Body image after baby: Three tools to strengthen your relationship with yourself

It’s hard to remember a time before I struggled with my feelings toward my body. Over the years, I’ve done a great deal of work around body acceptance. It had never been easy, but it had paid off in giving me a stronger and more positive sense of myself. But this was tested after my last pregnancy.

I’ve always felt more accepting of my body while pregnant. Feeling my little ones move inside me always was a great reminder of how capable my body is. Plus, body changes and weight gain in pregnancy have felt easily “justified” and accepted by society. Of course her body is changing!  She’s growing a human! But there is also this idea that when we no longer have a “socially acceptable” reason, we should instantly return to our pre-pregnancy bodies. Enter the dreaded and unhealthy “bounce-back” culture.

Having been through a postpartum experience before, I honestly wasn’t too concerned about what my body image would be like after my second. When my body didn’t take a familiar shape after number two, I felt uncomfortable and even self-critical.

Not only was I navigating being a mom to an infant and transitioning from one to two kids, but now I was faced with this feeling of disconnection from my body. I had so many negative thoughts and feelings looking at my body in the mirror. It felt foreign to me, and I struggled for some time with how to accept my new body.

After some time, I realized that my expectations for my physical body were unfair.  I had changed so much both mentally and emotionally after having my second child, yet I had this expectation that my physical body would remain unchanged after such a life-altering event.

I want to be clear that working to accept my post-partum body has not been easy, and it is something I still have to consciously work towards daily. Below are some things that have helped me move into a space of acceptance:

  1. I bought new clothes. As much as I wanted to save money especially after buying maternity clothes and with the uncertainty of how my body may continue to transform postpartum, I realized that wearing clothes that fit a previous version of my body made me constantly long for that version. It also made me physically uncomfortable not having clothes that fit my current body which increased negative body image thoughts. I started small by buying a few new pieces of clothing that I felt comfortable wearing.
  2. In times of increased judgments about my body, I worked to focus on my values. For me, working to change my body has never been how I went to spend my time especially when it means giving up those coveted baby snuggles. When I am noticing judgments about my body, I make a conscious choice of the values I want to focus on that day, and what qualities I want to bring to my interactions with others i.e., being a present mom or an engaging and caring friend. Shifting my focus from how my body looks to what I want to stand for in that moment helps remind me that I am more than my body.
  3. I work on body acceptance not body love. It is amazing that some people can get to a place of loving their bodies no matter what. However, that is not me. There are some days where I can tolerate my body, a few days where I might not completely dislike my body, but often I am just not used to my postpartum body and because of that I do not like it. The nice part about acceptance is you do not have to like it to accept it. I can say to myself “I hate how my body looks today, but this is the body that I have so let me focus on building this Lego castle with my son.” Acceptance means I will not actively try to change my body because in doing so I am missing out on something that matters more to me such as being nap trapped by my baby.

If you’re struggling with your body, whether because of changes from motherhood, life or just those unhelpful societal messages we all receive, I want to acknowledge how hard that is and how frustrating that there is no easy fix. It is okay to grieve your old body and to feel uncertain about your new body. It is even okay to not like your new body.

However, I also want to give you permission to let go of the need to justify your body.  I hope you take away the ability to acknowledge your body and allow it to be even if you are struggling to like it. The ability to give your body grace to grow and change with you as you allow other areas of yourself to grow and change throughout life.

Michelle Piven is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and Supervisor. She has extensive experience treating eating, mood and anxiety disorders in both adolescents and adults. Michelle also provides individualized parent coaching to families navigating big feelings, transitions, and challenging behaviors.

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