Forming a Healthy Postpartum Body Image
You look in the mirror and everything about your postpartum body looks different.
You walk and sit and lie in bed and it feels different. Things aren’t put together the way they were before.
Maybe you laugh about this or cry about this. Maybe you feel peace or you feel shame. You’re not sure how you’re “supposed to” feel and what your body is “supposed to” be like after having your child.
The is no RIGHT Postpartum Body
The truth is, there’s no “right” way but there are so many things to consider when we are forming and growing our body image after having a baby. If you identify as a woman, chances are your body has held a lot of meaning for you throughout your life. Our bodies are tied to our perceived worth.
We have been told to measure our value based on how much our body does (or does not) align with women in magazines, in movies and now even on social media. We have measured our social acceptance by how easily we can fit into a group based on the way we look. It is taught to us from a young age that our desirability as a woman, our sexuality and attraction, are dependent on if we look like “that woman.” Without a doubt this impacts our confidence as we form beliefs about ourselves and who we are and what we can do.
Related: Where do we learn about postpartum?
Should You “Bounce Back” Right After Baby?
Now, after having a baby, so much is different. Unfortunately, it’s easier to access messages that tell us “how to bounce back” or “how to lose the baby weight fast” than it is to learn about the changes that have happened in our bodies and the ways to nurture and heal them with intention and grace.
When it comes to our body image after giving birth, we are responsible for what we let in and out of our body and minds.
Related: Committing to Authenticity
Inside Thoughts About Postpartum Body Image
Ask yourself the following questions
What self-criticizing thoughts do I have?
When do I have them?
How are they trigged?
What happens because of that thought?
It’s not realistic to expect ourselves to never have self-critical thoughts. Sure, it would be nice, but realistically we have to remember we are conditioned to criticize ourselves.
The goal here is to figure out when and where these thoughts are triggered and then to have a plan of action to shut them down so the thought does not have a domino effect.
Example: When I undress to get into the shower, I see my saggy breasts. Then I look all over my body and feel worthless because I should have lost the baby weight by now. I continue to look at all the areas of my body that I feel insecure about and that makes me feel like my partner shouldn’t be attracted to me. It makes me feel like other women are doing it better and I don’t want to go out in public because I’m ashamed.
The Domino Effect of Body Image
Maybe this isn’t your exact situation, but take time to identify what yours is. Now, how do we interrupt this thought pattern? In the example above we can stop at the breasts. When I undress to get into the shower, I see my saggy breasts. Sure, I wish they were perkier, but I remember that they changed because my body grew my baby. Remember that the body changes very naturally in response to pregnancy, birth, and postpartum and that it takes time for all of that to heal. I am thankful for what my body has done and I recognize that every mom heals differently- it looks different for each of us. I would never want a friend to criticize her own body and I won’t criticize mine.
Outside Input Impacting Postpartum Body Image
Ask yourself the following questions:
What influences my understanding of my postpartum body?
Did I ever learn about all the changes that have happened inside of me?
What social messages are making me feel insecure about myself?
In Postpartum Together small groups I’ve learned that many women gain a healthier body image after understanding what happens to the body to prepare for birth, give birth, and recover from birth. There are many layers of changes and yet not many places to learn about them.
On top of that, our social media and other spaces are filled with invitations and messages centered around losing the baby weight- often led by those who don’t have a clear understanding of how to safely do that after baby. (Accountability or workout groups led by someone who is not trained in pre and postnatal care are not your friends after giving birth.) The ball is in your court to learn about the changes and to be selective about what messages you allow as input. It’s more than okay to unfollow an account, to stop watching a show, to throw away a magazine, etc.
Postpartum Body Image Goes Deeper: The Past
Postpartum is a wonderful time to heal your body image. It’s a time when it is doing so for ourselves, but also because our children will learn from us. When we start to heal body image, we must start by looking back.
How were you raised to think about your body?
How did your mother or other women talk about their bodies in front of you?
What was your experience in adolescence with a changing body?
What insecurities and thought patterns do you remember?
Many women identify patterns from their upbringing. Perhaps your mother was always dieting or talking about how her clothes looked. It could be that puberty was uncomfortable and you never found a safe space to talk about it. Maybe you grew up seeing a certain type of woman on TV and it led you to be self-critical. To more forward, we have to look back enough to see where our thoughts and beliefs were formed so that we can rewrite them. If this feels like a lot to do on your own, that is very understandable. A space like Postpartum Together may be beneficial for you, or it may be a topic to discuss with a therapist.
RELATED: How to find a Therapist
How Body Image Impacts Other Things
When thinking about healing your body image, realize it goes beyond the self-talk you experience about your body.
Body image impacts the risks we take with meeting new people and going new places.
It impacts how we feel confident in ourselves which can impact things like work.
Body image has a big impact on our relationships too. We talk about this a lot in the Back in the Sack eCourse, but here are a few things for you to consider when it comes to body image after baby and how it impacts your marriage/relationship.
What role has your body played in your relationship?
Have you held a lot of value in being “sexy”?
Does your partner comment on your changed body?
Have you had an honest conversation about how you’re feeling about your body?
Layers of Postpartum Body Image
There are many layers to body image in all part of our lives, but even moreso after having a baby. It’s okay to have complex feelings about this. Know that taking the time to address and heal your body image right now will have an impact on your life forever. You can set an example for your kids, improve communication with your partner, gain confidence, and take pride in your changing body, but it takes work.
Related: Sex After Baby, Am I Ready?
Connect with Other Moms and Get Empowering Coaching for a Healthy Postpartum Body Image
We want you to have a season of growth and healing of your body image as a new mom. We invite you to find the next Health Body Image After Baby small group. In this group we address the things that impact our body image, how our postpartum body changes, and how to develop a healthier relationship with our bodies after baby. Find the info on our new mom group page.