The pregnant body is fascinating to me. It was mind-boggling when I was pregnant that I had a real human being growing inside me. That I could feel the kicks and jabs and hiccups of a little person. Not to mention the way the body expands to accommodate the baby. Not only are pregnancy and the pregnant belly fascinating to the mom, but the entire world likes to watch, too. Strangers comment on your pregnant state; we watch celebrities grow and comment on their bellies and weight gain and fashion choices.
The excitement of watching the baby bump culminates with the birth of the baby, and then instantly, it becomes a bump watch of another kind: how quickly can that mom return to her pre-pregnancy form? What will her post-baby body look like? Will she lose the weight? Will she ever be fit again? Let’s watch and find out — and judge and criticize while we do!
Although I lament the post-pregnancy belly watch, I’m part of the problem. Just today I clicked on an article about how Jessica Simpson lost the baby weight. Then there are the countless articles examining Kate Middleton and how she looks as a new mom. Even non-celebrity moms are making waves with their svelte physiques. One fitness blogger, Caroline Berg Eriksen, got a lot of attention for a super-slim selfie she posted on Instagram. You would never guess she’d had a baby just a few days prior to the bare belly photo. Then there’s mom of three Maria Kang who is super fit and posted the picture to prove it. Just yesterday I read a story about Victoria’s Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio. What struck me about the article wasn’t the botched plastic surgery at age 11; it was this jaw-dropping quote: “People kept telling me that I would bounce back straight away, but a week after giving birth I still had that balloon belly. It was the first time in my life that I had to diet,” she said.
I wanted to cry. Please tell me there aren’t women out there who think it’s abnormal to have a belly one week, one month, even three, four or five months postpartum. It takes 40 weeks for that belly to balloon out; shouldn’t it take some time to let it deflate? Women aren’t even generally approved to exercise until six weeks postpartum; shouldn’t we give them — and ourselves — at least that long to enjoy the baby before we’re hitting the treadmill or doing baby-and-me workouts?
It’s great if you’re looking at these stories and images for inspiration and “She did it, I can too!” style motivation. But I worry that these articles give moms an unrealistic expectation of what the postpartum body looks like, how quickly we should be “bouncing back,” and furthermore, that that’s what our focus should be on. For some women, getting fit as soon as possible is a priority; for others it’s not.
I don’t begrudge anyone their amazing post-baby body. There are absolutely women who are going to bounce back from pregnancy immediately, and bless them and their crazy genetics and good luck. But there are women who are going to have to work really hard at it. And there are all sorts of women in between the extremes who will lose the weight gradually and who will eventually get back really close to their pre-baby body — or even better. Maintaining a level of fitness during pregnancy can help, but it’s not a guarantee that you’ll be walking out of the hospital in your skinny jeans. And while some women can run marathons up until the day they go into labor, there are others who can’t for any number of reasons.
It’s not the norm to gain just 22 pounds during pregnancy, and it’s not the norm to look like a supermodel on a daily basis — never mind when you’ve got a newborn at home! We need to manage our expectations so that we have a realistic outlook and body image post-pregnancy. You’ve got enough to worry about with caring for a newborn 24/7; worrying about getting back into a bikini shouldn’t be on your list. Most of us are still in maternity pants for a month or two; that’s the norm, not the exception.
So instead of rolling my eyes and clicking next time I see a “post-baby belly” headline, I’m planning to ignore the article. I’m going to keep on scrolling down the page and find something more important to read. Maybe if enough of us refuse to click, we’ll start seeing fewer stories about post-baby bellies and more stories on how new moms can balance becoming a mom with their old identity, or how to manage to thrive on three hours of sleep, or even how you should feel like it’s an accomplishment to go on an easy walk in the first months with a new baby. Women should remember to ease back into fitness on their own terms, rather than to meet a goal of looking like a hot new mom.
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