Most new mothers feel insecure about their post-pregnancy body, and the pressure to bounce back is only made worse by gossip headlines hailing celebrities for snapping back into their old figures in a matter of days. No wonder new mums feel that they have to get back into their old shape as soon as possible – but instead of stressing ourselves over it, how about we change our mindset around it? Holistic health coach Ann Wenstrom Murphy, founder of New Approach Wellness shows us how.
Welcome Ann! Can you please tell us your best tips for new mums who struggle a bit with their body image?
I have three children, so I know the feeling of insecurity very well. My first baby was about three months old when I had to go visit my dad in hospital, and the nurse at reception said to me, “we had a couple of cases of chicken pox, are you sure you want to come in being pregnant?” I told her it was okay, my baby was three months old; but inside I was like, “oh wow, I still look pregnant”. That was kind of an eye-opener.
But the thing is, my body just grew a human being. My body just went through so much: so much change, so much stress, so much adjusting; and I was able to learn to come to it from a point of appreciation.
You won’t look the same – and that’s okay
Having had three children, I don’t look the same. And you know what? That’s okay. I have three beautiful children, I have a body that works, that takes care of me. Yes, we all have ideals about how we want to look, but we can’t be focusing on that, we can’t be determining our value and how we feel based on that.
It’s okay to want to look similar to how you did before, but let’s face it: it never feels exactly the same. I remember when I finally could get back into my clothes it was like, “well, they look okay, but they don’t feel the same”. It will never be the same – and that’s okay.
It was coming to terms with, and being able to look at it like “you know what, my body just did something incredible”. Looking at it like I had just created a baby, given birth, and now I’m sustaining a life. I’m not gonna go rushing into doing anything crazy. It was loving and accepting my body as it was, and knowing that I’ll be okay.
Say no to societal pressure
Our society is so externally centric, so centred on the looks. And in reality, is that the most important thing? That’s not where the quality of the person comes from, that’s not where a person’s ability to care, love, connect, interact is. That’s so superficial.
A lot of it is society and women accepting that, taking that on. “Oh I’m supposed to look this way, nobody is gonna love me if I don’t look like this, people are not gonna think as much of me, or respecting me as much, or think I’m this, or think I’m that because I don’t look a certain way”. It’s so focused on what’s not important.
Celebrity culture, the news, everything is about how people look. And stories like, “oh they had a baby two days ago and look, they’re back in their bikini”. Okay, they’re working out like five hours a day – who wants to do that? And it’s not healthy. How is that what matters? Who cares? It’s perpetuated and it makes people feel bad. If you want to compare, this person has a nanny, they have people cooking for her, a personal trainer, they’re working out 4-5 hours a day – who on earth can do that? Do you really want to do that? It’s so not where we’re supposed to be focusing.
It takes time for your body to bounce back. It doesn’t happen overnight. For some people it might happen quickly, but for most of us, three months later we still look like we’re pregnant – and that’s normal.
Come from a place of love and acceptance
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a better version of yourself, but you need to not be comparing yourself to others. It’s okay to want to make improvements; but if your body is feeling stressed, which comes from you not appreciating it and loving it the way it is, then you’re in stress mode. Being stressed shuts down digestion, it shuts down everything, your body can’t burn fat, it can’t do what it does effectively.
Realise it’s gonna take time, it’s supposed to take time. And come about it in a healthy way; meaning you need to love your body the way it is, and appreciate it the way it is.
If you’re trying to push something, there’s always resistance, always a battle going on. It’s more of an easing into, and an acceptance that we’re always changing and that’s fine. Go about it from the point of loving what is, and incorporating the better ways.
That’s where a health coach can come in, helping you figure out what works work for you. You need movement, yes; but do you need to be working out for hours a day? No. That’s not good for you. You need to eat; but should you be minimising what you’re eating? No. Eat nutrient-dense food, and learn what works for you. These are the keys to it.
Make it enjoyable
It shouldn’t feel like you’re working out to beat yourself up; but because it feels good. Doing things that feel good, things you enjoy; and not because “I have to work out”. It’s about coming from a place of love, acceptance and understanding, and then moving forward from there.
The same with food: eat what feels right, eat foods that are nutrient-dense and that you actually enjoy. That’s so important. Try not to eat processed foods and go for nutrient-dense food instead. I always say vegetables come first, and then the other stuff: beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, good sources of protein.
It’s not about forcing and restricting. When you’re totally focused around food, worried about how many calories, restricting what you eat, feeling like you have to exercise – these are all signs that you’re way off balance and you could be heading down a slippery slope that can lead into problems. Unfortunately disordered eating is very common; even people without an eating disorder can have disordered eating. Be aware of what you’re focusing on, where you’re coming from, what the mindset around it is.
Especially after having a baby you really need to take it easy and look after yourself. There is no rush to bounce back. Be kind to yourself, learn to love and accept your body as it is now, be sensible with what you eat and how much you exercise, and it will happen naturally.
Thank you Ann for your insights.