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Last week, in response to a question I’d posted on Facebook, a great coach I know replied with concern she has regarding clients and pregnancy: “I get clients worrying about weight gain during and after – There is this sort of vague fear that after they have a child they will never be able to be fit again, or that it is really, really hard.” While nutrition and exercise can certainly play a role in how much pregnancy weight is gained, and how much we’re able to lose afterwards, what this statement ultimately boils down to is the idea of loving your postpartum body when it’s potentially very different than the one you had before.
I really understand the fear she mentioned. When I was pregnant, I definitely thought about the weight gain. As a person who very rarely weighed herself, I found that the pregnant version of me was hopping on the scale every week, to make sure that my gain was within the suggested range. I wanted to be sure to gain enough, but also not too much. I wanted to make sure kiddo was getting all the nutrients he needed to grow (and grow, he did – he was 9.5lbs at birth!), while also making sure that I wasn’t overdoing it. I didn’t want to make it overly difficult to lose the pregnancy weight afterwards. While I didn’t have a fear of “never being able to be fit again,” I definitely did wonder if my body would ever be able to look even remotely similar to how it looked before. I looked at my huge stretched-out belly, with a belly button I didn’t even recognize, and thought “Yeah, there’s no way that’s ever going to be back to normal!”
So pregnant and post-partum ladies, I commiserate with you! I get it! I want to admit though, that I didn’t always understand this. My younger self assumed, naively, that once the kid was out, your body would just go back to “normal” since there was no longer a person inside it taking up space. Ha! Yeah right. I don’t think I fully grasped the amazingness that is a pregnant body. The fact that organs can rearrange themselves to make room for a growing person is a big freaking deal, people! The ability of a stomach to stretch that much in that short of a time-span, is simply incredible. Yes, skin can shrink back down. And yes, it is possible to lose the pregnancy weight. But we need to realize a very important thing…
The body you have after being pregnant is going to be different than the one you had before. And this is 110% OKAY!
An early postpartum body is many things. It is exhausted, and sleepy, and recovering, and bleeding, and squishy. The belly is still big. Core and pelvic floor muscles have been put through the ringer and need a refresher course on how to work for a non-pregnant body. There is a whole mess of hormone soup going on. Breasts are trying to figure out how to make milk. The postpartum body is totally crazy, and incredibly freaking awesome.
That body will recover from the pregnancy and birth. But it will never be the same as it was before it grew a person in it. That is NOT to say it won’t be fit again afterwards. There are lots of examples of moms who have done extraordinarily impressive physical feats after having their kids. There are moms who are Olympians, and moms who have gone on to do bodybuilding or figure competitions. There are moms who run marathons, or triathlons. There are moms who teach fitness classes. There are examples all around us of moms who prove we can be very, very fit after having children. But their bodies are still different than the bodies they had before they had their kids. They are fit, but they are a different kind of fit.
I wonder if we’d all be more compassionate and understanding with our postpartum bodies if we were to revise our expectations of what those bodies would be like. If we expect to return to what used to be our “normal,” we are likely to be upset and disappointed when that doesn’t happen. Even if you’re lucky and get back to your pre-pregnancy weight relatively quickly, that number doesn’t mean that the body is the same. It may or may not look the same, even at the same weight. The external view of a body, and the inner knowledge of its form and function are two different things. This new body is different, no matter how you look at it. It grew a person. It stretched immeasurably. It did something insanely cool. And it will carry with it a reminder (or several) of the fact that it accomplished something so profound. If we can change our expectations to reflect this truth, then perhaps we’ll show our postpartum bodies a bit more TLC.
Loving your postpartum body shouldn’t be related to how much it resembles your pre-pregnancy one.[bctt tweet=”Loving your postpartum body shouldn’t be related to how much it resembles your pre-pregnancy one.” username=”raisingnutritn”]
It might eventually look similar, and it might not. Nutrition and exercise certainly play a role in the health of our postpartum bodies, but there is something else we need too: Acceptance. Accept the fact that this body is different. Accept the fact that your pre-pregnancy body is a previous version of you. Accept the fact that your postpartum body did something incredible, that you should be seriously proud of. Accept that regardless of whether you are pre- or post-pregnancy, it is completely within your control to love your current self.
Who cares if your belly is squishier than it used it to be? It grew a child! Who cares if you now have stretch marks? They are a reminder that your kid once lived inside you! Who cares if you’re 5, 10, 25, or 50 pounds heavier than before you had your kid(s)? Your weight has no bearing on your amazingness as a person. It’s time we gave these bodies the respect and awe that they deserve.
You CAN be fit and healthy after pregnancy. Just please dissociate that fact from what you think your postpartum body should look like. Revise your expectations, not in a depressing way, but in a way that takes into account the massive feat that your body has now accomplished. Because no matter what you do, you cannot take away the fact that this body grew a human. It is forever changed. And that is in no way a bad thing. In fact, it’s a pretty damn awesome thing! Treat that body with love, acceptance, and respect. I think you’ll be happy to find that doing so tends to have a side effect of treating that body in a health-promoting way.