Ending the War With My Postpartum Body

Our bodies work so hard for us and our babies. Here's how I shifted my mind to celebrating my postpartum body for all that it's done.

By Jessica Anderson

Photo Credit : Photo Credit: Life After Birth Project, @iamlekenah

Motherhood is a truly transformative experience. 

It has changed my heart, mind, and life in unimaginable ways. 

Accompanied by these changes is a new body that, many days, I no longer recognize. 

My body has been challenged, stretched, and pushed throughout my tenure as a mom. While many days I can appreciate this for the miracle that it is, there are still moments where I find myself scrutinizing the reflection looking back.  

I've learned that these difficulties are not unique to my experience. They're universally shared.

So – how do we show up to love and honor the bodies that have miraculously accomplished so much? Baby steps. 

Making the shift 

After the birth of my children, there is a distinct memory that's likely unique to each individual—entering the hospital suite bathroom and meeting the woman staring back. 

She's new, honestly. Given the hills and valleys she's climbed – even within the last few hours, she now sees the world through a new lens. A new baby and a new identity? It's a lot to take in. 

However, as I reflect, I recall showing myself a lot of grace at that moment.

"Look at what we did," I smiled back. Thank you. 

Perhaps it's easier to love your new body in these bright, joyful moments while the newborn endorphins are fresh. Sadly, these feelings eventually fade, and the experience shifts. 

As the months move along, the grace subsides. In its place, an antagonist my mind has artfully created. Should I have lost the baby weight by now? Will my stomach ever look normal again? 

Challenging negative thoughts

In some instances, these negative thoughts are an active conversation playing out in my mind. I'm an active participant. 

On other days, I'm not fully aware of them. I didn't invite them. It's an instance so brief that I'm oblivious to this intrusion. Yet, it will still have me in a tailspin for the remainder of the day. 

With practice, however, I'm learning. 

I'm learning to listen and recognize when I'm not showing my body the love it deserves. 

But it's a climb. It's an active pursuit of choosing to honor my body instead of condemning it. 

Here are some questions that have helped me reset. 

  1. How did my body nurture and help my baby/child today? 
  2. How can I show my body love and respect today? 
  3. How am I acknowledging all my body has done for me? 

By reframing negative thoughts with grace and compassion, I've shifted the focus from everything my body isn't to everything it is and has accomplished. 

Moving toward love and self-acceptance

The best gift I can offer myself in motherhood is patience, acceptance, and unconditional positive regard. We can live to see the other side when we practice this work consistently. 

Here are five ways I've moved toward postpartum body acceptance. 

Aim for body neutrality first. 

In the darkest days of despising my body, body positivity was the furthest thing from my reality. Whether it be staring into my closet with a heavy sigh or deleting pictures of myself shared by family and friends – it was a tough place to be. Like, really tough. 

Therefore, while radical love and self-acceptance are my goals for each new mother, I know they may not be attainable in those initial days, weeks, months, or even years. By striving for body neutrality as an initial goal, we are not committing to loving our new bodies with every *ounce* of our being, but we are committing to putting down our weapons. 

Celebrate all that has been accomplished. 

Let's look at the facts – a mother's body has accomplished some amazing feats. Many face debilitating nausea, exhaustion, and a slew of other symptoms during pregnancy. 

In birth, we anxiously wait to meet the child who we've wondered and dreamt about since we saw those two pink lines. We labor and battle until our child lies at our chest. 

In postpartum, we manage severe sleep deprivation, medical complications, recovery, swollen and aching breasts, night sweats, and emotional variability. 

Our bodies have sacrificed and will never be the same. Instead of this being discouraging, I let myself recognize the magnitude. 

I take a few minutes each day to be intentionally kind to my body. Positive affirmations have helped me reframe negative thinking. When thinking, "I hate my stretch marks," I remind myself, "Hey, I grew two humans in this body. Of course, it's going to look different." 

Move and eat in ways that feel good. 

The postpartum experience is challenging. One of the best ways to honor our postpartum bodies is to ditch the scale and drastic weight loss plans. Adding unrealistic "bounce back" societal standards for a recovering body only chips away further at our peace. 

By eating intuitively, I've shifted my focus from the number on the scale to what my body needs and what helps me feel my best. The same message goes for exercise. I've built a routine that is empowering and sustainable – not one that feels like punishment. 

Invest in clothes that fit. 

In those first few weeks and months postpartum, I lived in maternity leggings and baggy t-shirts.

However, as my maternity leave ended, I was left sorting through piles of starchy dress pants and slim-fitting tops. First issue? Nothing looked comfortable. Second problem – nothing fit. 

It's not that I expected my pre-pregnancy clothes to fit perfectly, but I hadn't planned for this dilemma. My solution? I bought one new pair of pants and two tops for this transition period. 

Sounds ok, right? Well, this transition period lasted two years. Only then did I invest in a wardrobe for my new body. Instead of being fearful of wasting money on larger clothing sizes, I embraced my new body and did my best to remove any emotion from the number on my pants. I bought clothes to embrace the new body I was in – not the one I was waiting for.

Find balance with social media. 

Social media impacts us all in more ways than one – often even without our awareness. 

Instead of eliminating social media altogether, I shifted my consumption to content that was meaningful for me and helped me feel good in my skin. 

I became quick friends with mute and unfollow. I unfollowed any accounts that resulted in negative self-talk. And I chose to find accounts I connected with – whether concerning mental health, body positivity, motherhood, or all of the above. 

Filling my feed with like-minded individuals helped me move past body insecurity. Being intentional about the content I consumed drastically improved my beliefs about my body.

PSA: Social media can be deceptive. All moms have insecurities and challenges in their lives. Choose to follow accounts that don't only share the highlight reel.

Ending the war 

Looking back, I think about all the time wasted and joy stolen in criticizing my body. 

Instead of celebrating our accomplishments together, I was quick to cast judgment. 

My body and I have been through too much together to be at war. It's time to drop the weapons. 

After all, my body made me a mother. It has magically crafted the most perfect beings I've ever come to know. For that, I am forever in awe of its strength and beauty.

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