For many women, the fear of what their body might look like after giving birth is with them throughout pregnancy. Body changes can be really scary and uncomfortable especially with diet-culture inundating us with messages about needing to “get your body back.” The truth is, your body will change after you have your baby but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. There are things you can do to help yourself from spiraling into a negative place.
Focus on everything your body has done and is doing for you and your baby:
Your body just grew a baby (and a whole new organ: the placenta) and brought that little baby into the world. This means that your body did a lot of shifting, changing, and growing to accommodate that new life. In addition, your body is now tasked with feeding that baby, healing from the birth process, holding and carrying the baby, and doing all of that while getting very little sleep. Even still, it can be really hard to appreciate your body when you’re feeling uncomfortable and self-conscious in your skin. Try this exercise: when you get a free moment write down 1-3 things that you’re grateful for that your body does for you. For example: “I am grateful that I have strong arms to hold my baby.”
Aim for body neutrality over body positivity:
It can feel like a huge jump to go from not liking your body to loving it. Instead of striving for body positivity, it might feel more manageable to aim for body neutrality, the place in between love and hate. Rather than focusing on feeling great about your appearance, try working on radically accepting that your body is different, neither good nor bad, just different.
Observe negative body thoughts when they occur, then reframe them to give yourself grace and compassion:
This tip is a great exercise toward getting to a body neutral place. By bringing awareness to negative body thoughts, you are able to reframe those thoughts into neutral thoughts or even appreciative thoughts.
Here are some examples:
You think: I hate that my belly looks like I’m still pregnant.
Reframe: My belly looks different now than it did before I had a baby.
Notice that we name and observe without judging. It’s neither positive nor negative; it's neutral.
You think: The stretch marks on my hips and belly are so gross
Reframe: I’m thankful that my body was able to stretch and change to allow me to carry my baby
In this example, a negative thought is reframed into a thought of gratitude and appreciation. You don’t have to pretend to love your body when you don’t, but you can practice embracing the body you have.
Don’t force yourself into your pre-pregnancy clothing:
Going up a clothing size has so much shame attached to it in our culture, but the truth is that wearing clothing that fits comfortably is a way to honor and respect your body. When you wear clothing that no longer fits and is uncomfortable, it draws your attention to the areas of your body that you may already be feeling insecure about and sends you further into the shame spiral.
Don’t hesitate to get clothing that fits your current body or to continue to wear your maternity clothing. The only person that knows the size of your clothing is you. Sizing up is not giving up or letting yourself go; it’s choosing to treat your body with dignity.
Getting new clothing doesn't have to be expensive. You can shop at thrift stores, participate in clothing swaps, check out places like Facebook marketplace, or look into “buy nothing, sell nothing groups” in your area.
Stop body checking:
Body checking is a habit that so many of us do without even noticing we’re doing it. This is the practice of constantly looking at your reflection when you pass a large window, lifting your shirt to look at your belly every time you're in the bathroom, weighing yourself every morning or evening, or constantly pulling at and making sure your clothes are in place.
Making an effort to stop this habit when you notice that you’re doing it will go a long way toward taking your attention off of your appearance. It’s hard to feel negatively about something that you’re not thinking about and constantly looking at.
Here are some ways that you can break yourself of this habit:
- Get rid of the scale or at least put it out of sight.
- Do things that you would normally do in the bathroom, like brushing your teeth or hair, in the kitchen or living room to avoid the mirror
- Wear clothes that you like and feel good in so you’re not fussing with them throughout the day
- When you walk past reflective surfaces distract yourself by calling or talking with a friend.
Another way to combat body checking is to zoom out. Try to view yourself as a whole person rather than just body parts. Think of how you see your friends and family members. When you look at them, you’re not simply noticing their belly or legs. Rather, you’re seeing them as a whole, recognizing all the things you appreciate and love about them as a person. Although challenging, this is an exercise that you can do when looking at yourself. Instead of hyper focusing on all the areas of your body that you don’t like, acknowledge the things you like and appreciate about yourself as a person.
Listen to and trust your body:
Even when you don’t feel great about your body, you can still listen to and trust your body's cues. Your body wants to function optimally and will send signals to get you to do health promoting behaviors. It seems pretty basic, but your body’s hunger and fullness cues, thirst cues, signals to rest and slow down, and signs to move your body don’t typically need to be questioned. You can believe that your body is working for you and you can do these things without guilt.
There is a trope that mothers have to do it all and put themselves second. But there is no badge of honor for neglecting to eat all day because you were too busy, or for getting your workout in even though you were exhausted. You don’t get a prize for putting your needs last or doing the laundry instead of taking much needed rest.
Providing yourself with your basic needs is not only health promoting but also fosters a sense of respect and esteem for your body that will help you to accept and appreciate the body you currently have.
Honor your body by eating foods and moving in a way that makes you feel good:
When you are feeling down about your body, it can be really easy to think that you need to restrict your foods or only eat foods that are low calorie. When you’re self-conscious in your body and desperately want to feel better, punishing workouts feel appropriate. However, these actions are unsustainable and incompatible with treating your body with love and kindness.
Instead of restricting foods, give yourself unconditional permission to eat the foods you enjoy. By allowing all foods, you are able to eat them in moderation and in accordance with your body’s hunger and fullness signals. Keep in mind that you’re also still in the process of healing, possibly breastfeeding, not getting much sleep, and carrying around an extra little bundle of joy. All of these things require more energy and may mean that you have a bigger appetite than you did even during pregnancy.
When it comes to exercise, just because some is good doesn’t mean that more is better. When you exercise, you should finish your workout feeling happier, stronger, and more energized. Make sure that the movement you're choosing to do is supporting your new life as a parent and not making it harder or more stressful. Choose exercises you like to do over ones that you think will give you the “best” workout. Moving in a way that is joyful means that you are more likely to continue exercising consistently and in a way that feels good.
Remember that you are so much more than a number on a scale:
Not only is the number on the scale a deficient and flawed metric of health, it can also be very emotionally triggering. The number on the scale is not a reflection of your worth as a person, partner, or parent. You are not a number. You are an amazing person who’s doing your best. You are enough!