I was in my mid-20’s before I was finally able to look in the mirror without criticising myself. It was at that point that I realised my relationship with my body had radically changed. Until that moment, I couldn’t remember a time, since the age of around 10, where I hadn’t looked in the mirror and engaged in some form of negative self-talk.
Yet here I am again, a decade later, 6-month postpartum, looking at my reflection in the mirror and not liking the body I see. She looks older, bigger, and softer. She has not “bounced-back”.
Pregnancy and postpartum can be a complicated period for women, where for the first-time weight gain is expected and accepted. Yet after birth, there is a societal pressure to return to a pre-pregnancy size as quickly as possible.
Carrying and giving birth to a baby can change the body in countless ways. Some changes are transitory, others permanent, leaving us vulnerable to body shame and negative self-talk. However, I believe that during pregnancy and the postpartum period it’s more important than ever to cultivate a healthy body image. This is because the way I view my own body and speak about myself, will also inherently shape the way my daughter sees her body and herself.
What is Body Image?
The term “body image’ describes how you see yourself when you look in the mirror, or how you picture yourself in your mind. It’s influenced by your self-esteem and formative memories. Just like the remembrance of a parent criticising yours or their weight, as well as the messages you have absorbed from the media and culture.
For many new mothers a struggle with body image is intertwined with the desire to reclaim parts of themselves. Parts that have been pushed aside by the physical and emotional demands of new parenthood.
It could also be said that body image issues are an imbalance between the feminine and masculine aspects of ourselves. If we look at the masculine, or another way to describe it would be ‘left-brain’, it is logical, thinking, protective, straight, to the point, enjoys order, numbers and favours muscle. While the feminine, or ‘right-brain’ is nourishing, feeling, circular, emotional, unpredictable, intuitive, curvy, and soft. If we get stuck in a masculine approach to body image there will be an overemphasis on numbers and measurements, willpower to control and a perfectionist attitude about the body.
When we focus on how our body looks we’re often less aware of how it feels. We are also less in touch with signs of hunger and fullness or feelings of pleasure and pain. Yet if we can drop into the feminine side we can approach ourselves with more compassion, embodiment, love and self-acceptance.
A Body Love Approach to Your Postpartum Body Image
1. Bounce forward rather than back
Instead of trying to get your pre-pregnancy body back, focus on the body you have now. Embrace the fact that your body (and your life) is not the same as it was before. This can help to find a deep sense of embodiment.
Instead of focusing on what was, become curious and challenge old beliefs. Who says this post-pregnancy body isn’t more attractive, sexier, or better than before? It’s certainly wiser, stronger, and more experienced!
2. Find gratitude
If you find yourself engaging in negative self-talk, a body appreciation meditation or body scan can help. It can look something like this:
Take a moment to settle into a comfortable position. Notice how you are feeling, how you are right now in this moment. Notice how your body feels. Scan your body for a moment, from your head, all the way down to your toes.
Then bring your attention to your head…And thank your ears for listening, your eyes for seeing, your tongue for speaking your truth and your mouth for eating nourishing food.
Now, move your attention to your arms…And thank your hands for their ability to hold, your fingers for their sense of touch and your arms for any hugs that you have given or received.
Bring your attention to your torso….And thank your lungs for breathing in fresh air, your heart for beating, your stomach for digesting nourishing food, your vital organs for all your body’s functions.
Take your awareness to your lower body…And thank your legs for their ability to stand and move, and your feet for their ability to walk and dance.
Finally, connect with your whole body… And thank your body for functioning as a whole. Thank your body for making you a mother.
Now repeat in your mind…. My body is acceptable just the way it is; I accept this body I am in; There is no need to be perfect; My imperfections make me unique; I can accept my imperfections. I am enough just as I am…
3. Adopt a feminine approach to movement
Move in ways that you love. Move in ways that give you pleasure. Move in ways that make you smile. Move in ways that are doable for you. Move in ways that truly make it feel good for you to be in your body.
Your body may be needing more rest, so engaging in restorative forms of yoga for example, can be very nourishing.
For the new mother, it’s important to ‘nurture the nurturer’ – rebuilding depleted physical and emotional strength and energy so that you can go on giving to your baby and family. Yoga can become a lifeline – a brief sanctuary in the day in which you are permitted to focus just on yourself.
So even if you haven’t loved your body so far, forgive yourself, let go of judgement and practice accepting yourself as you are. As Amethyst Joy sums up so beautifully, “How can you ever say anything negative about your body after you have felt the dancing of life from inside your womb?”.
Tammy Shemesh is a Prenatal, Postnatal and Women’s Yoga teacher, and Eating Psychology Coach specialising in body image. Tammy is also a Bliss Baby Yoga graduate and has supported us with marketing. She now works with women with eating disorders and is passionate about a feminine approach to yoga, business and birth. You can find out about her work via her website Body Love Matters.
If you are passionate about nurturing women during pregnancy and postnatally, and offering holistic yoga classes with safe, appropriate and nourishing practices designed specifically for pregnant women and new mothers, you may be interested in our Bliss Baby Yoga Online Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training course. We also offer Online Extension Modules to enhance and further your learning in this area, covering topics including Perinatal Nutrition & Ayurveda, Prenatal & Postnatal Anatomy and Physiology and Pelvic Floor Anatomy and Physiology for Women’s Health.
Further Reading related to this topic:
- How Yoga Can Support Postnatal Mental Health (Including Three Simple Practices) by Maria Kirsten
- All Paths Lead to Restorative Yoga (Confessions of a Yoga Mama) by Nadine O’Mara
- Motherhood is MY Practice: Honoring Me by Kelley Palmer
- How Mindful Self Compassion is saving my relationship with my teen by Ana Davis
- The Sādhanā of Motherhood: tips for integrating yoga into daily life by Nadine O’Mara
- Healing the wound: How can we best support mothers after caesarian? by Nadine O’Mara
- Self-Care Tips for New Mamas by Star Despres