Postpartum Bodies: The ‘Bounce Back’ Isn’t Real — ‘Embracing’ Ourselves is Complicated
Pregnancy and postpartum life transforms our bodies in beautiful, yet occasionally uncomfortable, ways
By my late 20s, it finally happened. The combination of a mindset shift and positive life changes left me with my healthiest and happiest body image ever, which had seemed all but impossible during my years of extreme dieting, punishing exercise regimes and debilitatingly low self-esteem.
Then my husband and I decided to have a baby.
Although I looked forward to motherhood and even pregnancy itself, I also anxiously wondered if the physical transition would reverse the work I had done to develop a better body image. But while I harbored these thoughts without speaking them, I wasn’t alone: Research shows body dissatisfaction during and after pregnancy is a top concern for many women, yet we’re largely on our own to find resources and support.
Reversing a lifelong ‘weight loss’ mindset during pregnancy isn’t always easy
A 2014 review of studies into body image and pregnancy found that, despite the immense pressure women feel to “bounce back” after pregnancy, there is little support and even less research exploring the scientific impact of pregnancy on body image. The review determined that body dissatisfaction in pregnancy is often associated with “low mood, importance of body image, perceived socio-cultural pressure, intention to breastfeed and eating restraint.”
While most women feel weight gain during pregnancy is more socially acceptable than weight gain in other times of life, difficulties were reported during the first trimester “when the waist thickens but the pregnancy is not yet visible” and “no one would recognize their excuse for having a larger body.”
This rang so true for me, especially before I had a tell-tale bump, but wasn’t able to button my old jeans. I had to stop myself from explaining why I was wearing a bigger dress size or not pushing myself harder at the gym―the desire to scream, “It’s just because I’m pregnant!!” driving me to distraction.