I’ve said it once and you’ll hear me say it again and again; becoming a mother is one hell of a rollercoaster ride, physically, emotionally, and mentally. The postpartum body is just one aspect of this journey that my clients often bring up in sessions and it's a big one. The way we feel about our body can have a huge impact on how we feel generally, including our self esteem and confidence.
As pregnant women our bodies are often celebrated and all of a sudden we have a baby and it’s like we’re expected to just go back to normal, to swiftly return to our ‘before’, ‘more acceptable’ body. We receive messages from society, social media and advertising that our body is no longer something to celebrate, it’s done its job, now sort it out.
I write this blog to give just small slice of support and help you navigate the key aspects involved in how you’re feeling.
Understanding the Postnatal Body:
Embracing motherhood involves acknowledging the profound changes your body undergoes after childbirth. Hormonal shifts, particularly in oestrogen and progesterone, play a crucial role. These hormonal changes, combined with the physical effects of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding, contribute to alterations in muscle tone, skin elasticity, and body weight distribution.
This is something that is rarely discussed in prenatal baby groups (or in fact, any group) and it can leave us feeling deflated and low. These physical effects are gone through by every person who has given birth.
When you’re looking at celebrities and others online it’s important to recognise that they will have had the same physical shift, it’s just that they rarely show us that bit. Sadly, many celebrities feel they must get straight back to what they feel makes them worthy of love from their fans. They may employ a nanny, a chef, a physiotherapist, a personal trainer and undergo some seriously tough times in order to achieve what we see externally as a ‘bounce back’.
Understanding this is so important in treating yourself with self-compassion. Knowing that these shifts are a natural part of the incredible journey you've embarked upon, that you’re not alone and that it’s normal to not ‘bounce back’ is just the start of accepting your body and yourself.
Body Image Struggles: Redefining Beauty After Birth
Societal pressures often make postnatal mums feel obligated to conform to unrealistic beauty standards. Let's redefine beauty on our terms. Each stretch mark shows how your body has grown a whole new human inside it and how it’s nourished and protected that baby. Your hips that have likely grown, held your baby (and you) as you grew through pregnancy. The softness of your stomach shows the incredible transformation you went through and provides your baby with a soft space to cuddle up to.
In our society it is so easy to criticise our bodies, after all that’s what we’ve been conditioned to do. If you’re as old as me you might remember Victoria Beckham being weighed on TGIF by Chris Evans, shortly after giving birth and that’s just one of the countless scenarios that come to mind. This is what your mind is fighting against, don’t let it win.
The Joy of Movement: Exercising for the Feel Good
While many celebrities focus on exercising to lose weight, let us take a different slant on it.
Exercise shouldn't be a burden or a means to an end. Instead, we should focus on moving our bodies in ways that make us feel good. Let’s exercise for joy, in line with what our bodies are capable of at this moment in time. It's about finding activities that bring pleasure and invigorate your spirit, rather than fixating on weight loss. Whether it's a dance class, a leisurely walk, or gentle yoga, let exercise be an uplifting experience that we do for no other reason than to help us feel good.
Listen to your body and it’s needs. Take your time, allow it to recover. Give it some love by seeing a physiotherapist for a Mummy MOT. It will thank you later.
Mindfulness and Self-Compassion:
Introducing mindfulness and self-compassion can be hugely beneficial tools for postnatal well-being, particularly when struggling with acceptance of your postpartum body. This is something I work on a lot with clients and this is just one example of a loving-kindness meditation. It can take some time, we're not used to saying kind things to ourselves so build it up gradually and start small. I've given some examples below. If you find you can't start with the word 'love', you could use 'like' or 'appreciate'.
Sit comfortably and close your eyes.
Begin by sending loving and kind thoughts to yourself (I am loved, I love that my body grew my beautiful baby, I love the strength in my arms that allows me to carry my baby, I love the tiger stripes on my stomach and thighs because they allow me to carry my baby)
You could expand these thoughts to your baby, family, and friends or even people you may be having difficulties with.
These can be done for just 30 second or a couple of minutes. Try work in awareness and compassion for your body, speak to yourself as you would a friend, with love and kindness. You’ll be amazed at how your mind and body respond to this.
Remember, the postnatal period is a time of adjustment and self-discovery. Be kind to yourself, our mind believes what we tell it. If we give it love and compassion we will believe we are worthy of that love and compassion.
This can be such a tough topic for mums and it's something I battled with myself after having my first child. If this is something you're struggling with, if you can't look at your body in the mirror, if you feel like you just want to hide it away, book a free 15 minute chat with me and lets get you on the journey to loving yourself.
Postnatal Counselling in Harrogate & Online
Claire Judd is a fully qualified counsellor in Harrogate, working with postnatal mums. If you’re struggling, get in touch for a free 15 min call to find out how we can work together.
Follow @therapy.for.mums on Instagram for information, tips and advice.