Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Postpartum bodies

As shallow or trivial as it might sound, I need to admit something: I am feeling dumpy and frumpy in my postpartum body right now. For the first few weeks after giving birth, I feel incredibly attractive. Every day, especially during the first week, I look thinner and more shapely. My breasts get bigger, my stomach gets smaller, and when I see myself in the mirror each morning, I think, "Wow! I look good!"

I find newly postpartum bodies incredibly beautiful. Very feminine--or perhaps the better word is womanly. I love the empty, rounded belly; the soft bread-dough skin; the flush of hormones.

Then the swelling and the shrinking slow down and that's where the postpartum frumpiness sets in. It doesn't help when celebrities shrink back to their pre-pregnant bodies in record time. If you want to make yourself feel bad about your post-baby body, then definitely DON'T look at this 24-page slideshow of magical shrinking celebs! Last year, MSNBC reported on how Celebrity mamas fuel post-baby body blues:
Perhaps the most painful part about the new celebumom standard is that it’s managed to infiltrate the last bastion of the female experience. Years ago, moms got a pass — even moms with movie deals. Now even motherhood — the great equalizer — has gotten a brutally hot makeover.

Wilson says standards have become so distorted that a “normal” mom body is now viewed as “unattractive.”

“The tabloids and TV make it seem like it’s not normal that your body looks different after you’ve had a baby,” she says. “It’s like there’s something wrong with you physically — or you’re lazy — if you’re not able to get back to the exact same shape and size that you were prior to conceiving a child. And that’s impossible.”

Impossible, that is, if you don’t happen to have a personal trainer, personal chef, nutritionist, nanny, night nurse, and three or four full-time assistants.

“Celebs have 24-hour ‘round the clock care,” says Suzanne Schlosberg, mother to 13-month-old twin boys and co-author of The Active Woman’s Pregnancy Log: A Day-to-Day Diary and Guide to a Fit and Healthy Pregnancy. “They’ve got somebody to take care of baby while they do their workouts with their $250-an-hour trainer. They’ve got a fancy personal chef creating their perfect 200-calorie meals. It’s not an even playing field. They have all these advantages that real people don’t have.”

In fact, the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQEHC) recently advised that new mothers should take 6-12 months to gradually lose their pregnancy weight. An article discussing the IQEHC's recommendations reported:
The IQEHC said celebrities who are back at their normal weight within weeks of giving birth are not necessarily a good example for other mothers.

Nicole Kidman was back in her skinny jeans weeks after her daughter's birth last year, and model Heidi Klum was back on the catwalk shortly after giving birth. Unlike most new mothers, these women usually have a collection of nannies and housekeepers on call, leaving them extra time to work on their figures.

The institute said gaining weight in pregnancy is normal and necessary to support the unborn baby. Taking that weight off again should take some time.

“Having a new baby is a major change in lifestyle,” the IQEHC guidelines state.

“After childbirth, weight loss is complicated by the extra stresses the mother is facing, and her need to provide nutrition for her baby if she is breastfeeding. Women are exposed to many unrealistic images of female body size, and body size around pregnancy or after birth is no exception. That makes it difficult for many women to be satisfied with their figures, and it can damage their self-image and enjoyment of their body. You do not have to be movie star thin to be happy, healthy and have a healthy baby.” Read more here.

I know, I know. But it's still hard to not fit into some of my clothes, to have that extra thickness, and to feel frumpy in addition to being tired from taking care of a newborn and a toddler!

Other mothers have recently shared their thoughts about their postpartum bodies: Jill at Keyboard Revolutionary talks about her cesarean scar bothering her years after her surgery. Housefairy talks about diets and how "this is me, and there is not one iota of room in this Mama for added stress of self hate." In another post, she mentions her post-cesarean (x3) body. And I'm still waiting for her to finish her post about 34 years of body image. (Hint hint!)

Thoughts? Comments? Any other good posts or articles about postpartum bodies you'd like to share?


  1. I'm feeling very frumpy in my post partum/early pregnancy body. I'm like "if I look like this now..!!!!" but I try to be forgiving in the here and now and tell myself that someday I'll get a chance to cook meals that don't make me barf and exercise without my kiddo's help and then I can think about things like weight and such. I guess I feel like this is the time in my life I'm going to look like this, but it doesn't have to be forever.

    I can't help myself... I have to watch that slideshow...

  2. ps--it's not a slideshow that plays automatically. You have to click on the arrows to get to the next page.

  3. This further adds proof to what I've been saying all along: that celebrities are evil aliens from outer space here to do nothing but slowly demoralize us from within rather than just blatantly destroy us and be done with it.

    You are a beautiful mother and you know it. :)

  4. I like to joke that I am 4 years postpartum because I have yet to regain my pre-pregnancy figure. What nearly sent me over the edge is when one of the OB's at work congratulated me on my pregnancy (no I am not pregnant). I was horrified, but motivated to get into shape.

