The first time I was pregnant, I immersed myself in advice and info and attempted to soak up every single fact about prenatal and postnatal care. I was going to be the most prepared new mom ever. What I failed to do, however, was gather any intel on how to take care of myself and my postpartum body. It wasn’t until I was in the throes of postpartum life that I realized just how much societal criticism surrounds a mother’s physical state, especially after giving birth. The never-ending myths about my postpartum body that no one should believe fuel that criticism, and create unrealistic expectations that are beyond hurtful.
I can't tell you how much I wished I had done more factual research and just dismissed those postpartum body myths altogether. To be fair, to myself and others, those myths are often disguised as health advice, fitness tips, and casual asides from friends and strangers alike. It can be difficult to separate fact from fiction, especially when you're trying to figure out every other aspect of motherhood. The most egregious myth that I fell victim to, was the idea that I should no longer look pregnant a few weeks after giving birth. Yeah, that fourth trimester is a real thing, and more people need to know about it.
In my fragile, exhausted state during the weeks following the birth of my first baby, I easily succumbed to the idea that my postpartum body was something that needed "fixing." Gradually, however (and by the time I had my second baby), I learned that nobody had the right to pass judgment on a body that has just successfully birthed a human (or any body for any reason, ever). If I wanted a cookie, I was going to have a cookie. So, if you encounter a few of these postpartum body myths while researching about pregnancy and postpartum life, feel free to kick them to the curb. It won't do you, or your body, any good to believe them.
That Losing The Baby Weight Is Required
Tabloid headlines make it seem like it’s our job to get ourselves “back in shape” after growing, birthing, and caring for a human being over the course of a year (on top of everything else we have going on). Nope. False. Absolutely freakin' not. First of all, "back in shape" is a relative term, that usually has nothing to do with being healthy and everything to do with fitting into some predetermined social standard of beauty via a particular pant size. Unless our health is compromised by how much we weigh, which is something our doctor, not a stranger, will decide, why put the pressure on ourselves to lose pounds? We seriously have much better uses for our time (and by that I mean staring at our sleeping newborns and soaking in all their perfection).
That Losing Baby Weight Means Your Body Will Be The Same As Before
OK, say you find that you’re gradually losing some of the weight you gained while pregnant, after giving birth. That doesn’t necessarily guarantee that your body will revert back to its pre-pregnancy state. I lost and gained the same 32 pounds with each of my pregnancies, but my body was just different after giving birth the second time. It didn’t do me any good to fight it. It’s a hard thing, but accepting my postpartum body was a huge step towards overcoming a lot of my insecurities surrounding body image.
That It Is Less Desirable
Even if you struggled with body image issues before having kids, you knew there were times you were undeniably feeling good about how you looked. Or even if that never seemed to happen, there was someone who appreciated your body. There's no denying that getting used to postpartum body changes can add to the challenges of new motherhood, but I found that I was the one having the hang-ups. In other words, my partner took no issue with my appearance. I mean, is there anything sexier to a husband than being the mother to his child? Nope. Not according to my experience.
That It Needs To Fit Into Your Pre-Pregnancy Clothes
Hey, it’s great if you can eventually fit back into your pre-pregnancy clothes, because you don’t have to buy or borrow new ones. But just because you can get the jeans on, doesn’t mean they’ll look the same on you. Technically, I could “fit” into my pants a couple of months postpartum, but they didn’t look the same on me as they did before I started growing babies. I made the wise decision to purge the clothes that no longer made me feel good. While I didn’t have the means to totally replace my wardrobe, it did save me a lot of stress figuring out what to wear every day after eliminating items that just didn’t boost my body confidence levels.
That It Needs To Change At All
The choice is ours. Nobody gets a say in how we should look, or how much space we should be taking up. So, thanks but absolutely freakin' no thanks to all those invitations inviting us to get our bodies “back” after having babies.
That It Is A Milk Machine And Nothing More
In the first six weeks after giving birth, it was hard not to feel, well, like a cow. All I seemed to do was breastfeed, record the time and duration of nursing sessions, eat, pee, and repeat. I owed it to myself to reclaim possession of my body. Yes, my baby needed it for survival, but not to the exclusion of what I needed it for: to get out more (and not just for the postpartum check-ups).
I got a pedicure, took myself out to lunch, and walked around without the fatigue and discomfort of being nine months pregnant. It’s easy to lose some of that sense of self when you become a mom. I wanted to just completely give myself over to this tiny little creature. But self-care is crucial, so caring for my body (in between feeding sessions) was an important way for me to get back in touch with my non-mom self.
That It Has To Look Like Someone Else’s
Every body is different. Some people gain a lot and lose a lot. Others don’t gain much, and don’t lose any. I have one friend who gained all of four pounds during her pregnancy, and then lost 30 after giving birth. The point is, we are not clones. Pregnancies are unique as the kids they create, and there is no ideal postpartum body any of us need to be striving towards. As long as our doctors say we’re healthy, and we feel OK (except for the sleep deprivation and occasional crying and relative soreness), there is no reason to get competitive after giving birth by comparing your postpartum body to someone else's.
That You Should Hide It
We don’t all share the same feelings about covering up when breastfeeding, and obviously that's more than fine. However, modesty and comfort aside, there is no reason why my postpartum body needs to be hidden behind loose clothes and subdued colors. I had a baby. That is amazing. This is what amazing looks like.
That You Can’t Be Proud Of It
Every time a disgusted thought crept into my head when I gazed on my postpartum body, I batted it away with this mantra: "My body made a person." That thought still blows me away. Being pregnant really put me in touch with the power my body was capable of possessing. All my relentless gym sessions during my pre-baby years couldn’t prove what the stretched, doughy flesh was showing me, now that I was a mom. Whenever I want to beat myself up for having to grab a bigger size, I remember what my body has been through. It carried two babies to term (longer, actually) and presented them to the world in perfect health. Nothing about my body has made me prouder.