Let's talk about the dreaded phrase bikini-body. New moms are constantly exposed to headlines like "How to lose baby weight - fast,"; "keeping the baby weight off- for good,"; and "the best swimsuits to hide postpartum pooch." This media berating, paired alongside the rapid, dramatic physical changes mothers experience, makes negative body images a near-pervasive experience for new moms. But, spoiler alert: your body just created and is now nurturing a new life- and that is a beautiful thing. The changes your body undergoes do not make you less deserving of donning a bikini (if you please) this summer. However, believing this? With so many obstacles in moms' ways, easier said than done.
Carrying, birthing, and nurturing a beautiful, tiny baby has an impressive impact on a mothers' body. A University of Toronto study captured it well, albeit less than delicately, stating, "Maternal bodies are unstable and unruly, as they leak, drip, squirt, expand, contract, divide, sag, dilate and expel." Mothers experience shifts such as weight gain, stretch marks, acne, breast enlargement, and changes to their stomachs, amongst many other physical transformations. While these are byproducts of the fantastic task of creating life, the dramatic difference between what a mothers' body was pre-baby to post-baby is often tough to reconcile. As a result, many mothers experience negative emotions stemming from pre to post-baby comparisons. And, unfortunately, comparisons do not stop there.
Societal constructs create an aggressive, often contradictory set of guidelines for pregnant women. Pregnant women are encouraged to nourish themselves fully in pregnancy. However, not to the extent where they gain "excessively." One study conducted by the University of Manchester notes that society is much more inclined to accept pregnancy and much less so to accept "fatness." Consequently, some women in the postpartum period are eager to ditch the baby fat as they no longer feel insulated within the pregnancy-weight-gain-bubble. For some moms, they think being a heavier weight beyond the context of their pregnancy is invalid. It certainly doesn't help matters when new moms see celebrity figures shedding their baby weight at seemingly magical rates.
Is losing 33 pounds in 3 months postpartum like Khloe Kardashian a fair expectation for new mothers? Short answer- nope. Do mothers still hold themselves in comparison to celebrities like Khloe? At alarming rates. A University of Louisville study explored how new mothers experience exposure to celebrity mom body profiles, or CMB as they refer to them in their research. The study notes that nearly all participants experienced feelings of personal body inadequacy when observing celebrity mom body profiles. Themes like a desire for thinness and "reclaiming the pre-baby body" emerged across most of the mother participant pool.
Additionally, it noted that all women within the study believed that the men in their lives expected their bodies to revert into pre-baby bodies after delivery instantaneously. Nearly 40% of the women interviewed also believe that men think women should look similar to celebrity moms. At this point, that's pressure from moms themselves, societal constructs, celebrities, and the pressure moms perceive from their significant others.
All of these pressures regarding postpartum body expectations are detrimental to mothers’ well being. For one, poor body image poses severe challenges to mental health. It can lead to decreased self-esteem and confidence. It can also potentially exacerbate mothers' relationship with food, with some mothers developing postpartum eating disorders. Postpartum eating disorders are eating disorders that emerge within the postpartum period (the six weeks following birth for mothers). Such eating disorders include but are not limited to Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. Eating disorders such as these are harmful to both mom and baby, impacting mothers' ability to recover and care for her baby. Therefore, moms should seek help when experiencing such disorders.
Fortunately, while there is still a long way to go, body positivity and celebration on social media make strides to create a more body-inclusive society. Trends like #normalizenormalbodies and "A Daily Reminder That Social Media is Fake" serve as excellent vehicles for body positivity, reminding individuals that what is posted is often a hyper-glorified account of reality. Some moms have championed these trends, posting physical transformations like stretch marks, altered breasts, and “untoned” tummies. They offer an insight into the fact that postpartum bodies, perhaps transformed, are beautiful and worthy of love and celebration.
Ahma & Co dedicates itself to being an inclusive, body-positive environment for women. Serving as a holistic retreat center for mothers, we provide new mothers with a community that celebrates and empowers women through the many transformations they will experience in their postpartum period. Our postpartum experts will bolster mothers by providing compassionate support and education to help them understand how and why their bodies undergo such changes. Here at Ahma & Co, we believe that every mom is beautiful and deserves to feel that way! So, go out and sport that bikini this summer if you please.