You are going to bounce back right away!
I heard this a lot while I was pregnant. From friends, family, even some strangers. On the one hand, it felt promising to have people think my body would quickly go back to its pre-baby state. Hey, this was my first baby, what did I know about the postpartum period? On the other hand, it was strange that people were already thinking about what my body would look like after the baby arrived and assumed it would “bounce back.”
I’m a group fitness instructor, and it’s a job where people are going to, obviously, look at your body. And people probably form an opinion about it (often unspoken, thankfully!). After the baby arrived, I felt like everyone was looking at me, waiting to see how long it would take me to “bounce back.” I’m not sure if this was a societal pressure or one self-imposed — likely, it was a combination.
At five months postpartum, I have not bounced back.
My belly is still soft and full of stretch marks. If I make it to the gym two times a week, I consider it a huge accomplishment.
I had a certain expectation for myself after having a baby. I’ve always loved working out and have considered it a priority. I assumed that after my six-week appointment I’d be eager to get back into a fitness routine. The reality is, priorities change. My current lifestyle doesn’t match up to the expectations I had, and I’ve learned to not only be OK with it but to honor the season that I’m in.
For the vast majority of women (or dare I say it, all women?), bouncing back isn’t reality. Maybe there is a small subset of women who do bounce back, but I’ve yet to meet one of them in real life. After pregnancy and childbirth, your body has fundamentally changed, and we need to respect that.
Through these five postpartum months, I’ve realized there are so many things far more important than “bouncing back.” Here are just a few:
No matter what kind of pregnancy or birth you had, your body needs time to recover. It’s important to move your body to promote healing. Though if you do too much too soon, it may slow down your recovery. It’s great to get outside, get fresh air, and take a walk around the block, but listen to your body. Don’t push too hard, thinking you should be able to do more.
I went on long walks during my pregnancy and thought as soon as I got home from the hospital I’d be taking leisurely walks with the stroller, rebuilding my strength. I was shocked to only make it one block before needing to turn back. For me, recovery was slower than I anticipated. I let go of my expectations and gave myself the time I needed to properly recover.
2. Getting enough sleep
I know, I know. New moms notoriously do not get any sleep. And I’m not denying that it’s very true. Try to get as much sleep as you can, whatever that means for you.
Once my baby’s schedule became somewhat predictable, I felt pressure to go to the gym when I knew the baby would be sleeping. Even if my baby slept long hours, that didn’t mean I needed to return to any of my pre-baby routines. Maybe the baby was sleeping, but I was still exhausted and overwhelmed!
Just because your baby is sleeping through the night, it does not mean you need to force yourself to the gym. Of course, if you want to and you feel good, go for it! But don’t feel external pressures to do this before you are ready.
3. Focusing on mental health
The postpartum period is a challenging one. Tap into how you are feeling and understand the signs of the baby blues, postpartum anxiety, and postpartum depression. It’s very normal to experience these, and if you are showing signs of anxiety or depression, make it a priority to reach out and get help.
4. Bonding with your baby
The newborn phase is a time to create a special bond with your baby. You can’t spoil a newborn; give your baby all of your attention and love as you create this new relationship. Hold your baby, rock them to sleep, stare at their darling baby eyelashes, and simply be in the moment as you begin this beautiful bond.
5. Enjoying newborn cuddles
The newborn phase is fleeting. Though it might seem like it lasts forever, and it may not be your favorite phase, soak it in. You might not realize the bliss that is a tiny baby sleeping peacefully on your chest until those moments are gone.
6. Learning your new role
The day your baby is born, you are also born into a new role: a mom. It’s crazy to think about how little you can do to prepare for one of life’s biggest jobs. The first few weeks (and maybe months or years, if we’re being honest) may feel like you have no idea what you’re doing.
The good news is the learning curve is steep, and every day you will ease more into motherhood. Maybe it doesn’t get easier, but you will become more confident as a mom, and you will learn what is best for your child and your family.
7. Nourishing yourself
Hopefully, you have support in the early weeks of motherhood, helping you with the simplest things like feeding yourself to help with recovery. Eventually, the guests leave, and your trusted support may not around. Your nutrition and hydration are still important. Focus on nourishing yourself so you have the energy and fuel to feel good and to care for your baby.
When my husband returned to work, I found myself skipping lunch most days. I don’t know where the day went, but it was suddenly 5pm, and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. It takes time to find a rhythm. A lot of your energy is going towards figuring out what your baby needs. Don’t forget the needs of yourself as well.
8. Embracing your new family dynamic
Whether you’ve been married for one year or 10, your relationship with your partner is going to change. Everyone is exhausted, and there is pressure and stress around taking care of this tiny new family member. Change in a relationship can be hard. Communication can break down. Learn how to ask for what you need, and give you and your partner the grace to get through these big changes together.
9. Appreciating your body as is
You might not recognize your new body. It might have more stretch marks and loose skin than you’ve ever known. It’s also stronger than you maybe thought possible. This body grew a human and brought it into the world. And whether you’re breastfeeding, bottle feeding, or doing a mix of both, you’re helping this child to grow. Appreciate what your body has done and what it continues to do for you and your baby.