Monday, October 15, 2012

Mommy Body

I have wanted to write this post since my daughter was born (ten months ago).  A post about my postpartum body and my reaction to (interaction with?) it.  But it never seemed like the right time.

Our society expects the postpartum phase to end six weeks or so after birth, at about the same time working moms are cleared to go back to work.  But in truth, if you consider the postpartum period as the time a woman's body is recovering from childbirth, it lasts much longer than that.  This is especially the case for women who breastfeed, because fertility, and thus typical hormonal levels, often doesn't return for months (or years!).  I am just now feeling like my body is returning to normal.  It's not how it was before I got pregnant, but it's a new normal.  I'm starting to feel comfortable in my body again.  It's becoming familiar and second nature to live in this new mommy body.  

When I was pregnant (and before), I had certain expectations of how a woman's body changed postpartum.  I naively thought that these changes took only two forms: weight gain and stretch marks.  I now know that you can't have a baby and come out with only a few subtle reminders that linger in your midsection.  Oh no, the marks of motherhood are much more widespread than that!

Of course, every woman experiences different changes during pregnancy and childbirth.  My mommy body might not look anything like another woman's, but my pre-pregnancy body wasn't cookie-cutter either.  My experiences may or may not be your experiences, but right now, I'm feeling the call to be completely honest (and a bit vulnerable) and speak the truth about what having a "mommy body" is like for me:

Stretch marks.

In short, yes I have them.  On my stomach and on my sides (didn't realize your sides aren't safe).  I didn't start noticing them until I was 39 week pregnant, but Lucia cooked until 41 weeks 1 day, so they were pretty pervasive by the time she was born.  But of all my body changes, stretch marks is probably the one I mind the least.  I barely notice them.  I didn't wear bikinis before so they wouldn't ever be visible anyway.  Only my husband sees them, and I believe him when he says they don't bother him at all. 


We get used to seeing celebrities who lose all the baby weight in six weeks.  In "real life", most doctor's don't even clear you for exercise until six weeks, so to have all your baby weight gone right away isn't realistic.  I was constantly told that if I breastfed, the weight would just "fall off".  Well, not quite.

I gained about 35 lbs total during pregnancy.  I had already lost close to 20 of it by my first appointment at seven weeks (of course, eight of those were the baby alone - lost at birth!).  At my next doctors appointment when my daughter was about five months, I had lost... no additional weight.  But at six months, the weight started to just come off without much effort from me and at ten months postpartum, I now weigh less than I did when I got pregnant.  The only actual effort I made to lose weight during this time was cutting out all drinks but water.

The most difficult part of the extra weight for me wasn't how big I was, it was more that I didn't have any clothes that fit me well.  For the first few weeks after Lucia was born, I continued to wear maternity clothes, but they soon became too big.  I was still many sizes away from wearing my pre-pregnancy clothes; it was a terribly awkward in-between stage.  Since I was continuing to lose weight, it didn't make sense to buy a whole new wardrobe.  (In truth, we couldn't afford for me to buy new clothes either.)  In fact, I did break down and buy a few pair of pants at thrift stores, but they only fit me well for a few weeks, then were too baggy.  While I didn't initially have much in the way of "body image" issues due to my post-pregnancy weight, I did develop some poor self esteem because I looked like a ragamuffin.  I will never again underestimate the value of a few nice outfits that fit me well.


I may have lost all the baby weight, but my body doesn't look like it did before I had my baby.  And it never will.  My hips are wider.  I have a little mommy tummy that may or may not eventually go away.  Overall, I feel softer all over, as if my body has relaxed into motherhood.


My anything-but-clear skin is the one change that I didn't expect at all, and the only one that truly bothers me more than once in a while.  I had heard that sometimes women get bad skin during pregnancy, but my skin was clearer than ever, so I didn't expect that postpartum, I would have the worst  skin I've ever had.  (Easily three times worse than the worse breakout I had as a teenager, only daily).  Just so you don't think I'm exaggerating, here is what I'm facing (no pun intended): three or more new pimples daily, plus the ones from previous days that are in the process of healing, plus the scars and "marks" from the past several months that are very visible.  It's so bad that I often don't want to leave the house.  It has taken a considerable amount of humility (and courage) to write about it in this post.  This isn't a common postpartum experience, but it does happen.  I'm hoping that it will clear up considerably after I stop breastfeeding, but despite my insecurities, I'm willing to suffer poor skin for a while longer so my daughter can get the best nutrition for as long as possible. 


