Why is it that so much information, or misinformation, about a woman’s postpartum body seems designed to make her feel inadequate, helpless, and generally insecure? It’s as if all the “facts” are turned on their heads to highlight the negative, downplay the positives and promote the idea that certain unchangeable parts of postpartum bodies are all our fault while the truly changeable parts are supposedly set in stone and we should just give up.
In reality, our postpartum bodies are pretty amazing and should get the respect they deserve. Though they may be very different than the bodies that we left behind when we got pregnant, they are not broken.
We need to learn to accept them, improve what we can, and get on with our lives. But to do that we need the real story on what we’re facing once the pregnancy part of having our babies is behind us. So, let’s take a look at the crazy myths we’ve been told, the incredible truths that have been kept hidden, and use all of that information to feel more confident in our bodies than ever before. Without further ado, here are 10 myths about how the body changes after pregnancy, and 10 myths that are actually true.
20 Myth: It Takes Nine Months…
Sounds super logical, right? It took nine months to gain all of that baby weight so it should take just as long to lose it. But this may not be the case. Some women may shed the extra weight in seemingly no time at all while others may fight the added weight gain for well beyond nine months. And if you progress solely on the number you see on the scale, then let’s stop right there to consider the irrelevance of the scale itself.
It doesn’t know if you’re carrying lots of lean body mass (aka: muscle), extra fat, or retaining water, so you could look and feel amazing, and then the scale can bring you down at any time, especially post pregnancy. In any case, don’t let this arbitrary time frame for losing the baby weight get you down.
19 Myth: Things Will Stay Stretched Out Forever
If you’re panicking that all of your lady parts will remain stretched out forever after childbirth, deep breaths because that’s just not going to happen. Our bodies were designed to birth babies and restore themselves to normal, kind of like a rubber band. Sure, initially your uterus might be stretched, but within a few weeks it will shrink down to, or close to its original size, which helps shrink your belly back down to size as well.
As far as the actual birth canal, by the time you’re healed enough to resume all activities, there is actually more of a chance that things will be less spacious than before. Seems that for some of us, our bodies get a little overzealous in the healing process and the muscles in this area tighten up a little too much. So, locker room lore be damned this is a falsehood!
18 Myth: Avoiding Stretchmarks Is On You
This frustrating myth would like us to believe that not moisturizing enough or using the wrong product left us with those telltale lines on our stomach. So NOT the case! Some women, for whatever reason (genetics seems to be one factor), are destined to develop them at some point during pregnancy no matter what they do to prevent them. While some of the specifics behind the occurrence of stretch marks even have many medical professionals dumbfounded, they do know that when they appear, they are the result of collagen tears in the dermis (the layer of skin underneath the one that we can see).
So no matter how much cocoa butter you slather on, it’s not going to penetrate deep enough to make a difference. While those who are predisposed to stretch marks may be disappointed that there is nothing to do but accept your fate, at least you can rest assured that it’s not your fault.
17 Myth: Breastfeeding Will Make Getting Back In Shape Easy
Though breastfeeding may help you expend some extra calories and get that uterus contracting back to normal size a little quicker, it’s certainly not a shortcut to postpartum perfection. For some women the extra calories may be quickly equalized by the extra calories they’re consuming. Not to mention, a huge factor for achieving your ideal post baby body is going to be exercise.
After none months of hauling that pregnant belly around, your muscles, especially the stomach muscles that have been stretched out of shape, are going to need some help remembering how they should work. So, while breastfeeding does offer a variety of benefits to mom and baby, it doesn’t give you a free pass to postpartum fitness. Your food choices and level of physical activity will have a much greater impact on your post-baby body than how you choose to feed your child.
16 Myth: You Will Be Stuck With A Mommy Tummy Forever
The so-called mommy tummy is totally fixable. And definitely something you want to look into correcting. Looks aside, this means that your abdominal muscles need some help to support your spine correctly. Anyone sporting a mummy tummy likely has low back pain, rounded shoulders and a tight neck too. Why? Because most women who have succumbed to this battle wound of pregnancy have diastasis recti; your little one caused your abdominal muscles to spread apart to the point of tearing rendering them unable to hold everything in place or allow you to maintain proper posture.
If this is you, working to reconnect those muscle fibers is both possible and necessary to correct all of the above. However, determining how to activate the muscles you need to activate can be tricky and you could exasperate your problem, so if you suspect you have diastasis recti, consulting with a physiotherapist who specializes in this area is in your best interest.
15 Myth: Your Back Pain Will Be Gone Once You're No Longer Pregnant
If you’re waiting for delivery day to provide you relief from your nagging low back pain, you need to know that’s not going to happen. For most of us, that back pain is the result of the poor posture and body mechanics that we tend to fall into as pregnant ladies. Think stereotypical arched back, belly out, feet turned out in that pregnant lady waddle. This wreaks havoc on your body and as a result, even when some of the extra belly has been eliminated, your body is stuck in that poor posture and movement pattern that you’ve been using for the latter half of your pregnancy.
Plus, tending to a newborn requires constant bending and lifting, which too many of us do improperly, aggravating your back further. To get some relief, reducing any separation of your abdominal muscles and improving your posture are absolute musts!
14 Myth: Your Body Is Ruined
This one is just a frame of mind. If you let yourself get down about your body and feel that it’s less than it was before, then no you won’t ever have the body you want again. So, let’s not do that. Try to appreciate your body for what it has done and accept its new features, for better or worse. While some of them may be unchanging, you can always improve the look and feel of your body with exercise, or movement in general, and a healthy diet.
