The post-childbirth body

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It’s not editorializing to say that we live in an image conscious society.  This is as much as statement of fact as is that we live in the year 2017 and right now it’s summer in North America.  Lately, here and there, I’ve been reading reviews of Roxane Gay’s new memoir, Hunger, which deals with the author’s morbid obesity.  When I clicked on the Stranger’s review today, a swirl of empathy overtook me on a tangent.  Never someone to loose weight easily, I thought of myself this past year as I struggled to balance nourishing myself while breastfeeding an infant.  How many women fresh into their postpartum life feel pressure to rapidly return to their comparatively slender, pre-pregnancy body?  How many women feel shame if they can’t do this?

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The time after giving birth is a complicated period. Hormones are shifting, sleep is scanty, life as you know it has changed completely.  You’ve changed from being responsible only for you to being someone’s mother, and if you’re breastfeeding, your body is providing the sole nutritional source for your baby for the first 4 to 6 months.  That on it’s own is enough, but unless you live in a different culture or are one of those rare women who feel completely at home and happy in their body no matter their size, nagging there at the back of your mind might be a little bug that is putting the pressure on to look like you did before you were pregnant ASAP.  Maybe you didn’t put on any excess weight, if you did, those pre-pregnancy clothes can loom in your closet like a denim clad bogeyman.

I can’t change our society’s obsession with weight and appearances.  But I can tell anyone who will listen that it’s ok if your body changed, it’s ok if you’re not skinny and fit a month or twelve after giving birth. Dieting while you’re breastfeeding may deprive you and your infant of the healthy fats and carbs needed to recover and thrive.  In addition, it feeds the very female tendency to strive for perfection.  New moms are trying to be the best mother they can be on a tremendously steep learning curve, and often worry about doing the wrong thing.  This is enough to deal with, yet often new mothers will also have to quickly learn how to balance work and being a parent in less than three months after giving birth.  In the mix as well is finding time to reconnect with your partner.  To add weight loss onto that already incredible demand on a person’s psyche doesn’t seem right to me.

If you gained enough weight that you are worried about your health, there will be time to work on that.  Slowly, as you recover from childbirth, then move onto weaning your baby, there will be time to figure out a routine to maintain optimal health for your body.   In the meanwhile, take time to appreciate all that your body has done to bring new life into the world.  Feel proud that you are nurturing this little being into childhood.  Give yourself kudos for doing the best you can in this difficult job of being a mother.   Your body is amazing, and deserves all the love and patience you can give it.

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