Finding Trust and Acceptance In Your Postpartum Body
I can’t think of any other time in my life where I received more looks and comments on the shape and changes of my body than when I was pregnant and a new mom. As a dietitian, I felt pressure to not gain too much weight and to also be on top of immediately losing the weight after giving birth. Perhaps that was a self imposed pressure, like so many of us new moms feel.
With my second pregnancy, I gained close to 45 pounds which was about ten or so more than during my first. During both pregnancies I didn’t weigh myself often and instead trusted in my hunger cues and allowed them to guide me. It turned out that my body wanted those extra pounds the second time around, something I was choosing to embrace.
However, that didn’t stop me from feeling a bit shocked by the numbers at those last OB visits.
But I told myself I really did need those extra pounds, because in all honesty – I was a little too thin going into this pregnancy. My body knew what it needed to do to bring me back into a healthier range for me and my growing baby.
But I couldn’t help but wonder – was I going to easily “lose the baby weight” this time around?
So here I am, a few months postpartum and about 15 pounds up from where I usually feel the most comfortable. I wish I could say that I don’t care about the extra pounds because after all my body did just do the amazing thing of growing, birthing, and now feeding a child.
But the truth is, it’s an ongoing conversation I have with myself.
The same conversation I have with my patients. That right now, in the precious 4th trimester period, my focus needs to be on healing my body and nurturing my baby.
I do my best to remind myself that each part of me is doing a job – my bigger breasts are making and storing milk. My fleshier butt and thighs are creating long chain fatty acids that are made especially for nourishing my baby’s brain. My larger arms are helping me pick up my toddler. My softer tummy is a squishier landing zone for my sleeping newborn, as well as extra nutrient insurance in the unlikely event a famine strikes my house.
And just like during pregnancy, I’m not going to count any calories or do anything dramatic in order to “lose the baby weight.” I’m not looking to “bounce back” quickly and I’m not in a rush to erase what remains of my 40 week and 3 day pregnancy resulting in a luscious 9 pound baby boy.
Instead I’m focusing on trust and acceptance:
- I accept that I still look a little pregnant.
- I trust that when my baby and I start sleeping longer stretches, my cortisol will decrease making weight loss easier.
- I accept that I’m a mother of 2 now and my body may not ever be what it was prior to having children.
- I trust that my postpartum rollercoaster hormones will level out after about 6 months and my estrogen and progesterone will be more supportive of finding and maintaining my healthy weight.
- I accept that I’m not 25 anymore and my body’s natural “set point” of weight is different after 35.
- I trust that my body will send me hunger cues to tell me how much and what I need to eat, and I accept that ravenous breastfeeding hunger may mean I keep a few extra pounds.
While I sense that this is slowly beginning to change, often I see in my clients and in society that the expectations and language surrounding postpartum women is for the baby weight to effortlessly melt off by the time we reach our 6 week OB visit. While I suppose that happens in a minority of women, for the rest it takes longer.
I tell my patients (as well as myself) that there are several things to consider when taking steps toward encouraging our bodies to find balance with weight at a healthy pace, a few of which I’m sharing below:
For the majority of my postpartum clients, I recommend not putting too much focus on weight until after 6 months postpartum. I know, I know, easier said than done- but up until that point your hormones will be fighting against you and any dramatic changes to your exercise and diet may be met with opposition until things level out. By this point you’re more likely to be settled into a routine as well so cooking nutritiously and exercising come easier.
Sleep and stress.
Having a new baby can be stressful, and most women find the lack of sleep to be challenging. Both of these can cause cortisol in the body to increase, which can cause us to hold onto extra weight. Working on decreasing the body’s response to stress with meditation will help significantly with this, and getting extra sleep whenever possible will also decrease the stress response that happens due to lack of sleep.
This isn’t always a magic bullet for weight loss. About half of the women I work with will hold onto an extra 10 or so pounds until after they wean. Nursing requires a ton of calories and often this means ravenous hunger. Cutting nutrients (like calories, carbs, fat) usually will backfire by negatively affecting supply.
It can be difficult to sit down for regular meals in the early days with an infant. I know that personally I have a hard time with having a balanced lunch, and if I go too long between meals I’ll be so hungry it’s hard to make a healthy choice when I do sit down to eat. Skipping meals can also send hormones into a tizzy again making it harder to balance hunger and weight.
With all of this in mind, It’s my hope that we can begin to celebrate the amazing accomplishments of pregnancy, birth and new motherhood by trying our best not to vilify our softer bodies in the process. But it’s just that – a process.
Bodies don’t change overnight, and neither do our views on our own. It’s ok to be somewhere in the middle of body acceptance and wanting to feel good in your skin. Let’s continue the internal monologue to focus on healing and nourishing our bodies and babies, and trusting that a balance will find itself at the right time. Just like with anything, the more you say it the more it becomes the truth.
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