When I was pregnant, I worried about how my body would look post-birth – but not as much as I thought I would. I found pregnancy a generally positive experience: it was nice to not care about having a belly, my skin was less problematic and my boobs were – I think ‘pneumatic’ is the word. I also started to respect my body’s strength and limitations a bit more – the responsibility of carrying around another person meant I didn’t rush around as much as usual, I went to bed a bit earlier, and I said no to more things.
I had expected to be heaving a sagging stomach around and feeling like a pudding for months after giving birth; in reality, not much harm came to me physically. Whether due to the lashings of Bio-Oil I lavished upon my bump, or straightforward genetics, I didn’t get any stretch marks on my tummy. The unexpected and unwelcome front-of-leg cellulite (nobody warns you about this!) eventually disappeared thanks to a summer of street-pounding with the pram. The worst damage was to my boobs, which had been rather nice before I subjected them to nine months of pregnancy followed by nine months of breastfeeding, but are now slumped and subdued from exhaustion.
From the day Oscar was born, I was astounded by the body’s capacity to shrink itself, at the ingenious way that the skin is designed to stretch around another human being and then gather itself back in as if nothing had happened, and at the miraculous fat-stripping properties of breastfeeding. Even one week into motherhood, on Christmas Day – when I was still packing a sizeable, saggy and wrinkly belly – I remember looking in the mirror and feeling A. Ma. Zing. The photos from that day beg to differ, but for me my reflection was such an improvement on how I’d looked the previous week that I had no problem flaunting my flab in figure-hugging clothes and tucking into turkey.
I’m aware that genes play a huge role in this lottery, and that the type of birth you experience also determines how well and how quickly your body can recover. But in general, my impression of pregnancy and post-pregnancy first time round can be likened to the idea of renting a house. When you rent a house, a certain amount of wear-and-tear is expected during your tenancy and will be overlooked by the owner when you hand back the property. Likewise, when you’re pregnant, you can expect the baby’s residence to have left an impact on your physical shape, but rarely anything that will cause you to withhold his/her deposit upon exit. Once you’ve given birth, you will simply look like you did before – whether you liked that version of you or not.
Unless – just excuse me while I prise open this can of worms – unless you invest heavily in the concept of ‘eating for two’. (My doctor actually told me to, ‘Eat for one, exercise for two’, but I think that advice is equally extreme.) Pigging out and calling it ‘eating for two’ would, to continue the house-renting analogy, equate to building an extension. I know people who gained four stone during pregnancy – four stone that had nothing to do with the developing foetus. Equally, just because super-thin, super-toned celebrities get a little rounder of face and a little softer of limb when pregnant, when they manage to snap back into shape in the blink of an eye after giving birth it has little to do with reality. The fact is, if you didn’t like your body before having a baby, getting it looking the way you want it with a newborn in tow is much more difficult, when you’re exhausted and finding any you-time at all is a challenge.
Although weight has not been an issue for me, shape is a different matter. Ten years of regular exercise have definitely helped things to return to their former location. But I’ve lost the bulk of my bum, the bounce from my boobs and a lot of strength and definition from my middle. Finding time to go to the pool when there’s a baby to look after is tough, while cycling to work like I used to is nigh-on impossible when I factor in a nursery-run to a different area of London. So I’m trying to appreciate what I’ve got at the moment and accept that, should I have another baby, things are going to go south.
Of course, even though I feel like I have no spare time now, mums of more than one will point out that the fact that I have time to think about my body at all means that I am luxuriating in unaccounted-for minutes. By the time I have another baby, I will probably not give a monkeys about how I look – or not have time to give it any thought. So my aim for now is to love my body for its achievements, come to terms with its inevitable deterioration and be grateful for its health above everything else.
What do you think – does pregnancy affect your body image but not your actual body? How did you find the physical effects of birth? Did you make a conscious effort to lose your baby weight or did it happen naturally?
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Love this post Nicky! Good old pneumatic knockers, those were the days! You look brilliant now though.
I put on over 3 stone on a fairly small frame. Not a great idea… And I definitely regretted it in the final weeks of pregnancy when I felt HUGE. I don’t think I was consciously “eating for two” but, at first, fatty/salty food seemed to be the only thing that kept my nausea at bay. Then I suddenly developed a sweet tooth (I’d never had one) and cake and pastries seemed to be the only things that could give me the energy to get through my my third trimester when I was working crazy hours to get everything done before going on mat leave and then then not sleeping at night because of the discomfort/anxiety/excitement. Hey ho. I have more or less lost all the weight but my body is much less toned than it used to be. Still, like you say, pregnancy and the past year have made me love my body in a way I never did when I was a teenager with a gap between my thighs and visible collar bones 😉 so many hang-ups just disappeared. I have less time and more perspective I guess. So I feel more comfortable and happy in my own (kinda saggy) skin than ever before. Still, a better diet and the occasional visit to the gym would be no bad thing! Am really in awe of you managing to keep up your swimming.
Thanks Sabrina – very sweet of you. You look great too – but since I met you when you were pregnant I have no idea how you looked pre-baby! I think putting on 2-3 stone during pregnancy is the average isn’t it? ‘Mostly water retention’ were three words bandied about a lot when I was expecting (said with fingers crossed…) I hadn’t thought about the effect of morning sickness though – I didn’t get it too badly so didn’t have to change my diet much. Anyway, here’s to loving what’s left of our bodies! x
I am a mum of 4 and I can certainly say the weight has never come off easily despite not over indulging and exercising. It bothers me a huge amount and I find it very frustrating that so many people seem to find it so easy. I have breast fed all my children and that hasn’t helped either. #TheList
Hi Mummy Fever, thanks so much for leaving a comment. Wow – I am in awe of anyone with four kids. Sorry to hear you’ve struggled to lose post-baby(ies) weight – I think I am perhaps one of those annoying people who didn’t have to give it much thought (*blush*). On the subject of breastfeeding, only the other day me and a friend were talking about how much good publicity it gets – helping weight loss, bolstering immnune system, etc – and trying to work out why our boys (both breast-fed) had been constantly ill with bug after bug for about four months straight. So it’s perhaps not the magic panacea it’s reported to be! x
Great post, I am still trying to get back to pre pregnancy weight! Thanks for linking up to #TheList x (can you make sure post linked are lists xxx)
Thanks Aby – we’ve added the badge (oops!) x
I’m 9 mo. pregnant with my first, so I don’t have a perspective on losing weight afterwards, but reminding myself of what my body is doing right now has helped me not be so sad about the stretch marks or the potential difficulty in losing the weight. To be honest, the only thing that affects my body image is my dad, who is a gym nut and has no qualms about being a big jerk in regards to pregnancy weight. I’ve gained more than I would have liked to, but my doctor isn’t concerned, so I’m not either really. My goal is to take the wee one out in the stroller every single day, or use the treadmill in my building if the weather is bad. That plus healthy eating will help bring my body to the size it’s supposed to be, and that’s good enough for me :).
Congratulations Monica! On the imminent arrival and also your healthy outlook 🙂 People say it takes about the same amount of time to lose the weight as to gain it, and I think that is true (in my case at least), so don’t stress, save your energy for the important stuff, and do pavement pound as much as you can all summer. And as I said in my post, as soon as the baby is out, you will feel so slender, even though you’ll still have a huge bulge, obviously! But you’ll have lost about five kilos in a day, ha ha! Thanks for your comment, hope it all goes well xx