Accepting Your Post-Pregnancy Body
Postpartum: Nothing Is the Same
I know a lot of people who have had babies this year, many their first. I just had my third child a month ago. The shift from pregnancy to mothering is always an adjustment on many levels. Your time is different, your energy is zapped, your emotions are high, your attention is under intense demand, and your body is in flux.
Previously, your body has just spent 9 months going from it's original size to a weight and shape unlike, well, your norm. You may very well have looked like you had a beach ball attached to your front. You may have gained weight in more places than you would like. You may have sported a puffy face or ankles from swelling. Who knows? Every person is different and each pregnancy can vary in how your body feels, copes, and yes gains and loses the "baby weight."
Weight Gain and Loss Doesn't Always Add Up
Sure, no one likes to gain weight, but during pregnancy your thoughts are largely occuppied with growing your baby. However, often following the birth of your baby you have to come face to face with the facts that your body isn't the same... not yet, maybe never. The reality is some people don't gain as much as others. Some lose weight easier than others. Sometimes the weight gain and weight loss don't seem to add up. I've heard of women who have gained very little, yet struggle for a long time to lose those last pesky pounds. I've heard of women who gained a lot, and lost dramatic amounts the very first week going on to lose every last bit over the course of a few months.
Personally, I gained more during my first pregnancy than my second without doing anything different. My extra weight gain in my first pregnancy was largely due to water retention, and in the end, I actually lost my weight faster following my first pregnancy despite gaining ten pounds less my second pregnancy. I actually tried more actively to lose weight the second time around too. Still, it took twice as long to lose those final pounds. I partly considered the fact that I was getting older and my metabolism was slowing down. Then, came my third pregnancy. I lost most of my pregnancy weight soon after with my third baby, much much faster than my other two. I don't know why. The reality is that the weight gain and loss doesn't always make sense.
Give Yourself a Break
What you must allow for is some grace. Your body has gone through an amazing undertaking. You have literally incubated, fed, and grown a life inside you. Your hormones, your organs, your skin, your body parts have all transformed to bring forth the life of your child for NINE months. Why on earth would you expect to look back to normal a few weeks or even a few months later? Give yourself a break. I've heard it said, "It took nine months to gain this weight, I should get nine months to lose it." I think that sounds perfectly reasonable. Can we cheer if we are so fortunate to have those pounds shed sooner? Of course. Can we accept ourselves if it takes longer? Please do.
Now you have responsible healthy eating and exercising. You also have eating junky fattening food. Without making healthy choices you very likely won't lose weight. That's a fairly basic concept. On the other hand, I hear new moms stressing about "diets" and considering strenuous exercise before they even reach their 6 week appointment with their OBGYN. Seriously? Six weeks!?! Give yourself a break. You just had a baby. That's no small feat.
A New You: Keeping it Real
I do know that with each pregnancy I have found something about my body that has changed. The first time around, I had to welcome stretch marks into my life. I still hate them and secretly hope for a way to rid myself of them someday. The second time around, I realized that even when I reached my pre-pregnancy weight, I never reached my pre-pregnancy shape. My body was less firm, and I carried my weight in different spots than I ever had before. You may notice your body is not the same either.
Here's a few reality checks that have kept me grounded through three post-pregnancy body changes:
- My husband still thinks I'm sexy. For me, his opinion of my body is the only one that matters! Often, our husbands are much less hard on our bodies than we are, and they are quite pleased with how we look. (And IF he is picky about your post-pregnancy body, it's possible he's either shallow or a jerk. I'm just saying... it's possible.).
- All bodies deteriorate with time. Your body at 30, 40, 50, and on will never look like it did in your teen years. If you're going to add a few pounds with the years or start sagging you may as well have some wonderful children to show for it (or blame it on).
- Consider your less than perfect body evidence of bringing forth the miracle of life. I call my (despised) stretch marks my "Mommy marks." This name keeps them in perspective for me.
