post baby body
My lust for travel. Lack of financial security. My husband's demanding job. Not feeling mature and responsible enough to keep another human being alive.
There were a handful of reasons I put off having a baby until my mid-thirties. But the number one reason why I waited so long, even though I always knew deep down that I wanted to be a mother?
I was terrified of what pregnancy would do to my body.
The good news? Being pregnant didn't ravage me like I had feared. The bad news? I did it to myself. Or rather my lack of self-care did.
Yes, the physical process of growing a baby exacts a toll on a woman. My body had been changing and nurturing another life for months, so of course it didn't bounce back immediately - nor will it ever completely. But I was pleasantly surprised that I slimmed down to near my pre-pregnancy weight within a few months and I got a "damn, you are so skinny" from a NICU nurse less than a week after giving birth. And there were quite a few "wow, you don't look like you just had a baby!" comments the first couple months.
Not gaining too much weight during pregnancy and breastfeeding are paying off, I thought to myself. And I was right. Gaining a healthy amount of weight (no more or less) for my frame during pregnancy plus breastfeeding, which burns mega calories and is Mother Nature's way of transferring fat from mama to baby, didn't return me to the exact bod I had before getting pregnant, but it was at least recognizable. And I had anticipated the changes. Plus, uncharacteristically for me, I gave my body credit for the miracle it had just performed and didn't expect perfection right away. I felt within reach of looking even closer to my former body with some exercise, a balanced diet, and TLC. When I figure out this new mom gig I'll get back to those things, I told myself.
There were outside pressures and advice and voices too. My well-intentioned husband encouraged me to get back into exercising because he knew it was something I enjoyed pre-baby and in the past had proven to be important for my self-confidence and mental and physical health. But other friends and family members told me not to workout and just focus on the baby. Baby, baby, baby, baby, baby.
Months passed. I never "figured out this mom gig". So I kept putting off self-care. Baby comes first, Sera, motherhood comes with great sacrifice, this is the price you pay for choosing to have a family, maybe you'll get around to it tomorrow, next week, next month, said my exhausted brain.
As you hopefully already know but I had not yet figured out, a mother forsaking all of her needs to serve her child serves no one. Looking back on pictures I see that I looked relatively good for the first 6-9 months postpartum. I had a few more stretch marks, my hips were a little wider, my belly was no longer flat and I looked tired because yes, I was. But the few extra pounds I was carrying plumped my skin a bit which suited me, my hair was shiny, I was still breastfeeding so my breasts hadn't yet sagged, and like I mentioned before I had lost most of the weight I had gained without really trying.
But by my baby's first birthday the glow was gone and exhaustion and lack of self-care had caught up with me. I was worn out, and I looked it. Unhappy and unhealthy is not an ideal place to parent from, so not surprisingly my relationship with my child (and husband) suffered. Not being a good mom or partner made me feel bad about myself which zapped my motivation to care for myself and the unhealthy cycle continued.
I can't go back in time and change my first postpartum experience, but if I am blessed with another pregnancy and baby I'll be laying down some ground rules for in order to prevent "letting myself go":
- Gain the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy. Eat when hungry, stop when full, move your body when and how you can.
- Breastfeeding is worth a try as it has many benefits for both Mom and Baby. But if it's so stressful and exhausting that Mom passes out (which I did whilst breastpumping for my five month old despite being sick, dehydrated, deliriously tired, and by myself due to hubby being out of the country for work...) or just isn't working for you despite trying your best, don't feel guilty for turning to formula. If you do choose to bottle feed, protect your energy and don’t waste your time explaining to those outside your circle of trust why you aren't breastfeeding. People will judge no matter what you do or don’t do, but remember you have the power and right to do what works for you and your baby. #fedisbest
- Baby's health and happiness is dependent on Mom's health and happiness. So prioritize and take care of both of you and don't trick yourself into thinking it's all about the baby and that you don't matter anymore. You may do this by:
- Respecting your body, not abusing it. Just because you can stay up and do another load of laundry or dishes doesn't mean you should. Sleep when the baby is sleeping or at least lay down or do something relaxing! And you can try to suppress natural shape and weight, but you can't change what you were born with so don't bother with excessive anything -- eating, fasting, exercising, couchpotato-ing, etc. Repeat after me: I will not beat myself up, I will not body- or mom-shame myself, and I will not let how I look consume me.
- Surrounding yourself with people who build you up.
- Enlisting help and farming out as many non-baby duties (laundry, cooking, cleaning) as possible. Embrace the vulnerability that comes with that (what if they say no?? Eeeeek!) and accept that they're probably not going to do it the way you do.
- Taking some time for yourself (away from baby) every single day after you get home from the hospital. Even if it's just to take a shower, go to the grocery store by yourself, or to meditate. If after the first few months you have the time, energy, means and money to do something bigger for yourself like getting a facial or staying overnight in a hotel without the baby, THEN DO IT and do not feel guilty about it.
- Remembering that self-care isn't just getting a massage or a mani and pedi. Sometimes it means saying no, forgiving yourself for not meeting unobtainable standards, and not forgetting who you are and what fills you up.
- Have faith. You're going to likely look different than pre-pregnancy, but you won't always look the same as 1-2 months postpartum. The human body is incredible if given what it needs. Set realistic goals and think baby steps.
- Give your body the credit it deserves and remember that it shows a journey. Let go of the idea of perfection. Be a role model for your kids by owning your body and saying this how I look after children and that's okay. Too often the focus is what pregnancy has done to a woman's body rather then what that perfect body had just done. You are much much more than just "baby weight". Be a woman who looks at herself less critically focuses on the strength and beautiful things that the female body is capable of, and stands for.
- Don't compare or succumb to the idea of society's demanding, impossible ideals. Tabloids dish on celebs who just had babies but now look incredible. Let's not forget that not only are these women likely blessed with the genetics to "bounce back" quickly but they most definitely have a team of behind the scenes staff doing most if not all their behind the scenes stuff -- cooking, cleaning, laundry, maybe even some or most of the baby duties. So do not compare yourself to them but do take a cue and enlist help and put yourself first when and where you can.
- New motherhood is about as far from glamorous as it gets. Most of those early days are spent in oversized sweats with spit-up in your hair and hormones whacking out. If ditching that big, beige nursing bra in favor of a lacy, barely there one gives you a lift, you know I say go for it (and in case you need some inspiration, here I'm wearing two comfortable yet flirty lingerie sets by Luva Huva, a brand highly known for its ethical approach, handmade lingerie and organic materials). Wearing well-fitting, pretty lingerie can empower self confidence and sexiness, and what new mom couldn't use a boost of those? What you put next to your skin matters.
Success doesn't just happen. You have to set yourself up for it and following these ground rules will give you the best chance of having the time and energy to invest in your physical body and appearance (if that's your goal). In the end what pregnancy will "do" to your body is not something to fear. It's the greatest show on earth, and if we treat our bodies with respect, they will astound us with what they are capable of.