This is another one that really gets me.  It's not the shape, size, or "perkiness" that I'm worried about; since I'm still breastfeeding, I really don't have any idea what they will be like after my baby weans.  What bothers me is the, uh, "unevenness".  If you aren't very familiar with breastfeeding (I wasn't before I got pregnant and read tons of books), a baby doesn't usually empty both breasts at each feeding.  Which means that one breast is always bigger than the other.  I hope that it's only noticeable to me because I'm aware of it, but unfortunately, I don't think that's always the case.

Although this probably belongs in a separate post about breastfeeding, there is a bit of discomfort that comes from breastfeeding when I go long periods of time without feeding Lucia or pumping.  In the perfect world, I would never have to go that long without pumping, but sometimes things get in the way.  I truly love nursing my baby and the thought of her weaning makes me sad, yet there is little part of me that wants to rebel against having to arrange my schedule around breastfeeding.


Ah, this is probably the biggest and definitely the most positive exchange I've experienced.  Although I know some women have the exact opposite reaction, for me childbirth and pregnancy made me more confident in my body.  Yes, there are some changed that I view negatively.  I sometimes experience self doubt and poor body image as the result of some of these changes.  But overall, I have developed an attitude of gratitude and awe about my body.

No longer to I think of my body in terms of what it looks like, but instead in terms of what it can do.  My body protected and nourished a baby from one cell at conception to eight pounds at birth.  It can birth a child completely naturally without medical interventions or pain medication.  It created the sole source of sustenance that my daughter received for the first six months of her life (and that still makes up the majority of her nourishment). 

It's not just the big things my body can do that I celebrate, it's the little things.  I can bend down and pick up my daughter.  I can walk around a grocery store buying food for my family.  I can make love to my husband.  I can mop the floors and scrub the counters.  I can roll on the floor and tickle my baby.  I can live and provide a life for my family.

How has your body changed since becoming a mother?

What can you do to concentrate more on the wonderful things your body can do instead of how it looks?


  1. Thank you, Mandi--this was a brave post to write. Since I'm not a mother yet I didn't begin to identify until the end when you mentioned all the things your body can do. It reminded me of the way I try to think about my body now after struggling with lupus before it went into remission.

  2. This is very helpful for us future mothers :). I have always been a big fan of total honesty so that those of us who will go through it in the future know some of what we can expect. And I think you are incredibly brave for sharing!

    I am guessing that the acne is from hormonal imbalance as your body tries to re-establish fertility. You might see if fish oil helps. As someone who is in permanent imbalance, it has been really helpful to me. It's not magic, but I notice a definite difference when I miss it for a few days.

  3. This is a great post! My twins are 16 months and I am no where near what I was before I was pregnant! To find the time or energy to exercise is difficult and when I tell others this, I think they see it as an excuse I have. I know that eventually I will have the time and energy, and until then, I'll deal with my new body. My husband doesn't mind and tells me I'm beautiful all the time, so having his support helps me tremendously.

  4. Yes! The attitude change is amazing. Despite the aesthetic changes (I totally hear you about the terrible acne), THIS is what my body was meant to do: birth and nurture my baby. Thanks for the honest post about "mommy body."

    P.S. This site ( is pretty inspirational and a good reminder that we're not SUPPOSED to be airbrushed statutes!

  5. Great post Mandi thanks. I TOTALLY identify with the no clothes fitting stage I'm in it right now. My baby is 4.5 months, maternity clothes are baggy & I can't fit into my old stuff yet..I need a whole new wardrobe but we can't afford it either. It really is depressing feeling a bit scruffy every day because your clothes are ill fitting. I think the answer is probably to swap & share clothes with other mum friends, or as you did, get a few key things in thrift stores.

