Are you struggling with body image after a baby? You’re not alone. Pregnancy and childbirth are the biggest changes a woman’s body goes through.
No matter the amazing work your body did, it still feels and looks different… foreign even. My body has grown four kids, and postpartum body image has been more of a struggle than I’d like to admit.
It’s not like I was a fashion model pre-pregnancy, but weight gain and body changes have a way of affecting me mentally. I loved each of my pregnancies. It’s the aftermath that’s the roughest part.
I know I shouldn’t feel negative about my body after a baby—and I also know there are too many women struggling with postpartum body image just like me.
As I’ve continued to work on my body image issues, I wanted to share with you some things that are helping me along the way. I hope that these strategies will help other moms love their body more and get greater enjoyment out of life and motherhood.
This article is not about how to make changes to your body, lose the baby weight, or get back in shape. It’s about how to love your postpartum body the way it is right now.
Please hear me out: Even if you want to lose weight, it is still possible to love your body in its current form, and you will be happier for it.
Tips are based on personal experience and should not be considered medical advice. Full disclaimer.
Ways to Help Postpartum Body Image
I’ve divided this list of strategies into things you should stop doing and things you should start doing to help with your postpartum body image.
Throughout the post, I’m including images of real women in all their postpartum glory.
Things to Stop Doing
From an early age, unrealistic body ideals are drilled into us by the media and other sources. These ideals (particularly, thin=good) become so ingrained that they’re part of our subconscious and drive our thoughts about our own bodies.
Fighting back against a lifetime of messages about perfect body standards isn’t easy, but you have to start somewhere. For one, try to stop comparing your postpartum body to your pre-pregnancy body.
You must begin to accept that things are different now, and for a most wonderful cause. Bodies change throughout a lifetime—it’s perfectly normal.
Your whole life has changed in adding a child to it, and your body was part of this great transformation. Just because your postpartum body looks different than your pre-pregnancy body does not make it any less worthy of kindness and love.
In fact, it may be even more deserving given what it’s accomplished!
Don’t even think to compare yourself to celebrities who have babies and seem to look no different than before. They have personal chefs, professional trainers, housekeepers, nannies, and who knows what else to give them an edge.
Plus, you’re seeing photoshopped, airbrushed images that aren’t real.
Heck, don’t even compare yourself to friends, acquaintances, and neighbors who have different postpartum body experiences. We all have different genetics, body types, hormone chemistries, and other individual factors that influence our bodies.
Remember the adage, comparison is the thief of joy.
In particular, be careful about your social media feed. I don’t follow anyone who posts before and after pictures of their body. If I see these, I unfollow.
I’m happy that people are striving to reach their health goals, but these photos reinforce messages that aren’t healthy for me (before=bad, after=good).
Instead, I focus on following body-positive women (you can find some of my favorites here) who radiate confidence in their skin no matter their shape and size. I’m so impressed how they’re able to love every inch of themselves, and I aspire to be more like them.
Limit your social media time or take a break from it altogether. Despite messages we receive to the contrary, being on social media isn’t a requirement for living in the 21st century.
Using Looks as Motivation for Health Changes
Many women have weight loss as a goal postpartum and may seek to regain some strength and fitness that was affected by their pregnancy.
I read a great quote in Shape Magazine: “You can’t hate your body into being healthy.”
Read it again and let it soak in.
The article goes on to describe how people who had looks as their main motivating factor in making health changes were less likely to stick with exercising. Health changes motivated by looks are not likely to last.
Shame and self-loathing are also linked to stress eating and increases in stress hormones, which can hamper progress towards health goals.
Instead, adopting a body-positive approach to change can help you be more successful in achieving your health goals. Try to frame your goals positively, such as pursuing health and well-being rather than getting rid of baby fat.
Instead of wanting to get rid of your current body, seek to care for your body and treat it well. Treating your body with the acceptance it deserves means loving it regardless of its shape, size, and looks.
Setting Strict Rules or Timetables
I hate it when people say, “it took nine months to gain the weight, so it takes nine months to lose it.” As if that were true. There are so many factors that go into postpartum weight loss.
Plus, it deludes women into thinking that your body will snap back to the way it was before pregnancy. The fact is, your body will likely be forever changed in some way, and that’s OK.
You have so much going on in your life after having a baby. Don’t stress yourself out unnecessarily by trying to meet unrealistic weight loss goals. Postpartum is not a great time to have an overly restrictive diet, especially if you’re breastfeeding.
It can also be challenging to make time for exercise sessions, and you don’t want to do too much too soon for risk of injury.
I’m not saying you should give up on your personal health goals—just that your body’s looks are not a reason to sacrifice your mental or physical health by putting too much pressure on yourself postpartum. Your focus should be on the wellness of you and your beautiful baby.
There is nothing wrong with your body the way it is, and you can take your time in making any health changes you want to make. (Remember to make changes for the right reasons, not because you hate your body.)
Examine your expectations about your postpartum body and the changes you want to see: Are these expectations serving you? Are they realistic?
Obsessively Checking Your Body or Weight
You know what? If you’re struggling with postpartum body image, it’s not helpful to be inspecting your body in the mirror all the time. You don’t need to remind yourself of every new roll or stretch mark.
