by Kate Daigle, MA, NCC, LPC
There’s this odd paradox that occurs when you are pregnant and after you have had your baby that someone who is healing from body image issues would never expect…or necessarily desire. Somehow we must “find our way home” to our bodies again in a new and unprecedented way, even as our bodies will never be the same as they were before. How do we do this?
The process of being pregnant for nine months really does a number on your body in just about every way – from your digestive system to your skin to the glorious swelling of your belly (and other body parts…) and so much more. During this period of growing another human, your body is quite literally not your own.
While this is for a very good reason and you may be overjoyed with anticipating the arrival of your little one, you might also be experiencing some body image anxiety as you try to maintain a healthy relationship with a body that is always changing and is somewhat unpredictable. And if you’ve struggled with body image in the past, finding “acceptance” for something we cannot control…well, that can feel like a tall order.
The good news is that it’s possible to find true acceptance of your body again after you’ve had your little one…it may just take some work.
Don’t feel lost: Here are five steps to recovering your healthy body image after you’ve had your first (or fourth) child.
Truly listen: your body is in the driver’s seat when it comes to pregnancy, giving birth, and postpartum. We need to allow it to go through each process carefully so that it can help us safely welcome our little ones to the world. We must learn how to listen to and honor its needs.
Practice radical acceptance: yes, your body is different…quite different….than it was pre-pregnancy, and for a VERY good reason. Only when we are able to accept this as fact are we able to move forward to find a new love for our bodies. Acceptance doesn’t mean you have to “like” it. It simply means, can you allow it for now, so that change can occur?
Recognize that body image issues stem from so much more than just how we feel in our bodies. They can be reflective of other things we might be going through: the stress of having a new baby, sleep deprivation, overwhelm, navigating relationships, and so much more you had no idea you’d experience before pregnancy. Prioritizing your self-care is of the UTMOST importance for yourself and your little one’s wellbeing.
Check those expectations. There is so much pressure and attention focused on your postpartum body and what it ‘should’ look like that we might lose sight of what really matters: taking care of ourselves and our little ones. Ask yourself if your expectations are realistic and if they are not, try to pare them down and ask for help if you need it.
Move your body. As your body heals from the experience of being pregnant and giving birth, it is going to need ample time to recover. Gradually, move it in ways that feel good: stretching out on a yoga ball, going for a gentle walk, taking baths with Epsom salts. Try to honor and respect your body for the miracle it is and encourage it to move in ways to increase flexibility and flow. Remember, your body may look different but it is still your home and this is an opportunity to rediscover what this means in your postpartum life.
Kate Daigle, MA, LPC is passionate about helping professional women and other high achievers overcome self-sabotage and unrealistic expectations. She helps her clients to heal their relationships with food, their bodies, and themselves so they can live a life that really matters to them and be free of destructive behaviors. Read more articles about self-care in parenthood, the workplace and more at www.katedaiglecounseling.com/blog.