    Thanks for your honesty.

  6. I've always been overweight. I'd say it is genetics, but I will also take responsibility for not eating well in my 20s. When I was pregnant with my son, I gained 55 lbs, lost 25, but got pregnant when he was about 4 months old, so I gained 20 back. No big deal.

    I lost about 10 pounds after my daughter was born and stayed that way for a while, until I got pregnant with our third. I had horrible horrible morning sickness and lost 25 lbs. In the end, when I went into labor, I weighed the same as I did when I got pregnant and lost the weight I gained pretty quickly. Same with baby #4.

    In the time between baby #3 and now (currently expecting #5) we've changed our diet around here as well. I make almost all meals from scratch and we seldom have processed food around the house. I've actually managed to get down to the weight I was when I got married.

    That being said, I have a tote of clothes from before I was pregnant with #1 and I still can't fit into them. Hips grow wider, fat shifts, things move and don't move back.

    I know I won't ever be thin, but I do work to make sure I am healthy. I also have a husband who tells me I am beautiful all the time. :)

  7. Thank you for writing this very honest post. My son is almost three and I still think about my "post baby" body. Although I got close to being back to my "pre-baby" weight at one point, my still looked different, in many of the ways that you mentioned. I feel like I have gained a couple pounds recently and although I do not have a good routine for exercise, I know that I want to stay healthy for my son and our family. Keeping everything in the right perspective is key though and I appreciate your post and having this reminder to accept the changes and be OK with them sometimes, as we are doing all we can as moms.

  8. I took fish oil when we lived in NC but for some reason we can't remember to take our vitamins here. I guess I have an additional reason to remember now.

  9. I can't imagine how twins would change your body! One baby makes enough changes! I definitely understand not being able to find time to exercise, I think that's common for moms!

  10. Jessica, I've seen that site before and it's great!

  11. When I really think about it, the only person who I care thinks I'm pretty is my husband! And I'm pretty sure he feels that way!

  12. Thank you, Mary! Yes, health is so much more important than looking good. Although in my opinion, if a woman is healthy, it's shows in her looks even if she doesn't have an "ideal body".

  13. Thanks, Kelley. So glad you can relate to it even though you aren't a mom! Wow, you had lupus, I've heard that's very challenging. So glad it's in remission!

  14. This is such a great post! Thank you for being so candid about your body after baby. I am now almost 5 months postpartum and am at the point where everything just stopped. The weight isn't coming off like it was at the beginning and I'm wondering if my "pouch" will ever go away. I love what you said about stretch marks - that you didn't realize your sides aren't safe. I didn't realize that either. In fact, all my stretch marks appeared AFTER giving birth - it was like those books with those special markers that make the pictures appear after you rub them. But I am now proud of my "stripes," as I like to call them, and now to be honest I feel more confident now than I ever did. Our bodies created humans! For the longest time I felt that my body needed to be perfect, but now I know that it was meant for more than just looks. I am blessed to have been able to create a child and now to be able to fully nourish my child. THANK YOU for this post. You've given me the courage to write about my body too post-baby.

  15. I appreciate this post more now than ever, since I am now 4 weeks postpartum with our first child. To say my body has changed is an understatement! I was at a healthy weight when we conceived, but now I struggle with how different I look. I have pervasive stretch marks as well (on my stomach and sides), which developed around 28 weeks. I delivered at 40 weeks and 1 day, so they were numerous. I also gained a large amount of weight, probably 50 pounds or so. Currently I have been able to lose it fairly steadily, but I am still a far way off from fitting into my pre-pregnancy clothes. My husband is so sweet and kind to me, but I have struggled with body issues for many years, and this time period after the baby is trying. Another factor that makes recovery more difficult is the fact that I had to have a C-section (our little boy flipped to breech in the 40th week), which has been painful. I can only hope I will continue to lose weight and begin to feel normal again.


I'd love to hear what you have to say! You can also contact me directly by emailing me at