Woman embracing herself

Body image as a new parent

Now that you’ve had your baby, you may be feeling out of sorts or overwhelmed about what comes next. Pregnancy can be extremely challenging, but the perceived focus is clear: take care of yourself and by definition you’re taking care of your little one. Then your baby is born and suddenly everything changes. 

It can feel like in a day the conversation shifts from “how are you doing” to “how’s the baby?”. And while those around you admired your changing body during pregnancy, afterwards, there can be so much pressure to return to the body you had “before.” This can be very overwhelming, particularly if you’ve ever had an eating and/or mental health disorder. 

First of all, try to remember you are not alone. Many new parents have trouble with their body image. If you are struggling with yours, that doesn’t mean you’re not grateful for your new baby. Instead of engaging in the understandable (yet painful) thoughts running through your mind, you might spend that energy getting curious about how to support yourself. Keep reading for a few ideas. 

Gently check in

One of the best first steps you can take is figuring out how you are feeling today. As you notice what’s coming up for you, try not to attach stories or specific meaning to your thoughts. Sitting with the sensations and feelings, if tolerable, can help you move through them. Here are some questions you might ask yourself when doing that:

  • How am I feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally?
  • What do I need to feel supported?
  • Which family members, friends, or colleagues can I reach out to for that support?

Feelings of depression, anxiety, stress, or any other mood disorders are important to investigate as soon as you can. In addition to reaching out to a trusted provider, you can try using tools to assess mental health.

Be mindful of thoughts about body image

Because our culture emphasizes appearance, it makes sense that you might be experiencing some discomfort around body image after pregnancy. Try to give yourself credit — your body just went through a lot. It was a home, and provided sustenance for your baby. That’s a big deal. Also, it’s okay (and necessary) to let your body recover slowly. You don’t need to jump into intense exercise and restrictive eating habits. Instead, see if you can give yourself the permission and space to check out intuitive eating and experiment with new exercise routines until you find one that works best for you. 

Move your body

Depending on how you’re feeling and what sounds most appealing, this could involve a brisk walk, strength training, swimming, light stretching, or any other movement, big or small. Notice if you put pressure on yourself to get “back in shape” right away. Instead, can you allow yourself to do what feels most supportive? If you do choose to exercise, make sure you consider these postpartum exercise guidelines beforehand. 

Nourish yourself

Similarly to exercise and movement, “nourishment” is a subjective term. This could mean eating enough, getting better sleep, finding time to recharge, meditating, taking up a new hobby, seeing friends, or something else entirely. Anything that involves taking care of yourself, filling your cup, contributing to your own wellness is worth considering.

If you have questions about how to nourish yourself through nutrition, it’s a good idea to check out intuitive eating and schedule an appointment with a dietitian or nutritionist. 

Find support

Try speaking with a postpartum doula, therapist or another professional about how to take care of yourself as a new mom. If you have a good relationship with your provider, you could also ask for their advice during your postpartum visit.

Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team

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