  5. thank you or posting this. I so could have written it word for word. that is exactly how i feel. I feel sexy and beautiful for about 3 weeks... and then I feel frumpy and fat and yuckier every day that goes by. it's terrible to go from feeling wonderful to hateful of your body in a week. ugh how depressing.

    and furthermore I'm ashamed of myself for feeling that way. very ashamed. I should know better.

  6. This post immediately reminded me of the site, which is worth looking through, if only to combat those celebrity photos!

  7. i worked HARD and it took me 2 months to lose 25lbs after my first son. and immediately after doing so I got pregnant again! I have yet to get back to that point, and here I am pregnant again.

    Might I add that celebrities are PAID to get back into shape. It can't be that healthy for them to shrink back so quick, not to mention if they're breastfeeding as well!

    A good friend told me, "God gives us curves, so our children have something soft to snuggle."


    Great site...check it out!

  9. Love this! I might just be inspired to share pictures of my post-baby belly. It sure isn't celeb worthy. LOL

  10. Thanks for the linkage! :) I agree so much with the article you quoted. It's disgusting that we hold our regular ol' selves to standards that celebrities set. Talk about an unlevel playing field!

    I can't go on SOAM anymore. It just depresses me. For every post of "yeah, look at my mommy body, I look different but I love it!" there are 20 more where the woman wants to kill herself because she doesn't have a flat stomach anymore. :( I can't stand it.

  11. I felt just like you, Rixa - fabulous at first and then dumpy and frumpy. My ginormous, terrifying boobs didn't help either - I'm a small woman, so my boobs looked crazy. But I didn't pressure myself about weight/ how I looked. I didn't even try to work out - my focus was on baby and nursing. It's really hard to resist the pressure to imagine we should have perfect bodies, but we have to find a way - for ourselves and for each other. It makes me SO SAD to hear so many moms complain about how "fat" they feel pregnant and then how fat they feel postpartum. OUr bodies are amazing, and we need some fat - to nourish our babies while pregnant and to nourish them postpartum while breastfeeding.

    And re: celebrities - don't forget that basically NONE of them breastfeed either. So instead of staying at home spending sacred time learning their babies and nursing them, they are rushing to the gym forcing themselves to drop the weight (and a LOT of them gain a lot of weight, because it's the only time in their sad lives they let themselves eat anything).

    And isn't it ironic that the more obsessed we become with bodies, the more *unhealthy* our culture becomes (in terms of diet, obesity, etc).

  12. I'm feeling pretty frumpy 3 months post-partum, but I felt like a hot mess immediatly after birth so frumpy is an improvement.

    I'm mostly struggling with accepting my flabby belly (I was fat before getting pregnant and now? oof, the belly does hang), and my stretch marks. I got wicked stretch marks starting in my 4 month of being pregnant, and I was rather impressed by how they grew during that time. But now that my belly is empty I don't like them so much anymore.

    All of that is making me not want to be naked in front of my husband, but I'm making an effort not to hide my body so I can overcome that.

  13. Olivia, I feel you. I was overweight to start with. I had lost all my baby weight eith my first son and a bit more before deciding to try again. In the trying stage along I gained 30 pounds and another 45 with the baby. I am two weeks post now and the stretch marks added to the 75 I have now to lose again is depressing. I am trying to focus on my new baby and loving the time I have with him, but I definately feel the pressure of the treadmill looking at me every day.

  14. Joining you on the frumpy train. I had my baby (my fifth) 3 months ago and I'm still wearing maternity dresses to accommodate my belly which sticks out further than my breasts. My stomach muscles are so separated that when I get up there's nothing there to hold my insides where they should be so everything falls forward... Even with Spanx, I still look pregnant. I found a wrap dress at Target that is flattering that I can wear with a support garment so that I can go out without looking quite so pregnant, but still it is disheartening.

  15. I liked this post because even though I lost my extra weight pretty fast after my son's birth It was still really hard for me to accept the fact that my body had changed permemtaly-- my hips were wider, my stomach wasn't quite the same, my chest was WAY different and it was hard for me accept that. I am expecting another baby in a few months and realize that I will probably have to go through the same thing all over again-- so thanks for this post because it got me thinking about how to love my body even as it changes more and more.

  16. At doctor's orders*, I didn't gain any weight in my 3rd trimester, which meant I gained a grand total of 17 lbs for my last (5th) baby, who is now 8 months old. After she was born, and for a few weeks afterward, I felt FABULOUS. I have NEVER felt better immediately postpartum (my other children, I gained 50, 45, 45, and 35 lbs). It felt fabulous to have just delivered a baby and NOT to have to lose 40 lbs. I quickly lost any excess weight, but then, feelings similar to yours, Rixa, set in. I must say that my stomach is in the worst shape ever, and my hips, which were never super-wide, are huge, right at my very upper thighs, saddlebag style. I started feeling AWFULLY, both because everything seemed to be re-distributed so unattractively, plus, I just felt so badly out of shape it was disheartening. Yet, I didn't want to crash diet and risk the health of my nursing baby.