- Don't compare yourself to others. I followed all the advice from those who never got stretch marks, using this and that cream religiously. Guess what? I got stretch marks. Don't consider yourself inferior or think you messed up their perfect "stretch-mark free formula." Consider them LUCKY. Some women have gained very little weight or lose it all immediately after the baby is born. Oh, well. Again, they are fortunate, NOT the norm. Don't allow those friends or family to make you feel you've failed in some way. Shake it off. Each individual body responds differently during and after each separate pregnancy. As I mentioned before, during and after each of my three pregnancies my body gained and shed weight in varying amounts and times spans without any real rhyme or reason. Do your best to be healthy for the sake of you and your baby, and from there free yourself from any unrealistic expectations.
- Look at your children and ask yourself if you would trade them for a better body. I mean, seriously? I remember going to my 10 year class reunion just 3 months after birthing my second child. I was in decent shape, all things considered, but many of my closest friends were yet to be married business women who obviously were staying very slim, trim, and toned. Would I trade their lives and bodies for mine? Not for a second!
Reclaiming Your Body Image
I won't pretend, however, that we mom's wouldn't prefer to get back to our original weight someday or fit into those favorite pair of jeans. So, here's a few reasonable tips (that I need to be better about following too) for losing some of the baby weight and reclaiming some of the body you once knew:
- Breast-feeding. You can burn between 300-500 calories a day from breast-feeding your baby. Plus, your uterus contracts down to size more quickly when breast-feeding as nursing causes contractions.
- If the weather is nice, enjoy a walk with your baby. You can start this a week or two after giving birth IF you feel up to it. Walking is a gentle exercise to get your body moving particularly before your 6 week check-up when you still have restrictions on strenuous exercise and are still healing. Pushing a stroller gives you a little extra resistance during your walk too, which adds to the calorie burn.
- Don't deprive your body of too many calories. If you are breast-feeding, you need to have a healthy amount of calories for milk production. Plus, those first 6 weeks your body is still recovering, so don't start dieting just yet. Definitely avoid any particularly extreme diets (minimal calories or unbalanced meals). More serious dieting can come later.
- Eat healthy. Just because you're not dieting doesn't mean you eat unhealthy. Avoid food that offers no health benefits (think sweets and snack foods). Eat highly nutritional meals consisting largely of vegetable and fruits. Eating healthy foods until you are satisfied will likely provide you with less calories than partaking in junk food, yet without depriving yourself.
- After your six week appointment, slowly add exercise to your routine. Don't stress if you don't have the time or energy. But if you can put in a little time (even if it is a walk with your baby), go for it. Find ways to MOVE whether it's a specific exercise routine or being more active with your baby.
- Rest. Sleep-deprivation with a newborn is basically guaranteed. Yet, lack of sleep has been linked to weight gain or inability to lose weight. Don't fear this too much, but consider napping whenever you can. Extra sleep may be more beneficial at this point than exercise when your body and energy is depleted.
In the meantime, do yourself a favor. Purchase a few new tops and bottoms in a larger size. Don't consider them permanent clothes, rather postpartum clothes (just like you have maternity clothes). Treat yourself in this way without guilt. Face it, you're ready to move on from the maternity clothes, so after the first few weeks, consider a shopping trip. Pick clothes that FIT but also make you feel attractive. My mother encouraged me to do this and moms know best! Following my first pregnancy my mom bought me a few articles of clothing and I purchased a few too. Since then, I have used them after each pregnancy until they no longer fit well and I can welcome my "normal" size of clothes back into my closet.
Embracing the New You
In those days where you really just wish the scales would show a lower number, your pants would fit a little looser or your mirror would reveal a slightly trimmer figure, remember who you are... you are a MOTHER. What an amazing calling! What a precious gift! Look into the face of your child and you'll know exactly why there's so much more to life than the ideal body. You have a baby to LOVE.
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