On top of all of the work and stress that come with becoming a new mother, hormones and the huge life change of a new baby can trigger postpartum depression. On top of that, after having a baby you can feel like a stranger in your own body. Here's why the idea of getting your pre-baby body back is detrimental to maternal mental health.
Postpartum depression has a number of causes and, according to WomensHealth.gov, usually is a result of a combination of factors including brain chemistry, family history, hormonal changes, and stressful life events. But besides physiological changes, there is the unnecessary pressure from everywhere for women to be the ideal mom — moms should work, and care for kids, all while also being a "MILF" or "hot mom." Thus the stress of "getting back" to your pre-baby body. The idea is just not realistic, it's unnecessary, and it can be potentially damaging to women's health.
According to the New York Times, what is commonly acknowledged as postpartum depression can begin during pregnancy and can pop up through the first year of the baby's life. Postpartum depression can appear differently in different women, and research shows as many as one in five women can develop symptoms.
In addition to the emotional toll motherhood can take, pile on top of that the pregnancy weight gain. Then there's the fact that depression can sap your energy and medication to combat depression can cause weight gain, leading to serious additional stress and anxiety about body image issues.
One mom, Katherine Stone wrote for PostpartumProgress:
For me, it’s a big loop of feeling depressed, lacking the motivation to exercise, taking meds that are known to cause weight gain, emotionally eating, gaining weight and feeling even worse about myself, with a bad body image. It all leads me further into depression.
And there's research to back up the link between body image and depression. One study of 181 Australian women found that "...eating and weight gain concerns before and during pregnancy...were significantly associated with postpartum depression," according to a study from 2015.
So what can you do? First, be aware of how you're feeling during your pregnancy about your body. If you're struggling with body issues while you're pregnant, reach out for help. There are plenty of places you can go for everything from advice to total pregnant body inspo.
Second, you just have to exercise. Take it easy on yourself, especially if you're still physically recovering from the birth. But exercise won't just help the depression, it will help your body, too. One 2007 study of Taiwanese women found that there was only one thing more effective for treating postpartum depression than "pursuit of healthy lifestyles" and that remedy might be sitting right under your nose.
Women who have, and seek out, social support do better. Ask the people around you for help. Tell your partner how you're feeling. Don't try and do it all alone. It doesn't work. If you live far away from your peeps or are just a generally anti-social sort, push yourself to show up for support groups and classes where there are likely to be other moms. Join a church. Even if you're depressed and haven't taken a shower and feel awful, just go and find someone to talk to. Head to the park and look for another mom. You'd be surprised how open other mothers can be about offering support.
Let me be the first to offer any woman struggling with postpartum depression and any woman worried about getting her pre-baby body back a word of advice: Go easy on yourself. You just brought life into the world. That's really hard and major, so if you're not feeling 100 percent it's OK. Take care of your emotions and your body. And if you need help, just ask.