    So, just a few weeks ago, I decided to make some very minimal changes to my 97% healthy diet and start exercising, not so much to lose weight, but to become more toned and feel healthy. Honestly, that was hard for me, because I have always been a runner, and working out to DVDs seems so extremely hokey to me, yet with now having five kids, it's more difficult than ever to get out and run consistently, so I had to bite the bullet and turn on the DVD player. I have lost a few pounds (3-5 depending on when I step on the scale), and a few inches... but I just feel so much better, so much more hopeful, just by working out 2-3x/week now. And, I think having some extra muscle isn't going to jeopardize the health of my nursing baby.

    *"Doctor's orders" because I had vaginal varices (which I didn't even know you could get!), plus BAD extensive regular varicose veins, plus I have very large babies (8.13 to 10 lbs), plus this was my fifth... so, I gained normal weight in my first two trimesters, then adopted a 150 good-carb-per-day diet for the last trimester, to make it easier on my vascular system during pregnancy, and to minimize hemorrhaging during/after birth.

  17. Sorry Rixa to hear that you are feeling this way. If it is any consolation - Heidi Klum's contract with Victoria Secret stated she could not alter her body. She was given one month to get her body back in shape after she had her baby.
    I always tell my students this when we are talking about normative body image. It is sad how this is all so cyclical - no one, not even models, can get to the ideal body image - without really hard work.
    From an early pregnant woman who is grappling with tight pants and a new found belly - cheers to bellies alike - and I can feel your struggle.

  18. Thanks for sharing Rixa. I am always amazed at how much looking at celeb mags ruins my personal happiness with myself. How can it be so contagious?

  19. I can really relate to this as well Rixa. I have struggled with this too. I read an interesting article by Iris Marion Young. In it she talked about how "normal healthy" bodies are often seen as male bodies - ones that never change. I thought about how female bodies are forever in flux; menstruating, pregnant, lactating, menopausal and want to honor that flux, but it's hard in a world that insists on normality as unchanging.

  20. I wonder - is the problem really with celebrities or do celebrities just exemplify how extremely patriarchal our society still is?

    An interesting book on this topic is "Women, Celibacy and Passion" by Sally Cline. In this book she argues that women are just as oppressed today as they were in the Victorian ages where women's sexuality was supressed. Now,not being sexually active is to be old, ugly or unfeminine. On her experiences after becoming celibate the author writes: "All I knew was that I no longer lived partly through someone else, nor did I constantly need the approval of the person with whom I was in a sexual relationship." page 11. "Most of us spend large portions of our lives linked to someone else, trusting in others for our validation, our self-worth, our emotional stability. That someone else, those significant others, are very often sexual partners. It is hard for women to throw off the notion that we are completed by being attached to another human being. . ." "We appear to live in a sexual society, but it is not genuinely sexual, because a truly sexual society offering free choices for both women and men would be threatening to the power elite. What we live in is a genitally-fixated society which communicates messages to women that change with the times to serve the social order. These are what I call 'genital messages.' Men's prescriptions of what is feminine, what is sexy, dictate women's sexual behavior. At different times women are said to be hot mamas, swinging chicks, or frigid bitches. At no time can a woman freely choose to be celibate as a form of sexual behavior, because at no time has a woman freely been allowed to choose her own mode of sexual activity. Men have always outlined what is proper, decided what is desirable." page 24-25

    More info here:

    So this begs the question - for whom are you trying to lose the weight for? Society? Your husband? For yourself? And why are you trying to lose the weight? To look attractive, to be a sexual being? And if so, is this weight loss empowering, making you into an autonomous and equal human being to your partner, or are these feelings of inadequacy really reinforcing your subordination to your man?

  21. First of all, you're gorgeous Rixa. We love ya! I bet that Dio and Zari think you are the most beautiful mama in the whole wide world! :) I noticed someone posted a link to shape of a mother in the comments. One of the things that I did was posted my own blog entry and photo to that site with my child nursing. It helped me then and I continue to look back on it and treasure it. It is not model perfect, but it is mama perfect. :)

  22. I go to "Shape of a Mother" a lot, but get so annoyed with young girls who are SHOCKED they don't have a flat stomach after two weeks. They put on 50lbs, and just assumed they'd be back to 'normal' right away. I never knew how long it would take me, but the books had said you'd look about 5 months pregnant after birth, so that's what I expected. I knew it would be impossible to not look like nothing had ever happened, LOL.
    Celebrities are famous partly because they are unique--unusual--not like 'normal' people. They usually have good genes to start with and it's their liveliehood to maintain the star image. It's unrealistic for 'normal' moms to think they should be the same and I just don't understand why women don't understand that.

