I don’t think there’s ever been a time in my life that I’ve loved my body more than when I have been pregnant. I am always so in awe of the pregnant body and everything it can do, growing a human is like actual magic. I respect and love my pregnant body and although I sometimes struggle with the weight gain, I love watching my belly grow as it means the baby is healthy and growing too. My relationship with my postpartum body is very different. Whilst I am still in awe and have never ending respect and appreciation towards my body for bringing my babies into the world, I struggle to love my post baby body on an aesthetic and superficial level. Today’s guest post gives a realistic insight into body image during and after pregnancy and explores how you can learn to love your body.
How to feel body positive during and after pregnancy
Pregnancy; A time where you are supposed to glow, love your bump, and count down the days until you can meet the new addition to your family. Although this may be true for some people, it is definitely not true for everyone. There are a lot of things that no one tells you about pregnancy, including how hard it can be to accept the changes that are happening to your body. It can be difficult for many mums to feel good about their body image during and after pregnancy. When you are used to looking a certain way and being somewhat in control of your body, it can be difficult to feel great about yourself and how you look during and after pregnancy. Knowing more about why certain things are happening and focusing on the little things that you can do will help.
Changes to your body during pregnancy
So many changes happen to your body during pregnancy that it is not surprising that some of them can come as a bit of a shock. The changes occur to aid the development of the fetus and to help with the baby’s continued growth after birth. There are all the things that people expect to happen, like; the increase in breast size to prepare for breastfeeding, morning sickness, problems sleeping, needing to use the toilet more frequently, and stretch marks.
There are, however, other things that happen that aren’t as well known. These include swelling in your ankles, hands & face, nasal problems that make you feel stuffy, sudden cramps in your legs, feeling itchy due to hormones & stretching skin and aching in various parts of your body.
Although you know these changes are happening for a reason, it can be easy to get frustrated with the symptoms. Especially the ones that really affect your day to day life and how you feel about yourself. There are some things you can do to try and help these symptoms when they occur.
How to manage the changes to your new body
There is no way to stop your body from changing, but there are things that you can do to ease the symptoms and make you feel better about some of the things that are happening.
- Allow yourself to rest
It may be tempting to try and continue powering through life the same way you did before you got pregnant, but that isn’t possible for everyone. You shouldn’t feel guilty for taking the time to rest more when you are pregnant because sometimes you need it. Rest can help with the aches and pains of pregnancy and the increased tiredness you may feel.
As you get further into your pregnancy, sleep can even become more difficult as more things can disturb you, and it can be harder to find a position that actually feels comfy. To try and get as much sleep as possible, you could try lying on your side, using helpful products such as a pregnancy pillow, and aim to stick to a good routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Most of all, don’t be afraid to nap if you feel exhausted.
One of the most dreaded changes to your body can be stretch marks, as they can really affect your body image. During pregnancy, your skin stretches to accommodate any weight you may gain and the growing fetus in your uterus. Stretch marks appear because it happens so quickly and causes layers of your skin to scar. Some creams say that they can help with the prevention of stretch marks and help to heal them after you have given birth. Even if you still get some stretch marks, moisturising can help you to feel better about yourself as you are taking the time to make sure you are looking after yourself and performing a bit of self-care. Whatever you do, please don’t get too worried about your stretch marks because they will usually fade with time.
- Stay hydrated
It may seem tempting to not drink as much water as you would usually drink because of the need to go to the bathroom more frequently, but it isn’t a good idea. Staying hydrated is vital for your health and the health of the developing fetus, but it can also help to reduce the effect of some of the other symptoms that you are experiencing. Drinking 8 to 10 glasses of water or other fluids a day can help with swelling, ensures you avoid dehydration and helps to prevent constipation and haemorrhoids.
To help with the frequent need of urination at night, you can drink fluids more frequently early in the day and reduce the amount you drink in the evening before you go to bed.
Your postpartum body
Your postpartum body will be different from the body you had before pregnancy. Especially for the weeks after you have given birth as your body needs time to heal and adjust to no longer being pregnant. Swelling is normal after giving birth because during pregnancy, you produce more fluids, including blood, so that you can accommodate your growing fetus.
It will also take around six weeks for your uterus and your ‘pregnancy bump’ to go back to the size it was before pregnancy. This is understandable because it is the part of your body that has been under the most stress, having to stretch significantly over the course of nine months. Even when it reduces in size, it may not be the same as it was before. Keeping your core muscles strong can help when it comes to recovery.
Hair loss is also something that you can experience after pregnancy. It is, however, completely normal due to hormone changes and should calm down after a few months.
It may be hard to accept, but no matter how hard you work, your body is not going to be the same as it was pre-pregnancy.
Having a postpartum body can be difficult for some women’s body image, but the pictures we see in the media do not help. Being exposed to unrealistic images of celebrities just after giving birth and articles about how to get your ‘pre-pregnancy body back’ can be unhealthy. They can put extreme pressure on women to feel like they need to get rid of their ‘pregnancy body’ as quickly as possible.
Having any pictures showing an ‘ideal body image’ can be harmful to anyone being exposed to them. This is because there is no such thing as an ideal body, as everyone is different, and it could encourage people to create goals that they will never be able to reach.
As for your postpartum body, this should not be something that you have to worry about. Yes, you might one day aim to get back into exercise or to start eating healthily, but after experiencing one of the most natural things that a human can experience, you should be able to focus all your time on bonding with your baby — not being subjected to negative images that can damage your mental health and make you worry about adhering to unrealistic standards.
Positive Postpartum images
It is not all negative, though. Women have been banding together and creating initiatives to help women realise what the real normal is when it comes to pregnancy and postpartum bodies; that there is no normal. With the use of hashtags such as #celebrating_my_postpartum, women can post images of their postpartum bodies for others to see.
“No, no, you have it wrong, I will not be working to get my body back. She was never lost. She was here, giving every moment and detail to this sweet baby. She was pushed and exhausted, stretched and stripped to make space for a new life. Please stand back and aside. For her sacrifice she will not be scrutinized. She will be loved, and thanked and bowed down to. She will be allowed her time to heal and be settled into. This body’s work will not be forgotten, hidden or erased. And if you feel it should, you understand nothing about the gift she has given. No, no Body don’t listen. Because I see you. I thank you deeply. You did so good.” Words: @mia_carr_ 🙌🏼 Photo taken 24 hrs postpartum♥️ Post shared by @ceciliaharvard
Taking the time to look at and spread these images means that we can start to normalise realistic images, and discount unrealistic expectations that can cause people to have a negative body image and life-changing mental health problems.
Mamas, how do you feel about your postpartum body? Have you felt pressure to ‘spring back’ or to be able to fit into your skinny jeans again? Do you think images of celebrity mums can cause new mothers to form negative feelings towards their own postpartum bodies? Please share your thoughts in the comments.