I have three children and each of them have changed my body in different ways. I gained the appropriate amount of weight during pregnancy and breastfed all three so I assumed I would bounce back to my "old" body quickly.
But pregnancy left my body looking like a puzzle I could not quite put together. I assumed my tummy would look different, but it seemed that from breasts to knees my body got an invitation to go south and it gladly accepted.
I have spent a lot of time feeling like a stranger in my own body and too much wasted energy worrying about the way I look. It’s taken some time, but I am finally at a place where I can accept, and yes love, my post-pregnancy body. I look at my children and understand that choosing to love my body is one of the most important lessons I can pass on to them. Here are some tips that have helped me along the way.
Exercise: I encourage you to exercise with the mindset that you want to be healthy rather than with the goal of fitting into a bikini again. Every time I would begin an exercise routine with the goal of simply looking good, it never worked. I would become frustrated when I didn’t quickly look the way I wanted to look. When I finally started exercising to become strong and healthy I stuck with it. Now I see my body as something that has worked hard to birth and parent three children – I work at it to keep up with my kids and not to keep up with 20-year-olds at the beach. (Great online options are One Strong Mama and Expecting and Empowered. If you are in the Madison, WI area, I highly recommend the classes at Haumea).
Take a media break: Every time a celebrity has a baby the world goes all a flutter with how she looks. Magazines and TV want us to believe that women float out of the hospital sporting rock hard abs, smooth thighs, and perky (non-leaking!) breasts. It is just not true. It can be damaging to keep looking at these images and comparing our bodies to theirs. Find real moms to get together with and things will quickly come back into perspective. There are also amazing photographers, such as Jade Beall who photograph and show real bodies. If you are on social media frequently, find inspiring stories and photos of real people that make you feel good. (The @lifeafterbirthproject is another great option to follow on Instagram).
Accept your new normal: After fluctuating a lot after having kids, my weight is back to what it was before I got pregnant for the first time, but this does not mean that my body looks anything like it did back then! This point was pretty clear when after many years I was happy to be trying on (and fitting into) a pair of skinny jeans in a size from my pre-pregnancy days when my three-year-old declared loudly, “Mama, look at your big butt!” – And she was pointing at my stomach! There is sagging, jiggling, stretch marks, and the undeniable fact that my tummy and bread dough have something in common. I always assumed I would go right back to where I left off after shedding my maternity wear. But I quickly found that my bras didn’t fit right and that my weight didn’t correspond with the sizes I used to wear. Go and get professionally fitted for a bra, brave the dressing room and try on some new clothes, buy new shoes if your feet just aren’t the same, and do it all with the knowledge that what your body has done is truly amazing.
Get in the picture: I think this is the most important of all. Please do not stay out of pictures with your family just because you do not like the way you look. Don’t wait until you fit into those certain pair of jeans or until you are back to your pre-pregnancy weight. Trust me, your children will not look back at these photos and comment on how you were wearing yoga pants or the bulge your tummy makes when you sit down. They will notice you, their mother. The woman who carried them for 9 months and changed her entire body to give them life. Look at that picture and love yourself as unconditionally as your children love you.
**A portion of this post was originally published on Madison Mom.