  23. Hi there all, and greetings from the UK,
    At nearly seven months pregnant myself, this post triggers me to share a related thought.
    Earlier this month I was in Spain, swanning around in a beautiful maternity tankini feeling that I was looking really great in my pregnant state. However, on reflecting upon this, I was troubled by the following: I was thinking about this stage of pregnancy as representing 'perfection' in some sense, as THERE IS NO POSSIBILITY OF A FLABBY BABY BELLY ON SHOW (as your body is stretching to accommodate your growing baby). Thus what I first thought of as a wonderful reflection on the beauty of the pregnant body started to take on overtones of that dreadful hegemonic 'perfect body' discourse, where no flabby bellies are allowed.
    Hope this all makes sense, and is of interest.
    Jo x

  24. "THERE IS NO POSSIBILITY OF A FLABBY BABY BELLY ON SHOW (as your body is stretching to accommodate your growing baby)"

    Jo--really fascinating, something I'd never thought of before. Still, I find a certain beauty in largely pregnant bodies that goes beyond the lack of flabby belly. I think it's that every curve--hip, breast, belly--is exuding life and possibility.

    "So this begs the question - for whom are you trying to lose the weight for?"

    Good question. It's not weight loss per se, but a more fit, able, (and let's be honest, lean) body that I wish I were seeing in the mirror. I don't think it's for my husband, since a) he finds me attractive as I am and b) I really would never consider changing my body to please someone else. And right now, sexiness is one of the last things on my mind! A bit too tired for's so difficult becuase I've taken all the women's studies classes and I've written critiques of how our culture dictates what a proper female body looks like, etc. But at the same time, I do wish I looked and felt a certain way--not like a model, but at least like my earlier body. Sigh...

    I've looked through SOAM several times in the past and frankly it doesn't really inspire me all that much or make me feel more happy in my own skin. If anything, I think it leads to more comparing that I am already doing!

  25. I just wanted to add, I just boght a maternity/PP belt girdle thingy. oh my it is wonderful! it makes me stomach and core feel stronger my back hurts less and so my posture (which is never great b/c I have problems) is better. having good posterior makes you feel less frumpy. I think some of the frumpiness feeling comes from the looseness we have PP,everything is in a relaxed stretched state and nothing to hold it together.

  26. A couple of random thoughts:

    This is a celebs JOB. It's what they get paid for. They are making big bucks partly based on what their body looks like. So it behooves them to get it back to normal as quickly as possible. I, OTOH, have no such driving force as I get paid to take pictures and no one cares if my Twin Skin is hanging down to my knees :P

    Second, I think the body longs to be in a state of balance and harmony. I completely get and agree with what you said Monika but I don't think every woman who wants to change/reshape her body is just a sex obsessed drone. I began to discover this truth when I began to practice Yoga a few months ago. I now seek strength, flexibility, and balance as my goals. And after a really trying, difficult session I'm usually horny as hell! :D

    Rixa, be kind to yourself friend. Your body is giving the gift of life to your baby and that's an AMAZING thing. From one floppy bellied Mama to another, I love you and value you regardless. I highly recommend a flow Yoga practice to send you on your way :)

  27. Intertwined--agreed on many points. I've noticed that when I start exercising, I instantly feel better about my body. Doesn't matter if my body looks no different. I love the feeling of exerting my body, using my muscles, feeling like I am strong and capable. It's much less about numbers and even appearance.

  28. This is a great post partum diet blog post

  29. I'm coming in on this way late, but I wanted to add my two cents, too.

    I have found with this last baby that I'm not as concerned about what weight I am as how I feel and fit into my clothes. Those first few post-partum months are hard because nothing seems to fit. I even bought/made new, bigger clothes on purpose, but it still didn't hide the fact that my belly stuck out further than my chest and I could feel a distinct lack of strength in my core muscles. I've started doing pilates and yoga now (at 12 months post-partum), and I feel so good. My body feels so much longer and leaner and stronger, and the fact that I'm losing inches (though not weight yet) is a nice side benefit. I know, though, that I won't really start losing any weight until after I wean my daughter, but since nursing is still more important to me than the number on the scale, I guess I'm happy where I'm at.

    I find those pictures of the celebrities amusing. I'm not sure what they've done to make me think I have to emulate them, but they sure are pretty. I wouldn't mind having a body like that at some point, but I'm not willing to do what they do to get it.

    I can greatly sympathize with where you are right now, Rixa, because I have been there so many times myself. Several months after my second baby was born, my aunt asked me when I was due. At least no one can ask YOU that right now. :) At least not from the pictures you've posted. You've got your priorities in the right place.


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