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Tackling the Challenge of Body Image Post-Baby

Lindsay Stenovec MS, RD, CLEC is a mom, registered dietitian nutritionist, and lactation educator living in San Diego with her husband and two sons. Lindsay believes in judgment-free nutrition and offers feeding advice that empowers parents to reduce stress around feeding while nurturing healthy relationships with food and body. 

Growing a human being is one of the biggest physical changes a woman can go through in her lifetime. Many have a difficult time feeling good about these changes and it’s no surprise when messages like “get your body back,” and “bouncing back after baby” seem to be everywhere. This is especially concerning when studies show that a mother’s feelings about body image tend to worsen over the course of the first year after childbirth – ranging from occasional negative thoughts and frustrations to intense daily struggles.

As a mom and Registered Dietitian who helps new moms feel good about their post-baby body, I know first-hand how hard it can be to go through so many rapid physical changes in such a short amount of time, especially when experiencing changes to personal identity, hormones, and sleep deprivation.

In this second post in a four-part series for Plum’s Keeping it Together campaign, we’ll be taking a closer look at why moms struggle with mixed emotions about their bodies in the first year after baby, how moms can work to shift their body image perceptions, and how they can find the support needed to embrace their bodies during this time of change.

  1. Figure out why these feelings are coming up. Often, we think that body image simply has to do with appearance, but if we take a closer look body image has just as much to do with experiences inside our bodies – neurologically, physically and emotionally. The changes moms experience postpartum are intense, and the shift in identity that happens can make physical changes even harder to accept. It’s not unusual to have feelings of wanting one’s old self back after baby, including the physical self. Instead of jumping to “fix” what feels uncomfortable (whether that be body stuff or otherwise), I recommend taking an inventory of when negative body thoughts pop up – maybe it’s while getting dressed, or when deciding what to eat – and then take a minute to breathe and observe these experiences without judgement. This mindfulness practice helps moms minimize reactivity and become more in tune with why they’re feeling this way.
  2. Work on self-care while shifting perceptions. I frequently remind moms that the changes experienced post-baby is just as slow, intentional and necessary as those experienced during pregnancy. Just because the baby is no longer inside of the body doesn’t mean there are not important processes still at work. This means the body might not heal in the way, or at the speed a mom is expecting. While a mom is working on shifting her perceptions towards feeling more positive about her body, she can start by treating it with respect by eating adequate and nourishing foods, limiting negative self-talk, minimizing stress and getting as much rest a possible. This is an important step in the process that will look different for everyone. Check out my first post in this series for additional tips on caring for both the body and mind during the first year after childbirth.
  3. Seek support. I believe we have to encourage honest and open dialogue about the real experiences moms are having inside their bodies post-baby – and how body image challenges, however big or small, are impacting their lives. There are a growing number of online programs that can support moms with self-care in feeling good about their post-baby bodies. Check out online communities and programs like The Nurtured Mama and Body Kindness. While sharing these experiences in a group may feel intimidating at first, I’ve found that the shared experience of hearing another mom say, “yes, these changes are hard, I get it,” instead of defaulting to self-depreciating language provides moms with a safe and welcoming place to share their own feelings and get the support they need to move forward.

While it may take some time for a mom to feel good about her new body, these tips can be a good first step toward healing. Taking the time to adjust to these changes and finding a place of acceptance and respect for the body can be an important step to “keeping it together” during this exciting and challenging time. If you’re a mom reading this who feels consumed by negative body thoughts, I encourage you to seek the support of a qualified medical professional such as your primary care physician or a psychotherapist who specializes in postpartum and body image.

Stay tuned for my next post in this series where we’ll talk about how to realistically meal plan for postpartum.