Body Image Confessions of a New Mom
Pregnancy left me softer and rounder than I’ve ever been. Combine that with a lack of sleep and an unpredictable schedule, I didn’t feel like myself for the first nine months of Everett’s life. I avoided looking in the mirror and wore whatever clothes hid my “new” body the best. I would let whatever happened with the baby in the night dictate what kind of mood I was in the next day.
I hated how I looked and felt but wasn’t motivated enough to make a change.
And I’m fairly confident that many moms can relate.
Since starting the Couch to 5k program, however, I have experienced a significant shift in mindset. I feel happier, have a more positive outlook, and I am slowly starting to feel better about my body. Don’t get me wrong, I still have a good chunk of weight I’d like to lose, but I’m making progress. The shift in how I feel and the increase in energy I have throughout the day has been significant.
Before getting into how a whole lot of sweat and a regular dose of self-care has helped me let go of some of my negativity, I want to talk about the reality of pregnancy weight gain and body image.
The Reality of Pregnancy Weight Gain
I view the mandatory weigh-ins during prenatal checkups as cruel and unusual punishment. What’s up with the nurse who’s always cranky and seems confused by the fact that I want to slip off my shoes and jacket before I step on the scale? It’s bad enough that I have to get weighed with ALL OF MY CLOTHES ON. I’m not about to add a few ounces just because of clunky shoes.
During pregnancy, women are bombarded with contradictory messages. One moment we are told to not look at the scale and just focus on nourishing our babies. The next, we’re told to be careful to not gain “too much” weight.
Some people say the baby weight will fall off quickly if we nurse. Others tell us they still have those 20 extra pounds 10 years after their last baby. We’re told not to worry about how quickly we “bounce back,” and yet, we see women all over Instagram who have flat tummies and radiant skin one week postpartum.
The reality is, most women probably don’t lose their pregnancy weight right away. Many are probably silently struggling to come to terms with their new bodies. Despite that, it has been easy for me to think I’m the only one who feels lost in an unfamiliar body.
The Balancing Act of Trying to Gain the “Right Amount of Weight”
For the first two trimesters, I tried to find a balance - eating the occasional bowl of ice cream, but hopping on the scale every day to try and stay within the guidelines my doctor suggested. Despite knowing it was normal and even, necessary, to gain weight, every time I stepped onto the scale, I cringed. Somewhere in my third trimester, my weight just kept ticking upward, and I decided it wasn’t doing me any good to keep weighing myself.
The thing is, I think we are all built differently. Yes, what we eat and how much we exercise does matter to our health, but at some point, our bodies will do what they want. I know some women who gained 40-60 pounds no matter what they ate during each of their pregnancies and others who only gained 15 pounds. And you know what? They are all healthy enough and had beautiful sweet babies.
Trust me, I know my genetics. I understood before having Everett that the weight most likely would not just magically fall off, but there was a little part of me that hoped it would. And yet, I wasn’t fully prepared for how bummed out I would be every time I had to get dressed in something nicer than yoga pants and a sweatshirt. Oh, and lucky me, I bought a photography package for Everett’s first year, and guess who has had to be in a lot of the pictures? This mama. Ugh. Talk about a rude reminder that you haven’t lost any weight and that your clothes don’t fit.
I believe pregnancy and motherhood are one big constant reminder that our bodies are no longer our own. During these years of building a family, our weight is going to fluctuate up and down. Our bodies are going to be stretched and pushed to new limits. We might as well accept that and start being kind to ourselves. But how?
Fed-Up Enough to Make a Change
As a new mom, it’s easy to feel like you’re completely out of control. Your schedule is dictated by a squirming little bundle who needs you for everything. It was easy for me just to throw my hands up and say that keeping the baby alive, fed, and happy was all I could muster. And honestly, I think for a season, that probably was true. But I finally hit a breaking point.
I didn’t feel like myself. I was cranky more often than I’d like to admit. I was easily affected by other people’s negativity. My bad moods would last for hours. I felt like I was in a fog and I hated how I looked and felt. And yet, I wasn’t sad. I loved my baby dearly and was so thankful to be a stay at home mom. I just didn’t recognize who I was anymore.
So, what changed?
Put simply, I got sick of complaining. I got tired of feeling self-conscious and uncomfortable in my clothes. I got sick of going through the days with a negative outlook and feeling exhausted. I realized that I rarely took time for myself and definitely wasn’t doing anything that resembled self-care.
