laundry can wait. Put yourself first, so you can willingly – rather than resentfully – tackle household chores.
8. Celebrate and enjoy each stage of your body. How sad that the greatest compliment you can give a pregnant woman is, “You don’t even look pregnant.” But pregnancy and the first months of new motherhood are a unique time in a woman’s life: cherish it. Enjoy it. In the grand scope of your life, 9 months of pregnancy and your baby’s infancy are a mere blip on the radar screen. Do you want to look back on your child’s infancy or your pregnancy and regret that you never enjoyed it, because you were obsessed with your body? Balance your need for a fit body with your need to live in the moment, and enjoy a fleeting time.
9. Reconnect with the woman underneath the mom. When you become a mom, everything changes, including your body. This can cause upheaval and transition, where you wonder, “Who am I?” as your life changes course. It’s easy to make our bodies the scapegoat of this discomfort. But do you miss your old body, or do you miss you? Find ways to connect with your prepregnant self, so that your body isn’t the only outlet for connection. What did you love before you became a mom? Painting? Discussing politics? Running? Make room for these activities so you don’t feel so lost. Indulging in something that
brings you joy creates continuity, a feeling of rootedness, so that you can integrate your old self in with your new self as a mother.
At The Shape of a Mother, you can read stories about real women’s bodies during pregnancy and after birth. I love this inspired site and recommend it to every mom.