Postpartum Period and Body Image

Contributor: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, Special Projects Coordinator at Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope

Many of the messages that saturate our society reflect on body image. As a cultural, we are inundated with expectations of what our bodies should look like or what we should be to be lovable, acceptable, worthy, etc. This is pressure is perhaps most strongly emitted on mothers, who are possibly most vulnerable in terms of how they feel about their bodies.

Much of this pressure builds from unrealistic expectations that are created for mothers, particularly after pregnancy. There is an idea that women should easily “bounce back” after having a baby, quickly returning to a body that is beach ready and that has seamlessly recovered from the unmatched feat of growing and delivering a child.

This false expectation may be influenced by “cultural norms” that are seem in celebrities who return to the public eye shortly after child bearing, appearing untouched by the many challenges that come with a new baby.

Breaking the Unrealistic Expectations of Post-Pregnancy

These ideas could not be farther from the truth, and breaking these unrealistic expectations are crucial to allowing a mother to revel in the normalcy that is motherhood. Physically, a woman’s body takes 1-2 years to recover from pregnancy and childbirth, and this is not the message that women are meant to believe.

Runner woman jogging outdoorsThe physical demands of growing a baby inside your body and delivering that baby are far more intense than any magazine or television ad could portray. Unless you have actually experienced pregnancy and childbirth, you could not possibly understand the magnitude of demands that are placed on a mother and the many changes she will experience in her body to bring a new baby into the world.

Society Places a Huge Amount of Pressure on “Bouncing Back”

Childbirth is perhaps one of the most grueling, rewarding, and honoring experiences that a woman may encounter, yet society is quick to dismiss this reality by hyper focusing on how quickly a woman should return to her pre-body shape.

By changing this counterintuitive message, we can begin to bring honor to the mothers in our society instead of shaming them for a labor of love.

Celebrating the Effort of Childbirth

paper familyIf you are a new mother who is struggling with poor body image, it is important to reflect on what your expectations may be for yourself and your body and understand where these expectations may be coming from.

As a new mother, consider celebrating what your body has done and the miracle it has created rather than focusing on what you may not like about your body or ways in which you wish your body was different.

Realize that childbirth brings about drastic changes to your body, and contrary to the messages that are often portrayed in our society, it takes a significant amount of time for the body to heal from childbirth. Practicing gentleness towards yourself will only help facilitate the healing process from childbirth through the various stages.

Focus on Self-Care and Honoring Your Body

With the many physical and emotional challenges and changes that come with childbirth, it can even be a distraction to focus on things that you feel as though you can change, such as your body. As much as possible, try to be proactive in treating yourself with kindness.

After everything your body has gone through, you deserve to be honored, not feel shamed or guilty for a body that you are “supposed” to have.

Reaching Out to Others for Support

If you are a new mother that is dealing with poor body image, be sure to reach out to others for help and support to encourage you through this often challenging time. Many support groups for new mothers can be a helpful place to find comfort and encouragement through this very delicate time period.

You are not alone in this struggle. You are beautiful, worthy, and should be celebrated for the miracle you brought into the world. If necessary, you may also consider working with a counselor or therapist who specializes in women’s health. If poor body image is stemming from any underlying issues, it might also be beneficial to address these concerns with an expert.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

How as a society can be begin to change the message that surrounds mothers and expectations for their postpartum body? What are ways we can begin to emanate a message of acceptance and appreciation?

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on July 17th, 2015
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