Body After Breastfeeding: The Change I Wasn’t ExpectingHeather Neal
We hear about “body after baby” all the time. Constantly. It’s almost as if you can’t have a baby without then talking about what’s going on with your body — more specifically, your weight and your shape. While I think there’s a larger issue here (i.e. Why can’t we just embrace what our bodies go through in order to grow and birth a baby?), it’s not a topic that’s going to disappear anytime soon. But, as usual, I have a different take on the body-after-baby thing:
Your body after breastfeeding.
See, I was one of the lucky ones, and it warps my view on the body-after-baby debacle. I was able to get back to my pre-baby weight fairly quickly and with little effort. Don’t hate me – I have to say it for the rest of this to make sense. Maybe it had something to do with staying active during pregnancy, a good draw in the gene pool, or simply the fact that I was exhausted, overworked, and breastfeeding a newborn. For a little while, I actually lost too much weight. My son had colic, reflux, and food allergies. Since I was breastfeeding, that meant I too had to avoid a large category of foods. It’s hard enough finding time to eat as a new mom, let alone having to select from diminished choices. But eventually things balanced out and I was at my standard adult weight, regardless of pre- or post-pregnancy, or any other disclaimer.
I thought since I’d returned to my pre-pregnancy weight after giving birth that I wouldn’t have to deal with it anymore. I thought it was a stage I’d gotten past; one I’d sort of skimmed over and came out of victorious.
But, of course, I was wrong.
The shock of having a different body after baby truly didn’t hit me until after I’d quit breastfeeding, almost 20 months after giving birth. (No, extended breastfeeding was never something I intended; it just happened.) Like most things our bodies do naturally, my body self-regulated once I gave it the chance to do so. It adapted to a new “normal.” And while my “normal” used to include burning extra energy and calories in order to produce milk to sustain another human being, when I took away that “extra” factor, things began to change. My weight started creeping back up; not all at once, just slowly enough to barely notice. I started getting jigglier (yes, it’s a word) and softer in all the places women tend to. My clothes went from being uncomfortable to just plain not fitting. I needed smaller tops – goodbye, nursing boobs – and wider pants — hello, new waist and hips. My weight settled in all different places than it had before or even during pregnancy, and my hips might as well have been in two different hemispheres. More than two years after having a baby, I finally had to acknowledge and adjust to having my post-baby body.
Thankfully, I have enough self-confidence to still be comfortable with myself and my body, enough self-awareness to know that I still look fine, and enough lack of care to not worry about it from a vanity stand point. But what it has shown me is that now I have to work a little bit harder to keep up physically. It’s not the extra padding that bothers me, but the lack of muscle and strength that comes along with it. Moreover, it’s the mental acknowledgement that I’m getting older, that I have someone besides myself to care for, and that it’s going to take a little more work to stay healthy and in shape. It’s a new vulnerability I’ve had to accept and face. I’ve had to realize I can’t eat everything under the sun just because I could while breastfeeding. I can finally relate to moms that have gone through this adjustment earlier in their parenting experience, and not surprisingly, I’ve found plenty of moms who’ve shared this same delayed change in their body as I have. We tend to forget how much our bodies go through from conception through birth and then again after birth and beyond. It takes awhile to recover from the hormone dips and spikes we go through after we give birth. It takes even longer if you’re breastfeeding. It’s like being caught in some hazy limbo between being pregnant and not being pregnant; your body just can’t quite decide what state it’s in.
So, no: Your “body after baby” might not happen right after having a baby. It may take a few months, or even years. It can go in one direction, or it can go in the opposite direction. The only thing I’ve learned to do is to embrace it and relearn how to fuel it and use it along the way. And above all, I remember why it’s changed and the amazing things that it’s managed to do in the past three years.
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