Myths and parenthood seem to go hand-in-hand, unfortunately. From anti-vaccination pseudo-science to old wives' tales, it's easy for misinformation to run rampant in the parenting community. This is especially true when it comes to myths about losing the "baby weight." And, like in any other fabrication applied to any other aspect of parenthood, these myths, when blindly believed and followed, can have long-lasting and potentially dangerous affects.
CW: This article discusses eating disorders.
One thing about postpartum life that I worried about the most while I was pregnant was how my eating habits would change and how I’d feel about my body image. No, I was never worried about “bouncing back” losing the “baby weight” quickly. I was worried about whether or not my eating disorder recovery would be negatively impacted after pregnancy. As someone who struggled with bulimia for 10 years, and has been in recovery for seven, my relationship to body image and weight loss has been complicated and often unhealthy.
Thanks to therapy, an active commitment to self-care, and healthy coping mechanisms, my relationship to and with my body is finally in a nontoxic place. But that doesn’t keep me from falling prey to that voice that tells me I have body issues I need to fix. And since there are countless things in the world — from media influences to stereotypes to unintentionally harmful comments from friends and family — that impact how we think about our bodies, I know I'm not alone. Our society's prevailing obsession with how postpartum people look make new moms, trans dads, and nonbinary people who just gave birth particularly susceptible to myths about weight and weight loss.
Romper spoke to Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C, founder of The Eating Disorder Center, and Dr. Kiarra King, MD, OB-GYN, to help uncover some of the prevailing myths about postpartum weight, postpartum weight loss, and how these inaccuracies impact any gestational parent who has recently welcomed a new baby to the family.
1. It's Every New Mom's Goal
"There are so many things that are vying for new moms' attention after they've first given birth," Dr. King says. "A new baby, a healing body, whether they're recovering from a c-section or vaginal delivery, their partner or spouse, their family members, possibly having to go back to work. There's all these things that are pulling on new moms and it can be hard to feel like yourself."
Don't assume every person who has just given birth is thinking about losing weight. Is it OK if a new parent is thinking about postpartum weight loss? Sure! Is it OK if they have some postpartum weight loss goals in mind? Yes! But should you be commenting on someone's body because you assume their main focus is fitting back into their pre-pregnancy jeans? Absolutely not.
2. Your Body Should Be The Same As It Was Pre-Pregnancy
"Your body has just done an amazing thing in enabling you to have a child," Rollin tells me. "And the same way that we wouldn’t expect your life to be the same post-baby, it’s incorrect to assume that your body should be the same as it was before."
Rollin says your body isn't a "slab of marble" that's meant to be unchanged throughout the course of your life. "You are in no way 'wrong' for having a body (and a life!) that are different after having a baby."
3. “Baby Weight" Is A Bad Thing
According to Rollin, labeling your postpartum body as still carrying ‘baby weight’ is problematic. "Our bodies are meant to change throughout our lives," she explains. "We are not all supposed to weigh the same as we did in high school! There is no need to stigmatize or try to ‘explain away’ weight changes by labeling it as baby weight."
For new parents who do want to lose weight gained during pregnancy, it's important to know that reaching that goal might take time, according to Dr. King. "If you frame the expectations well, it can be a much easier transition for you and you won't just be setting yourself up for disappointment."
4. Cutting Calories While Breastfeeding Is A Healthy Way To Lose Weight
"We are sold the lies through diet culture and the media that our worth as women is found in our weight and appearance, and that our bodies are meant to stay the same throughout our lives," Rollin says. But that doesn't mean we have to buy into the toxicity that often leads people to say harmful things to new moms. Of course, avoiding predatory marketing and the ever-tightening grip of diet culture is easier said than done.
Some people think that cutting calories or restricting their diet in some way while breastfeeding is a good way to lose weight. It's not. "It’s important for new moms who are breastfeeding to be consuming additional calories (AKA energy) to keep your milk production flowing and to give you the overall energy that you need," Rollin says.
