Written by Jessica Koroni, MS, RD, LDN, CEDS
Hey there Mama!
Remember when you were pregnant and everyone was boasting about your glow? Commenting on your cute bump maybe? Pregnancy can bring so much love, support, confidence and strength with it. Now you’ve had your baby, and suddenly your social media feed is flooded with the dreaded “postpartum snap back”. What is this snap back you ask? It is the expectation that mothers can and should do everything in their power to get their pre-pregnancy body back…..as soon as possible. The snap back expectation not only puts enormous amounts of pressure on women, but it can also put unrealistic, sometimes impossible expectations on new or veteran mothers. I personally believe companies marketing to postpartum women are wolves in sheep clothing. So let’s dive in to the postpartum snap back: the bad and the ugly.
Ok really quick though, a personal story…after having my first baby, my social media feed was flooded with postpartum products to get “rid of” my postpartum belly. Products from waist trainers, to high wasted leggings, to even supplements to help me lose the baby weight. How my social media knew I had just delivered a baby was beyond me (that is a whole other topic in itself!) but it knew, and it was reminding me that all of a sudden something was wrong with me. No longer was I deserving of admiration for the life I created during pregnancy. Now I needed to “fix’ my body. How dare I walk around with a postpartum belly.
If you have also experienced this feeling, thought, comment etc. I am truly sorry. You not only created a life, you grew a human….with your body…and then brought that human into this world. You created a soul, literally. You deserve love, strength, confidence and support after bringing that beautiful bundle into this world, just as much as you deserved it when you were growing them. So why do women feel like they have to look like their pre-pregnancy selves? Let’s dive in.
What started the “snap back” anyway? Some can say social media is the culprit. Others can say photos of celebrities that look like super models after giving birth just 2 weeks later. Maybe it’s your mother or grandmothers’ voice in your head, quietly judging your food choices. What it ultimately comes down to is the weight stigma problem in this country.
Weight stigma is the discrimination against an individual simply due to their weight (1). Studies have shown weight stigma actually increases individuals weight by increasing behavioral changes linked to poor metabolic outcomes (2). In layman’s terms, shaming people for being fat, doesn’t make them thin. Shaming mothers for not “losing the baby weight” isn’t going to
magically make women lose weight. Furthermore, the expectations that mothers need to immediately change their body after giving birth is absurd. Creating this expectation can lead to depression, poor body image/satisfaction and disordered eating (1).
Your health is just as important in the postpartum phase as it was during the pregnancy phase. Taking care of a newborn is HARD. Taking care of an infant is HARD. Trying to take care of yourself while caring for your baby is HARD. I’ve witnessed so many moms commenting on the love for their baby, and the hatred for their new body. These moms are exercising like fiends and restricting their intake just to get their original body back. It breaks my heart to see women go through this. So let’s review some facts to hopefully help add a new perspective to the postpartum body.
Let’s break down the weight gain in pregnancy to help better understand weight changes postpartum:
Baby: ~6-9 pounds
Placenta: ~1.5 pounds
Uterus: ~ 2 pounds
Amniotic Fluids: ~ 2 pounds
Breast Tissue: ~2 pounds
Blood: ~ 4 pounds
Body Fluids: ~ 4 pounds
Maternal Fat Stores: ~7 pounds
Did you know women gain body fat aka adipose tissue to get ready for breast feeding? If you are a breastfeeding mom, you may notice more body fat in your hips and thigh areas. This is what is referred to as peripheral fat, which is not associated with poor health factors. As your body is creating milk for your baby, it is drawing energy from these fat stores (3,4). Your body isn’t holding on to fat because something is wrong with it. It is using these fat store to continue to provide life to your baby.
Body fat isn’t the only thing that changes postpartum. Diastasis recti is the separation of the abdominal muscles during pregnancy and/or in the postpartum phase (5). After having a baby, these muscles can remain separated, creating a bulge in the abdomen area. Many women experience diastases recti. After all, your abdominal muscles were just stretched to their max capacity most likely. There are exercises that can help with this, and speaking with a physical therapist is recommended if you are struggling with this.
Maybe you aren’t a breast feeding mother, and maybe you didn’t experience abdominal separation. There is one thing that you likely have experience however, and that is sleep deprivation. How does sleep deprivation affect our bodies? Well for starters, can you function at a 100% if you have only recharged 25% of your battery? Probably not. So maybe getting mindful movement isn’t as much of a priority. Or perhaps the thought of grocery shopping and cooking sounds utterly exhausting. Not getting enough sleep impacts our ability to live a balanced life. Suddenly, you are giving 100% of the energy you do have to taking care of your baby, and there is little left for yourself. As I mentioned earlier, taking care of a baby is HARD. Although this phase doesn’t last forever, it does last a long time (postpartum can be considered up to 12 months after delivery!) (6), and your body takes time to adjust to its new normal.
The Take Away
What I want you to take away from this short blurb, is that bodies change after having a baby and that is normal, and quite honestly expected. Are there women who return to their pre- pregnancy body? Why yes there are! Are there women who have new bodies after pregnancy? Why yes there are! All bodies are different, and how our bodies respond to change is based off of a multitude of factors that are not always in our control. The expectation women bodies should return to their pre-pregnancy self as the gold standard is absurd. Hello!!!! You are not your pre- pregnancy self! Of course, there are parts of you that will always remain and you are also a new version of you! A new version of you with your heart outside of your body. Your miraculous body I might add.
If you are struggling with the pressures of the postpartum snap back, there are a few things you can do:
1. Talk to a dietitian – Nutrition in the postpartum period is just as important as
it was in the pregnancy stage. Speaking with a dietitian can help ensure you are nourishing your body during this very taxing time. You can take care of your body WITHOUT weight loss being the prescription.
2. Talk to a therapist – body image distress is something many of us experience, regardless if we have had a baby or not. Talking to a therapist can help you process this new chapter in life. There are perinatal practices solely dedicated to helping pregnant and postpartum women.
3. Buy new clothes – Are pre-pregnancy clothes triggering body image distress? Buy new clothes that fit you now! Finding clothes that make you feel comfortable in your body can help keep body image distress down.
4. Follow social media that makes you feel good – if you find your social media feed is causing you to feel down, then unfollow those accounts! Although social media can have negative effects on our mental health, it can also have positive one when you make it work for you. Follow accounts that feel supportive!
Being a mother is the most wonderful job I have had thus far. I would be lying if I didn’t say there are times I miss my pre-mom self, and even my pre-mom body. As a healthcare professional I know the science and evidence behind postpartum body changes, and I still find myself getting stuck in society’s unrealistic expectations of how my body should look. If you feel this way you are not alone. Just know there is so much more to life than trying to manipulate your body into this small box society believes you should be in. I leave you with one of my favorite quotes by Nayyirha Waheed, “And I said to my body softly. ‘I want to be your friend’. It took a long breath. And replied, ‘I have been waiting my whole life for this’.”
Want to learn more? Book a free 15 minute discovery call or book a session with one of our dietitians to continue the conversation and to learn more about postpartum nutrition and what are and are not realistic expectations.
2.Puhl RM, Heuer CA. The stigma of obesity: a review and update. Obesity. 2009;17(5):941–64.
3. Stuebe AM, Rich-Edwards JW. The reset hypothesis: lactation and maternal metabolism. Am J Perinatol. 2009 Jan;26(1):81-8. doi: 10.1055/s-0028-1103034. Epub 2008 Nov 21. PMID: 19031350; PMCID: PMC3006166.
5. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22346-diastasis-recti 6. https://www.healthline.com/health/postpartum-recovery-timeline