The Truth: Postpartum Bodies
Updated: Aug 8, 2019
Before we write anything, here are some images of postpartum bodies:
Now, hopefully we've proved that there is a huge variation in what we look like after birth, in the same way there is a huge difference in how people carry when they are pregnant. I looked like a whale. My friend worried her bump was too small.
It is important not to hide those images of women who were clearly in good shape before they got pregnant, like Sarah Stage. You will only find them later on Instagram, and if you do not take everything into consideration, you may have negative emotions regarding the images when actually, we should be accepting that everyone's body is different - but none are less amazing! Whilst it is important to talk about bodies that need time to return to what we consider as 'normal', Sarah Stage faced criticism for the way she looked too and that is equally unfair considering people were questioning how she was potentially harming her unborn child or being a poor role model.
It is therefore important to discuss what is actually happening to your body when you have a baby to encourage you to be kind to yourself and realistic about your body's progress.
Postpartum Bodies - What is happening?
After delivery of the baby, the uterus shrinks down to the level of the belly button, which helps explain why women lose an average of 12 pounds almost immediately after giving birth from the loss of fluids, blood, amniotic fluid and, of course, your baby! In this 24-hour period, your postpartum belly is already starting to go down. In other words, a lot of that baby weight was...baby.
However, you will probably still have a 'baby belly' for a while yet. If you had an IV or epidural, you may hold onto the fluid for a week or so. It can then take around 6 weeks for your uterus to shrink back to pre-baby size (the size of a closed fist). It is therefore important not to be concerned about your weight loss at this stage. Your body is recovering from carrying a child and will need time to heal. Do not obsess over loose skin or stretch marks or scarring at this stage. You will go through more changes.
There is some truth to the saying, 'nine months on, nine months off' in terms of weight gain, but this will vary depending on how much weight you gained during pregnancy. Some people find breastfeeding helps them lose weight; others find it makes no difference.
Remember that your maternity leave is a time for physical healing, and you will have emotional needs too during this time. You are unlikely to be sleeping as well as you were before you had the baby, and you may not be finding much time to cook the way you might want to.
So what is the answer in terms of weight loss (after 6 weeks)?
Ideally you would also include a little fitness each day. So how on earth does a new mum manage DAILY fitness? Well, remember fitness doesn't have to involve going to a gym for an hour (although time dedicated to that would be well-spent!). Go for a walk with the pram; use your stairs; do exercises on your lounge carpet - but ensure you are thinking about exercises that build your strength, not just cardio exercises. Accounts like Alex Jean Fitness have tons of home workout ideas, and she is sometimes balancing a child in there somewhere! If you can see a personal trainer who understands the needs of a postpartum body, you will find it so helpful and empowering.
You also need to considering what you are putting into your body. Fad diets are not the answer, as they will not promote long-term weight loss. Crash dieting is even worse as they can deny your body of nutrients and delay healing after birth, and deprive your baby of critical calories and nutrients if you're breastfeeding says Susan Kreiger, MPH, RD, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics,
Alex Marks, who works mainly with new mums, said: "Please stop exercising or eating to yield quick and unrealistic results, instead think about building a body that will bring you a life of freedom from disease, happiness in self and health for generations."
If you feel you are at the stage where you want to consider weight loss after your body has recovered from the birth, you will need to be in a calorie deficit. To help with your understanding of this, check out this video from Alex Marks. You may wish to use an app like My Fitness Pal. You will need to consult with a doctor if you are still breastfeeding as you need extra calories.
If you are breastfeeding, you need enough calories from key food groups (like whole grains, lean protein, fruits and veggies) to ensure you are consuming the vitamins and minerals necessary to promote healthy skin and weight maintenance. This kind of eating, alongside some daily fitness would allow you to not only keep yourself healthy, but also role-model a healthy lifestyle for your children.
However, in that video from Alex, notice that he still mentions fitness as part of the calorie deficit process, as well as considering the TYPE of exercise you are doing. Simply jumping on a treadmill is not going to give you the same sustainable results. There is so much more to say on this but for now, we hope the links give you a starting point.
What about stretch marks and loose skin?
Another worry new mums may have is about their skin. You may have stretch marks, some loose skin, or even some scarring. It is important to note that some women do not get the elasticity back after pregnancy, hence the loose skin in some areas. Yes, rub something on those stretch marks, grab some silicone gel if you have any keloid scarring from a c-section... But for many women, they change the way they feel about their body, embracing stretch marks and loose skin as memories of how amazing our bodies are throughout pregnancy.
It may take some adjustment in terms of our mindset, but remember, we are all different and 'there is beauty in every stage'.
Be kind to yourself. You may not look exactly the same as you did before your baby, but that's because you're not the same anymore; you are a mum! Lots has changed, but embracing your journey and making long-term commitments to your health has never been more of a priority. Check out Alex Marks on Instagram for daily tips on how to do this in a sustainable way.
Comment below: are you happy with your postpartum body? What was the biggest change you had to get used to?