And according to Dr. King, some women won't lose weight as a the result of breastfeeding, even though there's a common misconception that nursing will automatically lead to weight loss.
5. You Need To "Get Your Body Back"
"A lot of new moms may turn to dieting in attempts to lose weight postpartum as the media sells us messages that you should try to get your body back," Rollin tells me. "But your body never left, and it’s helped you to do something amazing.
When it comes to phrases like "bounce back" or "snap back," Dr. King thinks that they can be both good and bad. "If a mom is using it to empower herself, because she feels great after having a baby and she feels like her body is feeling great and looking great and she feels like she's back to where she was and it's empowering to her, then I think that's fine!"
The problem arises, Dr. King explains, when those same phrases are used to shame postpartum parents into being a certain size or weighing a certain amount or looking a particular way. "I think if moms are just automatically expecting a snap back and they don't get it, then it can be detrimental and it can lead to things like anxiety, depression, and lots of worry and angst about why their body isn't going back to what it was before. But if a mom looks almost the same as she did prior to having the baby and she's celebrating her body, fantastic! Great for her!"
It all comes down to making sure you're not shaming other moms... and yourself! Every postpartum person has a different journey, and their bodies will heal in their own way and at their own pace.
6. Exercise Is The Best Way To Lose Weight Postpartum
Not only is this recommendation ableist, but it can be triggering for postpartum parents who have, or have a history of, an eating disorder. For some postpartum parents, avoiding the gym is part of maintaining their mental health and overall wellness, so constantly hearing they have to go to the gym to reach some socially contrived postpartum body ideal — or even just to maintain their health — can be detrimental.
"It's all about expectations, and being realistic with expectations after recently giving birth," Dr. King explains. Experiencing pregnancy, and adjusting to life as a new parent, is no easy task, and it's important to keep that in mind when you think about your own body, then combining that thought process with the realities of your body and its unique needs.
7. You Should Lose The Weight Immediately
"Give yourself some grace, give yourself some leniency," Dr. King says. "Take some time for your body to heal physically."
While you'll likely feel pressure to erase any evidence that your body experienced a pregnancy, it's best to avoid rushing into a weight loss plan. Instead, be kind and patient with yourself as you heal physically, emotionally, and psychologically from the riggers of pregnancy, labor, and delivery. "There doesn't have to be a super fast rebound to what their body appeared like before," Dr. King says.
8. You'll Lose Weight Eventually
"What’s most important is that you focus on taking care of your mental health and working to develop a healthy relationship with food and your body," Rollin says. "When you fixate on how your body looks, it takes away valuable time that you could be using to pursue your passions, strengthen your relationships, or reflect on other things."
It's also important to remember, Dr. King tells me, that because it takes roughly nine months to put the weight on, it is not going to come off overnight.
9. All The Weight You Gain During Pregnancy Is "Baby Weight"
"The weight that's gained during pregnancy, depending on someone's starting weight, can be anywhere from 11-20 pounds to 25-35 pounds in terms of ideal weight for that pregnancy," Dr. King tells me. "Baby weight is the actual weight of the baby, plus the placenta, the amniotic fluid, and the fluid that was retained during the pregnancy just from being in a pregnant state. That's baby weight."
What many people classify as "baby weight" can be a sign of something else, Dr. King explains, so it's important to take that into account for the sake of the health of both mom and fetus.
10. It's Hard To Find Time To Exercise With A New Baby
While this may be the case for many moms, there are ways that postpartum people can find time to exercise (if they are physically able to) while bringing their baby along. "Even just taking the baby on a walk three times a week for 30-45 minutes and building your endurance," Dr. King says. So even something as simply as a walk around the block is a great way to stay active while also balancing life as a mom.
In many cities, there are even mommy-and-me classes where babies as young as 3 months can participate in exercise activities with their postpartum parent. And, of course, you can check out some online workout classes and get your sweat on at home.
If you or someone you know has an eating disorder and needs help, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at 1-800-931-2237, text 741741, or chat online with a Helpline volunteer here.