Why You Don't Have to "Bounce Back" After a Baby
Nobody wants to be out of shape or unhappy with his or her body, but the fact is that the pressure is on to dump that baby fat and then some shortly after the baby is out of you. Yes, that's right, shortly thereafter. Not one year or two years, but a few months. It used to be that women had babies and no one really commented on what happened afterward, but with the rise of social media and celebs with their personal trainers and plastic surgery, the commenting begins both in our own minds and on the lips' of others fairly soon after that bundle of joy is out of the womb and into our lives.
Getting healthy and losing excess weight after a pregnancy isn't just a vanity or appearance matter; it's also a health matter. Being the wrong size for your frame always brings trouble. Yet, with that said, the pressure and conversation that surrounds women and their postpregnancy bodies is a bit much. It's not just enough to get in shape, but now you also have to walk out of your C-section or labor with a six-pack. All right, so I am exaggerating slightly, but you moms know what I am saying.
The irony in this is I am a small person who didn't have a terrible struggle with weight after the birth of my daughter, thanks to genes, breastfeeding, and a horrific bout of hyperemesis during my pregnancy. Still though, my body had changed and I wanted to get back to who I was before the baby, and in that interim period, I felt frumpy and not as sexy whenever I got the chance to think about that rather than the 50 million other things that new moms think about as they leak, yawn, and move throughout the first year of their child's life. Of course, being the type-A person that I was, I couldn't just get back to where I was before the baby, but rather, I needed to become even better. I, too, bought that I had to bounce back and be perfect right away!
There is no crime in wanting to be healthy and fit. There is no crime in shedding weight and watching what you eat. The crime is that the pressure and standards are set so high that we, as women and mothers, often can't reach these lofty goals quickly or with ease. For those of us who can reach these lofty goals easily and quickly, the pressure alone makes the experience stressful and not a joyous trip down the road of wellness. And even when a woman has gone and lost the weight after the baby, her body may still not be the body with a six-pack and tight butt that people celebrate in the media. It can make losing the weight somewhat diminished if you then are stuck with a few stretch marks or sags or simply have lost weight but don't look like a supermodel. Or if you've gone and lost the weight and become tight-bodied as it were, other moms might start to hate on the "Fit Mom," which is just as bad. You went and got yourself in shape and now you're being hated on. . . . It's hard to win either way. If the pressure to bounce back were not so intense, it's likely that moms would be more supportive of the women still trying to get fit after baby, the ones who don't care about it so much, and the ones who have gone and become a body of steel.
Since when did women have to reform back to their 20s or prebaby body weight while looking like a personal trainer so quickly after a baby? A pregnancy takes a toll on a woman's body — some pay a higher price than others or take a tougher beating, I should say — and it would be nice if the dialogue on body after baby was a bit more honest and supportive. It would be great if moms could feel fine flaunting their bodies in bathing suits even with a stretch mark or an extra five pounds without commentary. Better yet, it would be wonderful if we all didn't care as much about it. I wish the "bounce back" discussion was dialed down a few notches and instead we discussed what it means to be healthy, fit, and sane after bringing a baby into the world. It would be better if the discussion was around postpartum depression and life-change issues rather than "did so-and-so lose the baby weight?"
I'm not saying we should all balloon up and accept that our postbirth bodies are as good as it gets. I'm not saying that people should use being pregnant as an excuse to gorge 24/7. No, and in fact, I highly recommend exercise as a way to relax and destress — especially after having kids — but I am saying let's be gentler on each other. On ourselves. Let's champion each other and focus on the real issues that come once a woman has a baby, and that's career-related stressors, the challenge of stay-at-home-mom life, postpartum depression, feeding issues, developmental stages, the journey of what it means to be a mom yet still find time for the person you were before you earned the title of "mama," and other multiple issues that befall us as mothers.
Whether you're 20 pounds overweight or none, can't we all be easier on ourselves? A pregnancy takes nine months to complete, not five minutes. We aren't celebrities, most of us. We don't have teams of personal trainers and chefs to hold down the fort of our health and lives. We have to squeeze in meals in between peeing, breathing, and sleeping a whole few hours, if we are lucky.
You will bounce back and can even gain a better body after a baby. There is no doubt in my mind. I am in better shape now than I was the day I conceived my kid. However, I don't think this happens in a day, and I don't think we need to add this to the number of pressures we face as mothers. Instead, I think we should try to embrace where we are at each stage of motherhood, and in those few months to a year after a new baby comes, the plate is so heavy with change and challenges that we need to lighten our load.
We need to accept and love ourselves and be easy on each other just as we want others to do for our children. Bouncing back may mean an amazing body, but let's not forget our hearts, souls, and heads.