During this time, the podcasts I was listening to kept reminding me that the only person stopping me from changing my life was myself. I repeatedly heard that to care for my family well, I first had to care for myself. They told me that if my cup was empty, I couldn’t expect to pour good things out into the lives of others.
I finally realized that no matter how good the excuses were to NOT take care of myself, the one who would always lose would be me.
Going All In On Self-Care
One day, I was struck with the thought “I should do a 5k.” I hadn't run regularly in years and was totally out of shape, but since it was the first real flicker of motivation, I jumped on it.
I signed up for the Ann Arbor Turkey Trot and downloaded the Couch to 5k app. Then, I bought new running shoes, and Nate and I finally purchased the treadmill we’ve been talking about for two years.
While I had been walking most days and trying to hit the coveted 10,000 steps, I knew that I needed to jump in with both feet and just get going. I was desperate to feel better and lose weight. As painful as running can be, I knew that the key to mentally and physically feeling better was to sweat.
After one of my first workouts, I posted on Instagram. Karla, one of my childhood friends, who also recently had a baby, said she wanted to do something similar. So, we became accountability partners!
Every time we worked out, we would send each other sweaty selfies. Yes, it was as glamorous as it sounds! These pictures and messages worked to encourage us to get out there and not skip a workout. It was helpful to commiserate together about the hard workouts and celebrate the milestones. ***Be sure to come back next week for Karla’s perspective on her Couch to 5k experience! She shares some fantastic tips on how to be successful.***
Progress & Positive Change
The beauty of the Couch to 5k program is that it only requires you to run three times a week, and most workouts are under 30 minutes long. That is entirely manageable as a mom. I decided that if I couldn’t spare 30 minutes to invest in my physical and mental health, then something was fundamentally wrong.
As I’m writing this, I have been running for the last eight weeks and am only a couple weeks away from running my 5k. I have not skipped a run!
On Monday, I completed my first 30-minute run. Running for 30 minutes straight! That’s a big deal, considering I started out with running 30 seconds at a time. I've lost some weight, but more importantly, I’ve gained back my positivity.
The difference in how I feel mentally has been drastic. I honestly crave the feeling post-run. (Definitely not at the place where I crave the actual running part… that’s still hard!) I am able to handle tougher days better and I feel like my baseline mood is generally happier. Since starting the program, my moods are more stable, I have more energy, and I am happier with my body. Thanks to running, I feel more like myself again.
Because I know I am going to get 30 minutes to myself (Whether that’s running, walking, or doing some other form of exercise) every day, I feel like I am actually taking care of myself. That has encouraged me to make even more time for self-care - whether that’s merely taking a bath, reading a magazine, or asking my mother-in-law to babysit Everett so we can go on a date night. I think working out has helped remind me that I am worth taking care of.
Sure, my body is still softer than before I got pregnant, and yes, I’d like to weigh less and be more toned, but that’s okay. Because I am putting in the time to care for my body, I don’t hate it as much. I am a little kinder to myself because I know I am trying. Every time I work out, I remember what my body is capable of and what it has done for Everett and for me. I’m hoping that over time, I can reframe the way I think about pregnancy weight gain.
You’re Not Defined By the Scale Or the Phase You’re In
Talking about pregnancy weight gain and body image isn’t super fun. These topics can be isolating, no matter your experience. I hated how quickly I went from feeling proud of my body for nurturing a baby to feeling terrible about how I looked and felt. I have felt ashamed because I know my weight shouldn’t have such an influence on my mental state. Quite frankly, I don’t like discussing weight because I don’t feel it should matter or that it should be tied to our self-worth. And yet, I know that my weight has had an impact on how I feel and think about myself.
As mothers, it’s easy to lose ourselves in caring for our children, husbands, and homes. We allow ourselves to be consumed by the daily tasks and put taking care of ourselves at the bottom of the to-do list (if on the list at all). On top of all of that, we think less of ourselves for feeling lonely, unattractive, and tired. We show ourselves a whole lot less grace than we show anyone else in our lives and we don’t give it a second thought.
I hope this post reminds you that wherever you find yourself in this journey of self-care and motherhood, that you’re not alone. You’re beautiful no matter what the scale says or how your clothes fit. You’re a good mom, no matter how negative you feel. You are stronger than you realize. I encourage you to take 30 minutes today to do something for you. Sweat a little bit, read a book, take a bath, or get a massage. And if you’re really feeling inspired, sign up for a 5k. You’ve got this, friend.