How to Love Your Postpartum Body
You carried baby for over nine months—nine+ long months of reading about baby’s week-by-week development, stocking up on newborn essentials and learning how to care for an infant. And then it happened: Your water broke, baby came and 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 would all take on your body? While pregnancy is a miraculous time, it can change your body in many ways. If you’re feeling uncomfortable in your skin following baby’s birth, know you’re definitely not alone. While it’ll take some time to adjust, you can learn to love your post-baby body—and there are so many reasons why you should.
Pregnancy brings about many changes to your body that might linger for some time after baby’s birth—and this affects almost all new mamas (even those who seem to have an easier time slipping back into their pre-pregnancy physique soon after delivery). In fact, there’s a laundry list of physical changes women experience during pregnancy and postpartum, says Sherry Ross, MD, an ob-gyn and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period. “Through a bombardment of hormonal changes, the body prepares, carries and grows a full-term baby over a nine-month period of time,” Ross says. “During this transformational time, our miraculous bodies go through the necessary physical changes, for better or for worse, to prioritize the growth and development of a small human being.” These changes include:
Some good news? Though your body will undergo several changes during those nine+ months, some occur due to hormonal shifts and will normalize within the first few weeks or months after delivery. “It’s important to remember [this is] a temporary time in a person’s life,” Ross says. “Pregnancy can be one of the most joyous, magical and life-changing moments people go through. I tell my patients to enjoy the ride and give yourself a two-year pass to allow your body to work its magic and slowly find its way back to normalcy.” Of course, some changes may stick around for longer, but it’s important to acknowledge them for what they are: a reminder of the remarkable feat your body just pulled off. Below, some tips on how to love your post-baby body.
Stop comparing yourself to others
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 Jennifer Wider, MD, a women’s health expert and author of The New Mom’s Survival Guide, women are often too hard on themselves, both 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!” As hard as it may be, stop comparing yourself to those who seem to return to their “pre-baby selves” quickly, whether that’s on social media or in real life. At the end of the day, everyone’s bodies and circumstances are different, and you never know what someone might be going through behind closed doors.
Unlearn unrealistic societal expectations
Similarly, recognize how improbable societal ideals are of pregnant and postpartum women. “We’ve grown accustomed to seeing unattainable versions of pregnant women. Whether we realize it or not, we internalize a lot of these images into our own expectations of what a pregnant body should look like during gestation and what our body should look like postpartum,” says Josephine Atluri, a women’s health and mental health expert. “So often we see bodies that just ‘bounce back to normal’ without discussion of what it took to get there and how long.” When faced with all of these unrealistic expectations, it can be challenging to combat feelings of inadequacy. However, understanding that these images are often impractical—and reminding yourself of it—can help you feel more confident in your own skin.
Shift your perspective
We tend to get so bogged down in the details that it can be helpful to take a step back and look at the bigger 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,” Wider says. “Pat yourself on the back for what you’ve just accomplished and give yourself time to heal.” Rather than thinking negatively of stretch marks, a c-section scar and other physical changes brought on by pregnancy, reframe your mindset to think about them as “badges of honor,” Atluri says. “[They’re] almost like tattoos, reminding you of the unbelievable miracle that your body went through to birth a child.” Take inspiration from The Bump user Lori Richmond, who tells her son that her c-section scar is “the door to his old house.” How sweet is that?
Be nice to yourself
As you work on reframing your thoughts, remember to be kind. Shifting one’s perspective takes time, so don’t get down on yourself for not being able to accept these changes immediately. Instead, honor the feelings you’re having and offer yourself love and compassion as you work through them. “When you notice you’re being overly judgmental about yourself, hit the pause button on the negative chatter by asking yourself these three questions about the thought: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” says Atluri. At the end of the day, remember that you’re often your own worst critic, so cut out any unproductive, negative self-talk.
Practice daily gratitude
We know you’ve heard this one before, but it works. One of the best ways to remind yourself of how incredible your postpartum body is? List everything about it that you’re grateful for. “Gratitude is a powerful mindfulness technique that can be used to shift a woman’s mindset post-baby from one of negativity to positivity,” Atluri says. She recommends writing a love letter to yourself, thanking your body for everything it’s accomplished and the ways in which it continues to care for baby, you and your family. Turn this into a daily habit by listing at least one thing your body did that day that you’re grateful for, Atluri says. Pretty soon, the negative self-talk will quiet down.
Find your support system
In times when it’s hard to be your own cheerleader, it can be helpful to surround yourself with people who remind you of how far you’ve come. Wider suggests joining new mom support groups for a chance to connect with others who may be in a similar boat. It’ll allow you to not only share your struggles, but also lend an ear to other mamas. “Hearing stories from other women who had similar issues will support and validate you,” says Wider.
Allow yourself time for self-care
While caring for baby is super important during the fourth trimester, you can’t forget to care for yourself too. Schedule in some “me” time at least once a week. Leave baby with your partner or a trusted loved one for an hour or two and do something that makes you feel good. Get a mani-pedi, go to a museum, grab some lunch with a friend or simply take that much-needed bubble bath. Allowing yourself time for small things that make you feel good will help you feel more comfortable in both your new skin and in your new role.
Communicate with your partner
Intimacy might not be the first (or tenth) thing on your mind during those first few weeks, or even months, with baby. 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 sex may not be high on your priorities. Still, it’s important to communicate any uncertainty you have around your post-baby body to your partner. It may be uncomfortable, but they’re on this journey with you, and talking out your feelings with them might help you move past some of the insecurities. “Your partner will certainly support you,” says Wider. “But sometimes you’ll have to spell out exactly what you need: love, acceptance and support.”
About the expert:
Jennifer Wider, MD, is a physician, author and radio host who specializes in women’s health issues. She graduated from Princeton University and received her medical degree from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
Sherry Ross, MD, is an ob-gyn, women’s sexual health expert and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period. and She-ology, The She-quel. She earned her medical degree from New York Medical College.
Josephine Atluri is an expert in meditation and mindfulness, as well as a fertility and parenting coach. She’s a mom of seven and created her family through in vitro fertilization, international adoption and surrogacy. She uses this personal experience to inform her work. A graduate of the University of Chicago, Atluri is also the host of the podcast “Responding to Life: Talking Health, Fertility, & Parenthood,” as well as the author of Mindfulness Journal for Parents and 5 Minute Mindfulness for Pregnancy.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.