Normal, casual glances in the mirror aren’t a problem, but don’t use the mirror as an opportunity for self-hatred. If looking over your body becomes a compulsive habit, it can intensify negative feelings or lead to problematic eating restrictions.
Likewise, do you really need to be paying attention to the scale right now? The numbers on it can be so frustrating as they fluctuate normally due to a variety of factors.
Could you instead focus on taking good care of yourself and your baby? Putting the scale aside doesn’t mean you’re giving up on your health. It just means you’re not obsessing over a number.
If body checking, weighing, or measuring has become a problem for you, it would probably be good to speak with a trained therapist.
Letting Postpartum Body Image Issues Stop You From Doing What You Love
It saddens me when feelings about my body make me reconsider doing an otherwise enjoyable activity. There are so many special, wonderful things happening after you have a child. It’s not worth it to lose out on these experiences because of negative self-thoughts.
So, get in the pictures with your baby. Don’t let the camera intimidate you. You and your family will want to look back at these fond memories.
Go swimming when you get the chance (after your doctor clears you). Kids love it, and their joy will put a smile on your face. Your child doesn’t care what you look like in your bathing suit. They just want to have fun with their mom.
Have sex if you want to (once cleared by your doctor). You’re still sexy and beautiful. If postpartum libido is an issue, see my article on sex after baby.
Meet up with friends. No one is judging you because of how you look, and if they are, then they don’t deserve to be your friends.
Things to Start Doing
Take Care of Your Body
First and foremost, your body is healing and recovering during the postpartum period. It’s been through a lot. Follow your doctor’s advice on resuming activities.
Feed yourself healthful foods, drink plenty of water, and try to get some sleep when you can. Moving your body and getting some fresh air can also be helpful. Learn self-care tips for breastfeeding moms.
Take care of your mental health too. Give yourself plenty of grace after having a baby. Some tumultuous postpartum emotions are normal, but be sure to seek help if postpartum depression or anxiety is a concern.
Get Some Clothes That Fit
Ill-fitting clothes can make anyone feel bad. It’s OK to wear your maternity clothes for as long as you need to, but at some point, you’ll want to invest in some regular clothes that you feel good in.
Don’t pressure yourself to fit into your pre-pregnancy clothes. It’s very normal to need some transitional clothes, or you may never fit into your pre-pregnancy clothes again.
Your clothing size is not a reflection of your worth.
You don’t have to replace your whole wardrobe right away. Start with a few essentials that you can feel good in because your body may change during the postpartum period.
When you’re ready to resume your bedroom activities, you might even consider getting yourself some new lingerie. Your new body is still sexy.
Thank Your Body
When you think about it, what your body has done is incredible! You’ve produced another life. It’s no wonder your body has some marks to show for it.
Get into the practice of regularly thanking your body for all it does for you. Thank it for giving you your child.
Thank your body every day for carrying you where you want to go, for giving you the ability to lift and rock your baby, and for any other physical activities your body does.
It can be easy to take for granted how well your body performs for you. Judge it for its accomplishments rather than its shape or size.
Treat Your Body Like a Friend
Your body is your home for life. Wouldn’t you rather be friends with it?
You probably wouldn’t think the things you think about your body about a friend, would you? So, be kinder to yourself! This will take some training.
When you have a thought about your body, judge whether it is negative, neutral, or positive. Over time, try to shift your thoughts to more neutral or positive.
Ask yourself what a friend would think if you said your thought out loud. Would they tell you it’s not true or to not judge yourself so harshly? This exercise can help you recalibrate your thoughts.
Use body-positive self-love affirmations to reframe your thinking about your body. Examples include:
- I accept my body the way it is today.
- I will not let my mind be a bully to my body.
- I choose to stop obsessing about my body.
- Hating my body won’t make me healthier.
- There is more to life than worrying about what I look like.
Say your favorite body-positive affirmation every day, repeat it whenever you have a negative body image thought, and put it on a sticky note on your mirror.
Give your body a compliment every now and then while you’re at it, like “You’re one sexy mama” or “You’re strong and beautiful.” Accept compliments others give to you (and believe them).
Fighting Negative Postpartum Body Image
It’s totally normal to feel different about your postpartum body—to feel like it’s not your own.
Changing your mindset about your postpartum body won’t happen overnight. With continued effort, including the strategies we’ve reviewed here, you can learn to chip away at your postpartum body image issues.
Don’t beat yourself up if you are struggling or have a setback. This isn’t easy.
Talking to a therapist can also be incredibly helpful. Your struggles with body image may be tied to other underlying emotions and uncertainties about motherhood.
Trying to manipulate your body is one tangible and easily visible way you could be attempting to regain some control in life, but this is not a good solution.
When you’ve had so many messages throughout your life about a certain ideal way of looking, learning to accept yourself as-is can be challenging. Your body is different now than it was pre-pregnancy, and still, it is so deserving of your love and appreciation.
Your body will be different 10 and 20 years from now. Its size and shape does not determine your worth. Your body is your vessel on this earth, so try to treat it with the respect and kindness it deserves.
I wish you peace in your own skin, because you’re worth it, mama. Now go rock your mom bod and live life to the fullest.