There is enormous cultural pressure to have our bodies look and feel the same after pregnancy and childbirth. These narratives about “getting your body back” are presented as a focus on health, but there is nothing healthy about the expectation that your body will be unchanged by birthing a baby. This version of what it means to be healthy is fueled by a diet industry that encourages self-hatred in order to capitalize off of body modification and a health industry that promotes fatphobia rather than emphasizing access to Health at Every Size®.
The cultural fantasy that body postivity is a rational, useful, and even healthy way of taking charge of one’s life is ever present in the ways we think about and talk about bodies after birth. This overwhelming pressure can get in the way of feeling good and taking care of yourself while juggling the new demands of parenthood.
Your body is not the problem, our culture is! You just made a human being, which is a pretty incredible thing to have done. Here are four things you might hear or experience—and ways you can talk back to celebrate your body, reject externally dictated standards, and change the postpartum narrative!
“Get Your Body Back”
Quickly after giving birth we are told it is time to get to work on “getting your body back” and bombarded with fitness techniques and diets for “bouncing back” from childbirth. It is okay to have a spectrum of feelings about the changes your body has gone through (not to mention, other aspects of your life), but please remember: you did not lose your body; it has always been with you. You do not need to get it back.
“You can’t have sex until your doctor clears you at six or eight weeks postpartum.”
This is an incredibly common restriction suggested by doctors that has no relationship to your own healing or when you might desire sex again (and it is also very focused on vaginal penetration when there are lots of other options). Studies suggest at least a quarter of us are having sex before that arbitrary date, and that’s totally fine if you are feeling well enough, healed, and in the mood. It is also totally fine to not feel ready until well after six to eight weeks. Choosing to have sex with your partner (or yourself) should not be a decision made by a clinical care provider “clearing” you, but rather a decision based on how you feel and what you want.
“Are you breastfeeding? That’s how I dropped the weight!”
It is not uncommon to hear that breastfeeding is a terrific way to lose weight. Breastfeeding can be pitched as a magic pill for transforming your postpartum body. As with most fad diets and trends, what might work for one person does not necessarily impact another the same way. People of all sizes breastfeed their babies for a myriad of reasons having nothing to do with the intention of it resulting in weight loss.
“Look at her; it is like she was never pregnant!”
Parenting magazines, TV shows, and ads present mothers as white, heteronormative, thin, cis women. Develop a critical eye toward images that make you believe that the transition into parenthood would be better, easier, or more perfect in a different body; and question the notion that immediately looking like you were never pregnant is necessary or even desirable! Seek out different images that affirm the body you are in right now and that celebrate the diversity of our bodies. Connect with body positive communities through social media like “The Body Positive, 4th Trimester Project” and “Plus Size Birth.” Seeking out and sharing alternative representations of parenthood can be a great way to build community and affirm your own experience.
Sarah Lewin, LMSW is a labor doula, lactation counselor, childbirth educator, and social worker. She is the author of A Doula For the Mother and the Self: Exploring the Intersection of Birth and Body Culture, and is passionate about creating body positive community.
Megan Davidson, PhD is a labor and postpartum doula, a breastfeeding counselor, and a childbirth educator who has worked with over 1,100 new parents in NYC. She is the author of Experts in Birth about doula care in the US and is currently writing a how-to guide for having a positive birth. Together they have authored two forthcoming essays, “Eating for Two: The Threat and Fear of Fatness in Pregnancy” and “Dangerous Bodies: Imagining, Monitoring, & Managing Fatness During Pregnancy.”
They are guest bloggers for the National Eating Disorders Association and offer body positivity trainings and mentoring for birth workers.