There’s no doubt about it—having a baby changes our bodies…for worse in some ways, but also for better. For example, after giving birth to Jack my body was in BAD shape. Though I didn’t have a c-section, I was essentially on house arrest for the full 6 weeks after delivery and only allowed to go up and down my stairs once in the morning and once at night to actually get to my bed. It. Was. Awful. And thankfully, a short, temporary season. Aside from that, I have experienced a couple more permanent ones, like peeing my pants a little when I go running or sneeze (ha!), and having a chest that will never be quite the same.
On the other hand, I’ve been surprised by a few changes for the better. I’ve had a sort of weird body image since college when I was dealing with an eating disorder. While the eating disorder thing got figured out, my view of myself never really healed…until now. Perhaps it’s because I see my body as so much more than an object now, but rather as a valuable, functional vessel. I carried Jack in my body, physically pushed him out of after pushing for over four hours, and now feel grateful daily for strength in my legs and arms to carry and bounce and nurse him. It’s amazing. Also, I had a pretty low pain tolerance before giving birth, but I’ve found that my physical endurance with exercise has increased by leaps and bounds since September. I guess running up a big hill is nothing compared to contractions!
Since I find this topic endlessly fascinating and am always curious to hear about other people’s experiences, I asked a few mom friends of mine to share a bit about how their body and view of their body has changed along the way as they’ve had children. Here’s what they had to say…
My body shifted quite a bit postpartum and has never really returned, of course! On bad days, I lament the change and begin to research slenderizing leggings and trendy ab exercises. But on good days, I see my wider hips as an outward expansion of the inward growth I’d need to rely on as a mother. My tummy is softer, sure, but it means a cozy napping spot for my daughter, and if that offers an extra ten pounds to tote around, I can learn to live with it. —Erin Loechner, Design for Mankind
Other than my boobs looking like a giant stretch mark, I tell everybody that having 4 children was the best thing that happened to my body and my relationship with food. Prior to giving birth I had a view of myself that was all wrong. I remember standing in front of the mirror and telling myself I would be “good” tomorrow as I scanned all of (what I thought) were my flaws, wishing that I wasn’t the girl that had the athletic look. When I found out I was pregnant, something inside of me shifted and I began to view my body as having a much higher purpose and everything I put in it was fuel for the baby. I continued to exercise because I wanted to have energy and the best possible outcome for labor and delivery, but I didn’t obsess over calories and whether or not I would have dessert. I’ve always been naturally strong (I owe it to good genes!) and when it came to labor and delivery, it took maybe 5 pushes and my sweet Emma was OUT. I remember feeling so proud and like I had just completed a marathon. Our bodies can do amazing things. Although I miss my strong core and my perky chest, I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Just give me a 5-year break! ;) —Mary Beth Johnson, @annapolisandco
The postpartum body surprised me in a number of ways. In the first few weeks following my daughter’s birth I was completely overwhelmed by how foreign my body felt. Not only was I big, soft and puffy in different ways, I also felt like I was dressing Pamela Anderson’s chest. I honestly couldn’t contain my new “breastfeeding situation” and at the time, didn’t realize this was only temporary. Looking back now, I know that doesn’t last forever, but it was certainly shocking and troubling those first few weeks.
Physically speaking I was amazed by how weak and tired my pelvic floor was when I returned to exercise. As a Pilates instructor I am perhaps more in tune with the way different muscle groups function and feel than the average person, which gave me a whole new perspective when it comes to training women in the postpartum season. Thankfully, I didn’t sustain any permanent damage to the pelvic floor but it certainly made me realize the importance of taking it slow when returning to fitness and how progressing too fast can cause long term damage that could have easily been avoided.
As for my body confidence – as the months went on I was also surprised at a whole new sense of confidence and pride in my body. Exercise became more about how it made me feel and what kind of mother I will be to my daughter, and less about trying to lose a certain amount of weight or look a certain way. After about a year I felt better about my postpartum body than I had ever felt about my body prior to getting pregnant.
As I am now 7 months pregnant with my second child I’m going through the whole cycle again and remembering that the ups and downs are all part of the process. It’s tempting to get caught up on the scale or compare my body to what a pregnant Pilates instructor “should” look like but instead I’m choosing to embrace the miracle, care for my body and let nature run it’s course. It makes me sad when I hear women say “your body will never be the same” in a negative way. That’s true in that it will never be the same (you’ve carried a life!) but pregnancy has the potential to change your body and body image for the better if you go about it the right way. —Robin Long, The Balanced Life
It may come as a surprise but I am “relatively” happy with my body post-baby. Yes, my booty is droopier than I would like and yes, I now own as many bras as a lingerie store because of my ever-changing size, but overall I am happy. I do believe I owe a lot to nursing, I had always heard that it helps you loose the baby weight and that does seem to be true in my case. I am amazed when I look back at photos of me towards the end of my pregnancy, the human body is seriously amazing! —Katie Koentje, NEAT Method
Pregnancy is a wonderfully weird and beautiful thing. I’m thankful to have felt pretty good during both of my pregnancies (excluding the first trimester!), but the changes in my body definitely take some time to get used to. I have been able to easily maintain a vegan diet and exercise regularly, but still tend to gain about 40 pounds. Both times I have felt a little out of control, like I’m no longer in charge of my body. It’s a strange feeling to get used to! The one thing that pregnancy proves to me though, is how amazing our bodies are. They become homes to amazing little babies and bounce back in no time. It has left me feeling strong, wonderful and so very thankful! —Bonnie Forkner, Going Home to Roost
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A LITTLE NOTE ABOUT TAILORING AND INVESTMENT PIECES: The dress I’m wearing has been hemmed by my tailor for my perfect fit. This dress is made longer (on my 5’4″ body it hit right at the knees) for maximum versatility. It can be worn during and after pregnancy, and also easily worn by taller women or anyone looking for a more modest dress. I like my dresses on the shorter side, so I tailored mine, but it’s worth noting that the dress won’t look exactly like mine when it arrives on your doorstep. As far as pricing goes, this dress is undeniably an investment piece. It’s not for everyone, but it is absolutely a worthy purchase for fellow minimalists who are interested in quality over quantity. It’s ideal for those of you who are pregnant (or plan to be!), work in a professional environment and need to pump during the day, or non-pregnant, non breastfeeding moms who just want to wear high quality pretty dresses that they can wear and throw in a washing machine. (That’s right—this dress is machine washable!) Get all the deets about the Ellen Dress here.
(This post was created in partnership with Mitera Collection, a brand whose mission I love and support. For every dress they sell, Mitera helps support the work of organizations dedicated to improving maternal and newborn health! Thanks for supporting the brands that make Thoughts By Natalie possible!)