Postpartum Body Issues

You have a wonderful, sweet new baby. Your are powerful you – just gave birth and now you're making nourishing milk for your little one. So why does it seem like your body isn't quite right… or even downright ugly to you?

Roller-coaster emotions and hormone levels fill the postpartum period, just like they do during pregnancy. If you had a good birth, the euphoria of your experience probably left you feeling awesome for days. Your body pumped out hormones to make you fall in love with your baby. The birth, your sweet baby, and sleep are probably all you thought about.

But eventually those hormone levels settle and you come “back down to earth,” so to speak. Or, you may have had a hard birth experience with your baby and feel like you got cheated of those early days of joy.

As with my first four pregnancies, I never really had body image issues in my first four postpartum periods. I was fortunate to find that the baby weight just melted away, and did so very quickly. I lost most of it in the first few weeks postpartum.

Battling With My Body

Things are really tough this time around. I haven't lost all the baby weight yet. True, I've made a lot of progress, but I still have a long way to go to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight. This is really hard for me.

Our society is one that places much emphasis on your weight and your figure and to some extent I think that's a bad thing. It doesn't help new mothers.

But it's also true that being away from a good weight can cause health problems and cause us not feel as well or enjoy life as much as we should.

The real issue is finding the balance between what is reality and what our goals are.

For me the biggest challenge is the baby weight. I feel like not only is the scale not budging for the first time, but I do not like my body. I have a lot of respect for it. I keep reminding myself that I've grown an entire human being! And not only that, I'm still providing that child with her sole source of nourishment. That's an amazing thing!

I know that some of this “padding” that I have is going towards the goal of keeping Honor healthy and happy. I have certain spots that tend to get padded (such as an extra layer of fat just above my tailbone on my lower back) during pregnancy and then melt away gradually over my baby's first year.

But it's hard to know all these things logically and accept them. It's hard, especially when I'd like reach my pre-pregnancy weight now.

My pants don't fit well (I'm glad I wear lots skirts, but even one of my skirts doesn't fit well!). This is a constant reminder that I'm not where I'm supposed to be. Even worse than that is feeling like my belly is still flabby.

Logically I know that a lot of this is still just a slight postpartum belly – but really, it's hard. When I do wear pants there's the rounded look around the zipper where there's still rounded belly and I hate it! I have extra skin and extra padding all around. I look in the mirror and I want to just shear it off.

Respecting Where Your Body Is

I think the most important thing is to first respect where your body is at. It's probably not where you want it. Most of us do not go from birthing to bikini. Growing a baby does cause some extra padding. There is an impact on the muscles of your body, too. I know the separation in my tummy muscles causes much of my “mama belly” – and I'm working to close that. But that's another slow process.

Accepting that things take time is most important. I feel impatient because I want to lose the weight and tone my tummy muscles before my cycles resume. Historically my body has not been kind enough to give me a really long time of postpartum amenorrhea – so I expect to see my cycle around 8 months or so postpartum. I feel like the clock is ticking on me.

In reality I need to relax and know that it takes time. It took 9 months to grow this baby and it's OK if it takes a little time to let the baby weight come off and get my tummy back in shape.

Concrete Steps to Take

There are some steps to take when you feel poorly about your body image. First, as I urged above, realize that your body has just done a remarkable thing, and it's still nourishing your baby with your breastmilk. Some of the weight is going to come off slowly as your body converts the fat to energy to make breastmilk.

But that doesn't mean you need to sit around and do nothing (not that caring for a baby is doing nothing!) First, you can look at your diet. Modern diet recommendation focus on high levels of carbohydrates. Unfortunately your body takes carbohydrates and packs them on as fat! Your body breaks even “complex carbohydrates” (like whole grains) into simple sugars and then processes them into stored fat cells. Ironically a diet higher in fat, but low in carbohydrates, helps you lose baby fat faster.

During pregnancy a high protein diet is important and you should continue eating high protein postpartum. Opt for a diet high in protein with plenty of good fats in it. Sprinkle in a generous amount of vegetables and some fruits here or there. Try and keep carbohydrate-rich grains to a minimum. Our bodies can have trouble digesting them and simply packs them away as fat. The only high-carbohydrate meal a breastfeeding mother may really want is oatmeal – it can help boost your milk supply. I recommend you eat it with butter and cream and leave out the sugar (I'll admit I DO eat mine with a slight drizzle of maple syrup, though).

Another step you can take is to get moving. You're busy. You have a new baby. You don't have tons of time to exercise! But you can get out and take a walk with your baby every day. Maybe you can take a longer walk, or a hike along a nature trail a couple of times a week. This helps you feel better because it pulls in beneficial hormones – moderate exercise has been proven to do so. The key is “moderate.”

Don't go for a high-impact, “chronic” routine. That can just burn you out. Start with walks and gradually build up. If you're interested in more, I recommend a sensible routine you can do at home.

Also remember that the “mama belly” or “mummy tummy” is probably caused by muscles separating during your pregnancy. The Tupler Technique is simple to do and can bring those muscles back together for you. It may take time – for me, after five pregnancies, it's taking a lot of time and there's definitely frustration. But I can see it working, so I keep it up. Read more about that here.

Eating right and getting some movement in your day will help you feel a lot better, and will also help the baby weight move some. Plus, most babies love going on walks either in the stroller or the baby carrier 🙂

Of course you should remember that your body has carried a baby, and you're now nurturing your baby. If you're still early postpartum (like me!) try not to get too frustrated. Give yourself time and permission. This is especially critical if you did not start your pregnancy at your target weight and with a good body image.

You can and will get to where you want to be if you take concrete steps – but don't shortchange yourself. Get enough to eat, just eat the right foods. Go for some cheese, a handful of nuts, or a steak and don't reach for ice cream and potato chips! Remember you can eat good fats (these are natural fats like butter, coconut oil, bacon drippings, etc.) You can serve your broccoli with hollandaise or butter and eat your meat with a gravy made from drippings 🙂 This gives your body the fuel it needs and it makes rich milk for your baby.

Do get out and get moving. Do start a moderate exercise routine. But don't kill yourself working out at the gym. Don't let your stress levels mount as you wonder if your baby is really OK in the nursery! Sit your little one in a baby seat near you while you do a few things at home, then pop baby in a carrier and take a hike.

I recommend you grab the fitness guide I recommended, and take some time to explore Mark's site, too. And if you still have a “mama belly” do read over my posts about the Tupler technique. It's simple to do and really helps. Reach out for help and support if you need it (feel free to leave comments here!).

Know that frustration and dissatisfaction is inevitable, especially during these times of emotional ups and downs – but you can make progress while you enjoy your life and your baby. You can make peace with your body… and take steps to get it where you want it 🙂

Click Here to Go to Part 5 of This Series

Healing a Diastasis Series

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About the author 

Kristen

Kristen is childbirth educator, student midwife, and a mama to 8 - all born naturally! She has spent years helping mamas have healthy babies, give birth naturally, and enjoy the adventure of motherhood. Find her on her website NaturalBirthandBabyCare.com and helping families through her online childbirth class MamaBabyBirthing.com

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