The relationship we have with our bodies is a pretty personal one, but it is heavily influence by our culture, our media and the people who come in and out of our lives. Our romantic partners, for instance, have the ability to either help us feel wonderful about our bodies, or help us feel defeated by them. This is especially true for new mothers but, thankfully, there are ways every dad can help his partner accept her postpartum body. While it, honestly, shouldn't take another person (even someone as close to us moms as our partners) to remind us that our bodies are incredible and worthy of love, sometimes it does and, hey, that's OK.
I had a difficult time learning to love my postpartum body. In the early weeks after my son was born, I allowed myself to fixate on a specific number on the scale, the size of my milk-producing breasts and my post-baby belly that looked four months pregnant. I didn't feel like my body was mine anymore, and I was somewhat disappointed that complete body autonomy and self-love didn't hit me the moment my son was born. However, it took a few in-depth conversations with my partner, his endless support and a plenty of dedicated moments of self-care, and I started to realize that the last thing I should do is hate the body that made me a mother, my partner a father, and my son an actual, living, breathing human being.
Thanks to prevailing and unhealthy beauty standards perpetuated by an unkind culture that tells women their bodies are only worthy of respect and love if they look a certain way, it can be hard to learn to love your body at any time in your life. It's hard to value yourself when our society tells you (almost begs you) not to. It's equally if not more difficult to do so after you've had a baby, and our culture demands that women hide the evidence that their bodies were ever pregnant, ever birthed a baby and ever sustained a baby. This is when dads (and all partners, regardless of gender) can step in and encourage their partners to love their postpartum bodies in the following ways:
Compliment Her Regularly
It's superficial at best, you could argue, but it makes a difference. Honestly, it's also one of the easiest, most helpful contributions that a new mom can digest, because chances are she's so exhausted, surface level is about as far as she can dig at the moment. A compliment is quick, it's easy to understand/comprehend and it can make even the heaviest of days feel instantly lighter.
Bring Attention To The Amazing Thing Her Body Has Just Done...
The easiest way to learn to love your postpartum body, I've learned, is to focus on what it's done and not on how it looks. Right after I gave birth to my son, I lost myself in the number I saw on the scale and my post-baby belly. It took me a few weeks, but I finally realized that hating the body that created and birthed my baby, is like hating my baby (in a way). My son wouldn't be alive if it wasn't for the incredible thing my body did for 40 or more weeks, and that body deserves all the love and recognition and respect in the world for creating human life.
So, call attention to what her body did during pregnancy, labor and delivery. Remind her that the human she is holding is a human her body produced. Focusing on what our bodies do — instead of how they stand up to unrealistic beauty standards our society seems hellbent on forcing everyone, even brand new mothers, to adhere to — is a great way to stay body confident and body positive.
...And The Amazing Things Her Body Is Continuing To Do
Of course, the wondrous things a mother's body does doesn't stop the day her baby is born. If your partner is breastfeeding, remind her that she is literally keeping another human being alive with her person. If your partner isn't breastfeeding, or attempted breastfeeding but couldn't make it work, her body is still producing hormones that help her bond with her baby, and is readjusting to postpartum life in a slew of incredible ways.
Listen To Her...
The more I didn't talk about how I felt about my postpartum body, the worse my feelings towards my own body became. However, when I sat down and talked to my partner and let him know exactly what I was thinking, I was able to dissect those feelings and realize that they weren't necessary and that I was being unhealthy and, honestly, mean to myself. Sometimes, an outside perspective and a friendly reminder is exactly what you need.
...And Let Her Talk About Her Body And How She Feels About It...
I understand that it could be extremely difficult to listen to someone you love and care about, talk badly about themselves. However, you shouldn't invalidate your partner's feelings about her body, however misguided or swayed by cultural standards of unhealthy beauty they may be.
So, whatever she says about her body deserves your undivided attention. Let her vent and let her express herself, so that you two can go back through those feelings, sort them out, and work through them so any negativity can give way to positivity and self-love.
...But Encourage Her To Talk Positively
Just, you know, don't let these talking sessions turn into self-bashing. The postpartum haze is thick and difficult to navigate and it's easy to get lost in the chaos that is your new life as a mom. It's a difficult transition, no matter how well you prepare, and feeling like you're not in touch with your body (or that your body isn't even yours anymore) can make that transition seem impossible.
Give Her The Opportunity To Get Pampered
If you have the means, I suggest you purchase a full-body massage for your partner, take the baby, and tell her you'll see her in about two hours. I'm dead. Freakin'. Serious.
I was a little apprehensive to have someone touch my postpartum body, but having someone give me a hot rock massage a few weeks postpartum not only made my entire body feel better, healthy and rejuvenated, it also put me in touch with my body. I walked out of that spa feeling like an entirely new woman. (And if you can't afford a spa treatment, and your partner is comfortable with it, give your partner a massage yourself,)
Make Sure She Gets Plenty Of Rest
Nothing gives you necessary perspective like a good night's sleep. Now, if your partner is breastfeeding obviously going to bed for 6 or 8 hours isn't going to necessarily be possible (even she pumps, because engorgement is the absolute worst). But you can either bring the baby to her or get up and help her so that she can stay basically half-asleep while she feeds the baby. You can be the one to wake up with the baby in the morning (especially if it's over the weekend) and let her sleep in a few extra hours.
Do Not, For Any Reason, Discuss Her Weight...
There's honestly no reason to discuss anyone's weight, ever, unless you're a doctor and there's a medical reason. Don't pick some number on the scale and encourage your partner to reach it. She is not defined by a number and she doesn't need the added pressure of a partner telling her, "Your body will be worthy when it weighs this much."
Her body is worthy now. Her body was worthy when it was pregnant. Her body has always been worthy and it will always be worthy and there's no reason to attach a number to someone's self-worth. Absolutely not.
...Or Talk About How Her Body "Used" To Look
It doesn't matter.
Thank Her For Using Her Body To Create, Birth And Sustain A Human Life
In the hustle and bustle of new-parent life, it can be easy to forget to thank one another for all that you both have done and all that you both continue to do. If you're looking to help your partner fall in love with her postpartum body, thank her for being willing to put her body through so much to create another human life. I mean, that's incredible. It is a sacrifice. It isn't always (read: ever) easy and it is taxing. Thank her, and remind her that her body deserves thanks too, because it has truly done something extraordinary.