Adjusting to Your Postpartum Body

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Originally Posted on New Mama ProjectBy: Fiona Griffin, MS

ONE THING MANY WOMEN WORRY about is what will happen to their body during pregnancy, birth, and after baby.  It would be easy for me to say, “don’t worry about this, focus on the new baby and don’t make your body image such a priority,” but actually following my own advice would be hard.  The reality of our society is that women are constantly judged for their appearance. In some ways it may be empowering to see your body used with such profound purpose – creating and sustaining life.  In other ways it can be very difficult to physically care for a new baby, recover from birth, and adjust to a new postpartum body size and shape.

Beginning right after my daughter’s birth my biggest focus, regarding my body, was physical recovery. The impact that birth had on my body was quite shocking.  I had no idea that I would be so fatigued, bleeding so much,  very sore, having difficulty with incontinence for several weeks, and be out of breath and dizzy for the first few days if I stood up too long.  All of these physical challenges caught me off guard. I don’t like being caught off guard.  This made the postpartum period that much harder for me.  Everyone is different though, some women breeze through the physical recovery. I had a hard time knowing if my experience was normal during the first few days postpartum.  I remember googling frantically to learn about physical recovery after birth.

Becoming a mom meant shifting how I thought about the purpose of my body.  Now it was clearly meant to be used to nourish and care for baby.  When I thought of my body this way it didn’t seem to matter so much how it looked.

 

In addition to physically recovering from birth (and freaking out about said physical recovery), breastfeeding was a huge part of my new mom routine. From the moment the baby came I was nursing around the clock – I felt like the baby was attached to me at least 20 hours a day (warning: this may be an exaggeration). I felt like I no longer owned my body and that it’s purpose in the world was now to serve this baby.  Previously, I had thought of my body as sort of an outward expression of my personality and worth.  I knew that people judged me on my appearance.  But, the baby didn’t care about how sexy I was, what I was wearing or whether my legs were shaved.  She just wanted to be warm, comforted, and nursed.  It’s actually hard to express how much of a fundamental shift this was in my identity.

Becoming a mom meant shifting how I thought about the purpose of my body.  Now it was clearly meant to be used to nourish and care for baby.  When I thought of my body this way it didn’t seem to matter so much how it looked.  What mattered most was whether it worked to do its job of feeding baby. But I also knew people would still be assessing my outward appearance. On the one end of the spectrum I felt empowered by my maternal capacities, but on the other I felt like a frumpy middle aged woman in an airbrushed swimsuit spread. I am still working on how to find a balance between these two aspects of my identity, but wrestling with these ideas in the first few days of motherhood was really hard.

There are a few things that I did or wish I did that I believe can help ease the mental turmoil and physical discomfort that comes with the postpartum period. So what can we do when we're adjusting to our postpartum body?

1. I learned what typically happens to a woman’s body after birth.  I wish I had familiarized my self with this info beforehand, but better late than never.  I found a good timeline of what to expect and checked it daily.  I also called my midwife with lots of questions.

Educate yourself about what is going on with your body during the postpartum period. I appreciated the info presented on the blog The Alpha Parent in this post

2. I tried to take care of my body during the postpartum period.  It was really hard to stay in bed all day for several days, but I found that my body let me know when I pushed it too far. I also took herbal sits bath for the first few day and used pads coated in witch hazel to soothe my bottom.  I sat on lots of pillows or laid down in comfy positions. I tried really hard to focus on taking it easy and allowing my body to recover from the 12+ hours of work it did to birth the baby.

Allow for lots of rest, take herbal baths to soothe wounds, and eat lots of healthy nourishing food.  We also recommend making a postpartum wellness plan -Taylor offers a great Postpartum Wellness Toolkit on her website http://www.taylordavisdoula.com

3. As soon as my baby was born I told my husband to call my parents and tell them to get to our house as soon as they could.  I knew I was facing a challenge that I couldn’t get through without a lot of help. For a week straight my parents and husband cooked, cleaned, helped care for baby, and comforted me however I needed it.  At times I felt guilty that I wasn’t helping out more or felt ashamed that I needed so much support, but I really could not have gotten through that first week without them.  My mom was especially great at normalizing my experience and assuring me that there wasn’t anything wrong with me.

Use your support network to get the help you need to recover from birth and adjust to your new role.  Not sure what kind of help you need?  Consider signing up for our newsletter to get a copy of our Social Supports Guide. 

4. I found it really helpful to talk with supportive friends and family during the first week or two.  I found being a new mom really isolating (even with family around).  It helped me to talk to Taylor every day and share what was going on.  It also really helped to text with a cousin who had had her daughter 4 days before me.  Knowing I had someone going through just about the same thing was reassuring.  I also watched a lot of TV episodes while nursing.  Having something to entertain me for the endless hours on the couch or in bed helped me feel a little more like my old self in this strange new world.

Find self-care practices that help you feel good about your body.  Maybe this is relaxation, gentle exercise, or spending time with mothers who can relate to your experience.  Check out our Self-Care Quiz to get great ideas for self-care activities. 

5. I wasn’t sure what size clothes I would fit into or what I would want to wear after the baby was born.  So, I didn’t really have much ready.  I thought I might fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes right away  – this was not the case. I wore sweatpants and yoga pants a lot in the first few days.  I also had difficulty finding tops that fit. I had bought some nursing bras but they didn’t fit and I didn’t have any good tops.  My parents made an emergency run for nursing bras (sorry dad) and I made due with a few nursing tank tops.

It’s a good idea to plan on wearing some of your maternity clothes for a while after baby comes. You’ll probably want loose clothes that you don’t mind getting stained with various bodily fluids (yours and baby’s).  You could also consider some nursing specific apparel if you plan to breastfeed.

We want to hear from YOU!  What were some of the challenging physical changes you experienced after baby was born?  How did you manage physical recovery?  Share your story with us in the comments section. 

Please share to help us reach more mamas!

Fiona Griffin MS New Mama Project
Fiona Griffin MS New Mama Project

Fiona Griffin is a mental health counselor and the co-founder of New Mama Project, an online community offering support for postpartum mothers and space for real talk about the transition into motherhood.  The site offers a social supports guide and self-care quiz for new mamas that can be found

Fiona works with youth and families in Vermont where she lives with  her husband and daughter. You can learn more about Fiona at Fiona Griffin Counseling.

new mama project

New Mama Projectis an online community offering support for postpartum mothers and a space for real talk about the transition into motherhood. In addition to a weekly blog and newsletter, the site offers a social supports guide and self-care quiz for new mamas that can be found here:New Mama Project .  

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