Caroline Berg Eriksen, wife to Norwegian soccer player Lars-Kristian Eriksen, sparked another heated debate over the postbaby body when she posted a selfie on Instagram at only four days postpartum. In bra and panties, sporting flat abs and thin thighs, the only traces of having given birth appear to be a faint linea nigra (the dark vertical line beneath the umbilicus), a slightly misshapen belly button, and larger-than-life breasts. Eriksen was immediately criticized for making a spectacle of herself, but the photo quickly provoked over 20,000 likes and over 2,000 comments, both positive and negative, so it's effect was likely positive overall for the fitness blogger who is riding the wave of the media frenzy around the controversy. Much of the backlash directed at Mrs. Eriksen is critical of the implication to the average woman.
As the author of a pre- and postnatal fitness guide and the creator of an online fitness video series for new and expectant moms, I am often asked to opine on matters such as this. Is it realistic? Are these images harmful to women? How long can a woman realistically expect it to take to get her pre-baby body back?
Is it realistic? Absolutely not. For the average mom-to-be who had the average prenatal body, it is unlikely that she will ever get the body of Mrs. Eriksen, no matter how much she exercises or how few carbs she eats and certainly not in the first week postpartum. Why? Because Mrs. Eriksen had a fashion model's body type before pregnancy. Most women do not. Most women can return to something very similar to their pre-pregnancy shape after giving birth, but it usually takes months of exercise and healthy eating to shed the pregnancy pounds and firm up what becomes overstretched during pregnancy.
Are these images harmful to women? Yes, they can be, when women compare themselves to images such as these. Thoughts like "I had my baby six months ago and still have a mushy midsection so there must be something wrong with me," are unhealthy and breed insecurity among women at a vulnerable time. Critics claim that women are made to feel less attractive because they don't measure up to skinny-new-mom images. But how is it different than the supermodels featured on the cover of every magazine on supermarket shelves? That image of "beauty" in general can be just as harmful to women, regardless of the baby weight factor.
How long can a woman realistically expect it to take to get her pre-baby body back? Five to nine months, depending on how much weight you gained during pregnancy (more weight gain usually takes longer to lose), the type of delivery you had (Cesareans require a longer recovery), and your postpartum habits (a healthy diet and regular exercise help accelerate postpartum recovery).
My advice to any mom who finds herself hating supermodels for their thin frames: Stop comparing yourself to those genetic anomalies. Most women are not tall and thin and cellulite-free. Most women still look pregnant for the first week after giving birth, sometimes two. And most women have to really work at it to get back to their pre-pregnancy shape. Eat healthy, exercise, and try to focus on your baby in those first months. The rest will take care of itself.
Do you think photos of supermodel-skinny new moms are damaging to a woman's self-esteem?