If you listen carefully, you can hear it: the shift in our societal conversation on the pregnant and postpartum body. There is still plenty of chatter around "bouncing back after baby" and "losing the baby weight," but mamas everywhere are starting to fight back against this toxic narrative and share the imperfect beauty of the postpartum period.
We see the light, that the feat our bodies are undertaking to grow, birth and raise a child is awesome in its true meaning: it inspires awe.
As a Marriage and Family Therapist who has worked with many women suffering from eating disorders and exercise addiction, I have long wanted the conversation about women's bodies to change. As a soon-to-be mother of a baby girl, I need the conversation about women's bodies to change.
I dream of my daughter growing up in a society where women's bodies are honored and respected. I can see a world where the message postpartum women receive is not about losing the baby weight, but about celebrating and caring for this baby-making miracle of yours.
We still have work to do in this arena, and mamas, that work continues with us.
As a mom currently navigating my second pregnancy, I know that the changes your body experiences are far from a walk in the park. There is nothing quite like the addition of a new baby to change your body, daily life, priorities and relationships—and experiencing the changes in your body is a constant reminder of the changes to come in your world.
Not to mention the physical discomforts of pregnancy and the postpartum period: nausea, sciatic pain, swelling, leg cramps, fatigue, skin changes, leaking boobs, tearing, recovery from a C-section; you name it, a mom out there is dealing with it.
Our bodies work so hard for us and our babies. So read on for five tips on how we can honor this sacred work and celebrate our bodies during pregnancy and motherhood.
1. Practice body gratitude
After years of exposure to "false beauty" in advertising, it can become an easy and toxic habit to critique our bodies and pick apart different things about our appearance that we want to change. If you find yourself going down this rabbit hole, try to take a step back, shift your perspective, and give thanks to your body for all it does for you, especially during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
Start small: Thank you, hands, for letting me rest you on my belly and connect with my baby as I feel her sweet kicks and rolls. Thank you, eyes, for letting me soak in the sight of my beautiful newborn son. Thank you, arms, for letting me snuggle and cuddle and rock my child as she dozes on my chest. Thank you, legs, for letting me chase and wrangle my energetic toddler.
As women, we are typically taught to critique our bodies, so practicing body gratitude may feel unnatural at first. But if you practice this skill often, you may find yourself one day thanking your stretch marks for allowing your belly to grow and accommodate new life inside you. If you are breastfeeding, you might find yourself expressing gratitude to your leaking, swollen boobs that look nothing like the boobs you once knew for feeding and nourishing your baby.
With this perspective, we can shift out of criticism and into gratitude, which allows us to realize all of the hard work our bodies have done and continue to do to enable us to be amazing moms.
2. Acknowledge each physical stage of motherhood
You will find yourself navigating different physical stages of motherhood as you grow, birth and raise your children. Try to acknowledge and honor precisely where you are in each phase.
If you can barely keep food down or keep your eyes open during your first trimester, acknowledge the work your body is doing to pump hormones to grow each and every organ that your baby will need to survive. Did you know that all of this organ-building happens during those first 13 weeks of pregnancy?
During the second and third trimesters, your baby is borrowing your body's space and resources to grow into the baby that you will love and cuddle on your mama birth day. Your baby can almost double their weight during the eighth month of pregnancy, which means your body has to create the space to allow this—definitely not comfortable, but always incredible.
Recovering from childbirth, your body may feel tired. No matter how you give birth, you will be navigating the world in huge, mesh postpartum underwear (not even celebrities escape these, and they are glorious!). Your body has just undergone what is likely its greatest physical feat to date, and it is rebuilding and recovering.
If you are breastfeeding, you have entered a whole new world of leaking boobs, pumping, living your life in two to three hour increments, mastitis scares and nourishing your baby through the hard work of your body.
As a new mom, you are waking up around the clock to take care of your baby as your maternal instinct fights the all-encompassing exhaustion of sleep deprivation. As you raise your child, you are lugging baby gear, hauling strollers in and out the car, maneuvering protesting kids into car seats and keeping up with your toddler as they explore the world.
Your body allows you to keep up with the demands of mamahood through each of its stages, and that is something worth reflecting upon with the awe it deserves.
3. Find ways to give your body self-care
Just like we need self-care for our emotional well-being, we need to find ways to give our bodies the care that they deserve during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
Do you experience stress in your life? I'm going to guess your answer is a big, fat yes! Stress creates tension in the muscles in our body, and it is important to know how to relax our bodies to release this tension and better manage life's daily stressors. This is especially essential for the babies growing inside of us and the young children who are incredibly adept at picking up on our tension levels.
We can also give our bodies self-care by connecting with them through gentle movement, whether that's walking your dogs, strolling the block with your baby, or a mommy and me yoga class. Along the same lines, when your body asks you for rest, rest. Fuel your body with delicious and nutritious foods. Try acupuncture to nourish and recharge if your body feels maxed out and depleted.
Give your body the gift of wearing comfortable clothes that fit. This can be challenging as we navigate pregnancy and our postpartum days, but it's helpful to flex with the body we have at the time and allow ourselves to feel comfortable.
After you give birth, you may still get some (or a lot of) use out of your early-mid pregnancy clothes that are stretchy and accommodate a body that is in the midst of change. This is normal, so try to allow yourself and your body time to be cared for and comfortable as you grow into your role as mama.
4. Toss the scale
Even though pregnancy is a time when weight gain is encouraged and expected, seeing the numbers rise on the scale can be a triggering experience for women, especially for those with a history of an eating disorder.
If you find this happening to you, ditch the scale in your house. Tell the nurse during weight checks that you would like to face backward away from the scale, and request that the number not be shared with you. Tell your medical provider that you don't want to get wrapped up in numbers, but you would like them to monitor your weight and let you know that you are on track in a healthy way.
Allow your pregnant body to grow as it accommodates your baby without the stress of numbers, and trust your medical provider to monitor your progress here.
Instead of a weight check-in with numbers, use each prenatal appointment as a personal wellness check-in: How does your body feel? How are you feeling mentally and emotionally? What questions do you have for your doctor? Where might you benefit from some extra support in your pregnancy?
5. Surround yourself with a village of body positive women
I am convinced that there is no greater need for a village of women in your life than when you become a mom. Women struggle the most in the absence of a village, and having a strong support network during new motherhood has been shown to reduce rates of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and improve outcomes for breastfeeding and newborn nutritional status.
When working against a cultural narrative that tells us that our bodies need to be fixed, we need all the support we can get to choose a different story, one in which our bodies are cared for and honored.
Do a social media cleanse: scroll through your feed, notice any accounts that don't make you feel empowered about yourself and your body, and unfollow them. Check out these celebrities and who are promoting a healthy body image on social media, and these celeb mamas who are empowering women by speaking the truth about the postpartum period.
Find a group for moms you can join in your community and get to work supporting one another on having a healthy body image in your motherhood journey.
I hope these suggestions can help you create meaningful ways to celebrate your body during pregnancy, the postpartum period and beyond because your body is a genuinely fantastic vehicle for all the love and challenges you will encounter as a mother.
From one pregnant, toddler-chasing mom to each of you in your unique stage of motherhood, I honor the beautiful work that you and your body are doing to support you in raising your children.