There are so many things women struggle with during the postpartum period, and adjusting to their new postpartum body is high on the list. In a study published in Body Image in 2018, nearly half of postpartum women report actively trying to lose weight. We have discussed the need to be more honest with new moms about postpartum recovery.
We’ve also talked about postpartum anxiety, and how moms can work to overcome postpartum body image challenges. What we need to talk about more directly is the different changes you might expect to see in your postpartum body.
Mamas have really strong feelings about their postpartum bodies. Some love them, more hate them, many are in awe of them. The one consistency I see in my conversations with new moms is disbelief over how little they knew about what to expect from a postpartum body.
Postpartum Body Image
When a reader first approached me with a request that I discuss postpartum body image, I had no idea what to say.
At the time, all I could think was, “This is such an important subject, but I am absolutely the wrong person to talk about it.”
To be honest, I don’t have that many issues with postpartum body image. At least not anymore. I am far enough into the postpartum period to have gloriously forgotten some of the gory details.
Since Karen Shoppoff Roof, women’s health expert, talked about overcoming postpartum body image challenges, I’ve talked about some of my own struggles with my postpartum body on social media. But the obnoxious truth remains: on the whole, I like my postpartum body BETTER than my pre-baby body.
Yes, my belly is flabbier, and I have stretch marks, all of which I’ve again shown on social media, and in the main image for this post.
But on the whole, I love my postpartum body, and I’m fully prepared for you to want to punch me for that.
Postpartum Body Satisfaction and Weight
Many studies have connected women’s dissatisfaction with their postpartum bodies with weight. One study in Women’s Health determined that, on average, a woman’s “weight at 9 months postpartum remained an average of 5.4 pounds above [her] pre-pregnancy weight.”
Add to that stretch marks, new flab, leaky boobs, bladder control issues, and it’s no wonder that so many women hate their postpartum bodies.
This statistic is likely the reason I’m the exception. Before pregnancy, I gained tons of weight. I’ve always been an up-and-down kind of gal, but with recurrent pregnancy loss came recurrent binge sessions on edible cookie dough and Annie’s cheddar bunnies.
Before Jack was conceived, I was at the heaviest weight of my life. Then I grew a baby and birthed him, and suddenly, my body started shrinking. My body has NEVER been one to let go of weight. Yet in the early months of postpartum, it just seemed to melt off.
This is in part because I massively overproduced milk. I donated thousands of ounces of milk in the 8 ½ months that I nursed Jack. Again, feel free to hate me.
Bodily Responses to Milk Production
Women’s bodies respond to milk production in either of 2 different ways.
- They lose weight from nursing because they’re burning SO. MANY. CALORIES producing milk.
- They hold onto EVERY. OUNCE. OF. WEIGHT. because their bodies recognize they need to produce milk, so it grabs fat stores and holds on for dear life.
And this doesn’t even take into account the countless women who choose not to (or are unable to) breastfeed at all.
I did breastfeed, and I was in the first category. I ate everything in sight for months on end, and I just got smaller and smaller. By the time I finished nursing, I was something like 45 pounds below my highest pregnancy weight, having gained 31 pounds while pregnant. No wonder I was okay with my postpartum body!
As someone who’s struggled with weight fluctuation my entire life, this was both baffling and incredible. It also shows why I differ from the norm–most mother’s are 5.4 pounds above their pre-pregnancy weight at 9 months postpartum; I was almost 15 pounds lighter!
In addition, my boobs got SMALLER! So weird, right?
I know that’s not what most people want, but dear god, I wanted it. I’ve had a large chest since I was in high school, and I’ve said my entire life that, if my boobs got any bigger after having children, I would have a breast reduction. Thank you, postpartum body, for saving me a majorly invasive surgery!
Suddenly, I’m down from a 38F to a 34D.
Y’all. I’m in Heaven.
Nuanced Feelings Toward Your Postpartum Body
So when a reader asked my to write about this subject, I felt woefully ill-equipped. I was simply not the right person for the job.
But then I thought about it, and I realized there’s so much more to the postpartum body experience with weight. My feelings about my postpartum body are far more nuanced than that.
I’m cool with my weight, and I love that my chest is smaller. But there are actually things I hate about my postpartum body.
For instance, what the hell happened to my brain? How did I go from someone who kept a whole family’s calendar in her head to someone who loses her phone no less than 10 times a day? Will my sharp mind ever come back? Dear God, how I want it back.
And my immune system. Seriously, what’s up with getting sick at every single turn? I rarely got sick before having Jack. Now, I’m sick constantly. Will that ever go away?
Oh, and the ability to walk around without accidentally and unknowingly peeing a little bit. Clearly I need to do some pelvic floor exercises. It’s absurd.
But if those are my biggest complaints postpartum, I know I’m not in line with a lot of women. And yet, we all have so much invested in this issue.
We all have strong feelings, yet somehow, we don’t talk about them enough for women going through it for the first time to know what they might expect.
What To Expect from Your Postpartum Body
Here are the major takeaways from those responses:
- We all have things we don’t like about our bodies after babies.
- They aren’t the same things for everyone. Not even close. Everyone’s postpartum body is different.
- We’re way, way, way too hard on ourselves.
- We’re not nearly honest enough with each other about what to expect.
So I’ll tell you what you might expect from your postpartum body.
This list is not exhaustive. Only a few of the items on it may be true for you. Or many may.
It’s based on reader feedback, plus by own experience.
Sh*t No One Tells You
Squishy, flabby belly (“mommy pooch”).
Diastasis Recti (abdominal wall separation).
Excess weight gain.
Clogged milk ducts (taking sunflower lecithin can help decrease this risk; ask your lactation consultant for dosage).
Holding onto baby weight while nursing.
Lingering back pain.
Inadequate milk production.
Excessive brain fog (“mom brain”).
Lack of energy.
Blood pressure issues.
Decreased breast volume.
Sensitive C-section scar area.
Weakest abdominal muscles you’ve ever imagined.
And so. many. more.
Why Am I Telling You All These Things?
I promise, it’s not to scare you, or to make you think twice about having a baby.
Not. at. All.
It’s to normalize the experience of having a tumultuous relationship with your postpartum body.
And to show that you are not alone.
It’s to help you prepare.
To demonstrate that, when you feel gross or weird or like something unexplainable is happening, you’re actually part of a community of generation after generation of women who share many of your experiences.
It’s to show you that you, and your postpartum body, are okay. Your body did an amazing thing.
IT BUILT AND BIRTHED A FREAKIN’ HUMAN!!!!!
And no matter how much you may hate it, or feel disconnected from it, that’s badass.
What did I miss on this list of things to expect? What else do new and expecting moms need to know about the possibilities for their postpartum bodies?
Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, mom, recurrent miscarriage survivor, & owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband (affectionately known on the internet as “Husband,”) son (Jack), and dog (Charlotte). She believes our society puts too many expectations on women that make womanhood and motherhood restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Romper, Scary Mommy, Demeter Press’s Motherhood and Social Exclusion, & more.