Celebrating Your Postpartum Body
As much as we celebrate growing baby bumps and praise expecting mothers for their “pregnancy glow,” this body positivity often takes a sharp turn after childbirth. Whether it’s the media, well-intentioned family and friends, or simply comparing yourself to others, there can be undue pressure to look or feel a certain way in the early weeks and months postpartum. Understanding how to appreciate your changing body and reject toxic messages postpregnancy can protect your mental health and eating disorder recovery.
Reframing postpregnancy body talk
When you are in the postpartum haze as your body heals from childbirth and you learn to care for this new life you’ve brought into the world, it is easy to feel disconnected from your ever-changing body. This is especially true for those in eating disorder recovery who have a complicated history with their bodies and might feel triggered by the changes they are seeing and feeling.
In the weeks following birth, the reality is that many new mothers still “look pregnant.” The uterus is still stretched to fit the tiny human who lived there for 9 months, and the general trauma of childbirth causes swelling and other physical reactions. Over time, these effects will pass, and hormones will cause the uterus to contract and shrink.
As you heal, it can be helpful to do grounding exercises or meditations to better connect with your postpartum body. Naming the discomfort and recognizing that it will pass can take the power away from triggers you might be experiencing. Returning to your recovery toolbox can also be helpful, since so many eating disorder recovery tools can be applied during the postpregnancy season. For example:
- Body neutrality or appreciation. Try reframing thoughts about your body from how it looks to what it does functionally. For example, someone who is unhappy with their arms can reframe this as appreciation that their arms allow them to hold their child. This takes on a new meaning postpregnancy, appreciating every cell in your body for growing and birthing your new baby.
- Mindfulness. Taking each moment as it comes is easier said than done postpartum, but it can be helpful for those feeling understandably overwhelmed by the realities of healing while caring for your new baby. Practicing mindfulness exercises that have been helpful in your recovery can support you during this uncertain time, both with body image and mental health.
- Feeling your feelings. It is okay to still feel disconnected or negative toward your body as it changes postpartum. You’re also going through intense hormonal changes and likely sleep deprivation, which can make it all feel very heavy. Feeling your feelings is the only way through them. Surround yourself with people who support you through your feelings and understand this essential component of your mental health.
Fighting toxic messages: It starts in your closet
Many new mothers are faced with toxic messages about “bouncing back” and “losing the baby weight,” which can be easy to internalize during such a vulnerable time both physically and emotionally. What if, instead of trying to force our bodies to erase all evidence of the amazing things they did during pregnancy and childbirth, we embraced them? Entire industries would fall if we collectively decided to love ourselves through the postpartum period and let our bodies heal at their own pace.
For new mothers in recovery, the concept of fitting into your prepregnancy clothes can feel especially triggering as you navigate this new relationship with your body and your baby. This might bring back disordered thoughts or lead to behaviors that no longer serve you. It is important to note that many in eating disorder recovery are at higher risk for postpartum depression and anxiety, which can exacerbate disordered thoughts and behaviors. So be sure to know the warning signs and reach out for support if you need it.
The key is wearing clothes that fit your changing postpartum body, not changing your body to fit your prepregnancy clothes.
Tip 1: Reorganize your closet.
During pregnancy and postpartum, reorganizing your closet can actually improve your body image. Before you are faced with a closet of clothes that no longer fit, remove anything you will no longer be wearing and put it in storage under your bed or in the garage, out of sight. Fill that space with maternity clothes or other garments that fit your body as it grows. Similarly, postpregnancy, you can reorganize your closet to make sure it is filled with clothes that fit and feel good. This is something tangible you can do as you move through pregnancy and postpartum to set yourself up for success.
Tip 2: Repurpose maternity clothes.
No need to throw away those stretchy pants and comfy tops right away! Many new mothers continue wearing maternity clothes long after their baby is born. This is also a cost-effective option as a built-in wardrobe while your body continues changing during this period. Many maternity clothes are nursing friendly for those who choose to breastfeed, which is another plus.
Highs and lows of breastfeeding in eating disorder recovery
Breastfeeding is a very personal journey that can be especially complicated for those in eating disorder recovery. If you decide to breastfeed, it can be a special way to bond while nourishing your growing baby; it can also be challenging, painful, and very much nonlinear. There is a lot of pressure placed on new mothers to breastfeed, making the process that much harder to navigate.
It is common to experience challenges with milk supply, latching, and discomfort during the early days of breastfeeding. Though this is normal and experienced by many new mothers, it can feel triggering or retraumatizing for those in eating disorder recovery, like your body is failing you. If the problem does not improve and starts taking a toll on your mental health, it is perfectly valid to choose another way of feeding your baby that works better for your family.
There are also harmful messages around breastfeeding and weight loss postpregnancy, which further complicate the issue for those in eating disorder recovery. Comments about how breastfeeding can help you “lose the baby weight faster” or messaging around how many calories it burns are not helpful during a time when new mothers are especially vulnerable.
On the flip side, breastfeeding can be a healing process for those who have been at war with their bodies in the past. Nourishing your baby in this way can be a full-circle experience for mothers in eating disorder recovery.
The best thing to do is check in with yourself and ask, “Is this working for me and my baby?” If it is, continue your breastfeeding journey; if not, consider other options for you and your family that will better protect your mind and body.
Celebrities debunk the myth of "bounce back culture”
In recent years, celebrities have taken to social media to debunk the myth of bouncing back in an effort to normalize postpartum bodies and maternal mental health.
For example, singer Halsey recently spoke out against “bounce back culture” to set the record straight after people praised their postpartum body during a performance on SNL. They shared that their body “has felt like a stranger’s for a long time” and that it “is still changing.”
Actress Olivia Munn also took to social media to share about the realities of postpartum. In a recent video, she is seen rocking her baby boy with the caption, “My body hasn’t snapped back, but it made this little guy so I only have love for it.” Body appreciation at its finest.
It is important for those who have a platform to share authentic portrayals of what to expect postpartum, and we’re beginning to see a shift against the toxic messages that so many new mothers have faced for decades.
Eating disorder recovery and postpartum mental health
Though new mothers are often navigating a variety of minefields postpregnancy, the tools you developed in eating disorder recovery have built a strong foundation for mental health and body image that will support you during the postpartum period. If you start to notice some cracks in that foundation, which would be completely normal during this challenging time, reach out for support. You can even designate a close friend or family member to check in on you in the days, weeks, and months postpartum. So many things understandably take a back seat after your baby is born, but it’s important that your mental health not be one of them.