You spent nine months cooking that baby — nine long months of watching everything you put in your mouth, popping those prenatals, and reading every baby book on the market. And then it happened: Your water broke, baby came, and suddenly life as you knew it changed forever. Of course, by then you were prepped and ready for all the changes baby was about to go through. But how prepared were you for the toll it’d all take on your body and self-esteem? If you’re not so thrilled with what you’re seeing in the mirror these days, cheer up — you’re definitely not alone. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to love what you’ve got now.
What’s up with your bod
If you’re one of the lucky ones who bounced back from delivery in a few weeks, hats off to you. But if you’re like most new mamas out there, pregnancy is sure to leave behind a few lingering battle scars.
For one, there are the dreaded stretch marks. “I should’ve known — I got my first set when I was 11 and going through puberty,” says Bumpie rored5. “But man, oh man, I never thought my entire belly from my midpoint down would look like it was constantly on fire
Then, of course, there are the postbaby boobs — commonly touted for being fuller and more voluptuous, to the joyous delight of new dads everywhere. But they aren’t always all they’re cracked up to be (i.e., the painful feeling of engorgement you’ll sometimes get before feedings, the spontaneous fire-hose effect that may or may not occur during sex, or the fact that sometimes, nothing will strap those puppies back). “Babies really do wreak havoc on your boobs,” laments new mom Bump Sareh. “I was always busty, but after baby, I feel porn-starish.”
For some new moms, weaning can also lead to a whole new ball game. “My boobs look like beach balls that need more air,” laughs Bump Lori, our creative director. And let’s not forget the saggy belly skin, the occasional breakouts, and the thinning hair that some new mamas experience. Sounds great, right?
We do have some good news for you, though: Most postbaby body issues can be blamed on hormonal shifts and will fade naturally within the first few weeks or months after delivery.
How to deal
Yep, this new and uncharted postbaby bod territory can be a strange and sometimes scary place. Especially when the months start to tick by and not everything seems to return to normal. So how exactly can you come to terms with the new you? Take a few pointers from us:
Give yourself a break. You’ve probably heard this one before, but it still bears repeating: If it took nine months to gain the baby weight, you can’t expect it to vanish overnight. According to Dr. Jennifer Wider, physician and author of The New Mom’s Survival Guide: How to Reclaim Your Body, Your Health, Your Sanity, and Your Sex Life After Having a Baby, women are way too hard on themselves in general — before and after baby. “We’re always comparing ourselves to the images we see in the media, trying to live up to some unrealistic body type,” says Wider. “Women need to give themselves a break!”
So be patient. Ignore that friend who, by some crazy miracle, returned to a size two right away. And don’t believe everything you see in those airbrushed photos of celebs, prancing around in bikinis five minutes after delivering. The truth is, they’re not the norm and you aren’t doing yourself (or baby) any favors by comparing yourself to others.
Be grateful for the kid. If you need a reminder, your body just did something incredible — you should be pretty impressed with yourself. So step back and take a look at the big picture. “Just like an athlete, you’ve trained your body for nine months and have performed this amazing physical feat that has left your body totally exhausted,” notes Wider. “Pat yourself on the back for what you’ve just accomplished and give yourself time to heal.”
New mama ABMcKinney shares how she keeps things in perspective: “Those stretch marks are my battle scars and a very small price to pay for what I gained in return. My baby doesn’t need me to be sexy or skinny to be a great mom, and being a great mom makes me sexy in my husband’s eyes.” Bump Lori adds that for c-section mamas, looking at your scar in a new light might help you get over the aesthetics of it. “I tell my son Cooper that it’s ‘his line’ and it’s the door to his old house. I love my scar and will freely show it to anyone who asks.”
Think positive thoughts. We know, it’s easier said than done. But if you can’t be your own cheerleader, surround yourself with people who will be. Wider suggests joining new mom support groups for a chance to not only vent, but also to lend an ear to other mamas. “Hearing stories from other women who had similar issues will support and validate you,” notes Wider. ( Head to the boards now to chat with other new mamas who are going through the same things you are.)
Allow yourself a few pick-me-ups. While caring for baby is super-important right now, you can’t forget to care for yourself too. Schedule in some “me” time at least once a week. Leave baby with your partner for an hour or two and do something you love. You might find that your body issues will fade when you stop fixating on them. So get a mani-pedi, buy a new dress, go for lunch with a friend, or hey, go crazy and take that much-needed bubble bath.
Don’t lose your sex drive. After midnight feedings, messy diaper changes, and answering baby’s every cry, you’re bound to feel wiped. Add on the amount of recovery time you’ll need after birth (usually six to eight weeks), and soon sex will have become an all-too-distant memory. Our advice: Don’t let it! As soon as your body (and your mind) is ready, don’t be afraid to jump back in the saddle. If your new bod is the only thing stopping you, Wider suggests dimming the lights before sex if you think it’ll make you feel better.
Also, don’t leave your partner in the dark about how you’re feeling. Wider urges new moms to keep an open line of communication at all times. “Your partner will certainly support you,” says Wider. “But sometimes you’ll have to spell out exactly what you need: love, acceptance, and support.”
The bottom line? Don’t let your body hang-ups prevent you from feeling good about yourself at the end of the day. Take it from Bumpie mandarod, who says then when she had her daughter, everything finally clicked: “I don’t have the time or the energy to worry about the imperfections that I (and probably only I) will see. I earned those stretch marks and extra jiggles! I am a beautiful woman and a beautiful mother.” Enough said.
Jennifer Wider, M.D. is a physician, author, and radio host who specializes in women's health issues. She's also the spokesperson for the Society for Women's Health Research, the nation's only non-profit organization whose mission is to improve the health of all women through research, education and advocacy.
> Did you/do you have any postbaby body image issues? How do you deal?