It’s pretty common knowledge that pregnancy and postpartum comes with radical physical changes that can affect our body image. There’s lots of talk about stretch marks and weight gain out there, but less about the other fun changes- hair loss, varicose veins, widening feet, different sized and shaped breasts, and changes in hip sizes, just to name a few.
No matter what changes you experience, it can be upsetting. The physical change can come on suddenly and in many cases be permanent, so its important we take care of ourselves both physically for our health and our baby’s, and for our emotional well-being.
In my first pregnancy, I gained the recommended weight right on track. I was super proud of myself and I made sure to apply cream daily which I thought would keep me safe from stretch marks. Nope.
One morning around 30 weeks I discovered my belly was covered in stretch marks. From hip to hip, reaching well over my belly button, red, angry looking tiger stripes. I cried.
I knew that while they might fade to silver, they’d probably be with me forever. It was sudden and shocking, and it put my body image on the floor.
With my second pregnancy, my struggle is with varicose veins. Around 24 weeks I started noticing my veins on my left leg getting darker and more visible.
I brought it up with my doctor and she recommended compression socks so now I am going to be rocking high fashion into July as I try to manage summer heat, pregnancy, and hoping that my legs will not be permanently changed.
In the grand scheme of things, I know that stretch marks and purple veins are a small price to pay for my two beautiful daughters. But also, it sucks. It sucks that these physical changes are our burdens to bear and we live in an age of photo-shop and filters that make us doubt our body image. A lot of the negativity is in our own heads.
I honestly believe that my husband doesn’t see my stretch marks, and my toddler loves my stripey belly. If its ever poking out of my shirt she will give it a loving rub and say her sister’s name.
But I spent 3 hours shopping for a swimsuit the summer after my daughter was born. And I spent most of my teens feeling very self conscious about my legs, so I am hoping to not dread buying shorts next year.
The key for me is acknowledging negative feelings around my body image, but not staying in that head space.
It’s ok to say “I hate going swimsuit shopping. I hate my stomach pouch.” But then it’s time to flip the script. I take that negative and try to tell myself something positive. “I’m so grateful to be able to take my daughter swimming.”
“I hate the veins on my legs. I’m so grateful to have strong legs to chase after my kids in the yard.”
“I hate how thin my hair is getting. But I love how Aileen loves to play with it and reaches for my ponytail during her bedtime lullaby.”
With practice, we can make gratitude the louder voice in our heads.
And then there are the immediate and sometimes painful changes that come during delivery and postpartum.
You may experience tearing. You may have a scar from C section. You will have a wound inside that needs to heal from where your placenta was attached. Rest. Ice. Eat. Remember that you have just changed dramatically. Your baby was born and so was a new mama.
If you’re breastfeeding, your breasts will change sizes and shapes often. It can be painful at first. Care for yourself with open air time and ultra soft reusable breast pads.
Your body after birth has gone through an amazing thing. You’ve brought new life into the world. You are changed and it can be hard to accept the new you. Honor the you that existed before baby, and find time to care for yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup so care for you.
Most of all remember that you are not alone in this. There is a world of us mama’s all having gone or going through the same thing.
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What was the hardest change you went through with your body image postpartum? What helped you most? Let us know in the comments!