Though it might be cliché, try to view those stretch marks and varicose veins as badges of honor. Use them as motivation; you now have permanent, constant reminders of how strong and capable your body truly is. A little workout is nothing compared to creating, growing, and delivering an entire human being!
13 Myth: Crunches Are The Answer To Your Postpartum Belly Woes
No, just no. If you want to further separate your stomach muscles (anyone with diastasis recti) and make your spine beg for mercy, then go ahead and crank out the crunches. But if you want a postpartum body that looks and feels great, a more comprehensive exercise plan is needed. If you’re bigger belly is the result of extra body fat gained during pregnancy, then a total body exercise plan coupled with healthier eating habits will do much more to minimize your mid-section than endless exercise attempting to spot treat the area.
Beyond simply losing weight, a well-designed strength training program that develops your body as a whole, encouraging proper postural alignment will be your ticket to a flatter belly. And, of course, make sure that before embarking on your fitness journey that, after getting the go-ahead from your doctor, you begin slowly, listening to your body along the way.
12 Myth: Tanning Will help With Stretchmarks
And yet another myth that’s potentially damaging! If you do it “naturally” by lying out in the sun, your stretchmarks are likely to burn since the skin is more sensitive. Not only will you be left with bright red stripes across your stomach, there’s all that damage to your skin that you’ll endure, especially if you forgo the sunscreen. Even ignoring the risk of skin cancer, which really shouldn’t be ignored, but anyway, researchers have found that collagen levels in the skin decrease with exposure to UV rays.
This means that your skin will be less elastic and sag more after your tanning sessions. While sunless tanners could safely improve the look of stretch marked skin, the product could settle in the crevices of your stretchmarks, leaving these areas darker than surrounding ones, so if this interests you, maybe experiment with different products or techniques before baring your belly.
11 Myth: You Will Need A Bigger Bra
Anyone who was dreading the idea of upping their cup size can breathe a sigh of relief, while those ladies hoping to circumvent the boob job they’ve always wanted with pregnancy are in for a disappointing surprise because pregnancy itself does not create larger breasts. If anything women find that once they are beyond the initial postpartum period and the breast engorgement has subsided, they are back to their old pre-pregnancy bra size or, if anything, their breasts are slightly smaller, and most likely more saggy than before.
Women who are breastfeeding may preserve the added size a little longer but once they are no longer breastfeeding, their breasts also return to roughly the same size as before, with less perkiness. The exception here would be women who gain weight during pregnancy that they retain afterwards since heavier women typically have larger breasts due to overall increases in fatty tissue.
10 Truths: You Will Decrease Your Risk Of Cancer
One definite advantage that your post-baby body has over your pre-pregnancy body is its diminished risk of ovarian cancer. According to an Oxford University study conducted in 2015, your odds of developing the disease decrease by twenty percent, declining further with each subsequent pregnancy. While this may sound suspect, it makes sense when you consider that ovarian cancer is believed to develop during the reparation work that your body has to do after you ovulate.
By being pregnant and temporarily stopping ovulation, the typical damage to the ovary that accompanies this part of your menstrual cycle doesn’t occur which eliminates the need for ovarian cells to regenerate, thus reducing some of the times when these cells are most likely to become cancerous. This concept is further supported by the fact that women who have never ovulated do not get this form of cancer.
9 Truths: You Might Need New Shoes
Somewhat surprisingly, larger feet postpartum are no lie. Although not every woman will experience this change in foot size, it does happen. And a few different features of pregnancy are to blame. First is the fact that during pregnancy, a hormone is released causing all your ligaments to relax allowing your body to prepare for delivery. Somewhat unfortunately, this relaxation occurs throughout the body not just in the areas specific to childbirth, so the ligaments right down to your toes feel the effects.
Then you couple the newly loosened ligaments, which connect your bones to one another, with 25, or more, pounds of weight gain and your bones are bound to expand. And once they’ve stretched out, ligaments don’t easily return to their original shape. Thanks to all of this, you may now have a newly widened foot that just doesn’t want to fit into your pre-pregnancy shoes.
8 Truths: Your Stretchmarks Are Forever
Try as you might, if you got stretchmarks during pregnancy they aren’t going anywhere. Get used to it, accept them, and move on. While creams, especially those containing retinoids may help minimize their appearance, they cannot entirely rid your body of them. Just like preventing them, curing them is near impossible because no moisturizing cream can penetrate the upper layer of the skin to the secondary dermis where the damage actually occurs; so while you can minimize the surface’s scarred appearance, you can’t do anything to remedy the broken collagen fibers that lie beneath it.
However, staying hydrated might help to keep stretch marked skin more even and supple looking, making the marks less obvious. And now you have yet another reason to motivate you to drink more water throughout your day.
7 Truths: Hormonal Issues Of The Past May Be Remedied
Good news if you’ve had troublesome periods in the past, or even diagnosed gynecological conditions, after giving birth your body undergoes somewhat of a rebirth itself and your hormones reset themselves, so to speak. So all the wacky hormone surges that you experienced during pregnancy did even more than “just” helping you grow and deliver your newborn baby.
After your pregnancy has ended and your body starts to restore itself to its pre-pregnancy state, you may notice changes in your monthly cycle. They could be as simple as totally erratic, irregular periods resuming postpartum in a perfectly predictable textbook 28 day cycle. Or more dramatic, with women who previously struggled with conditions like PCOS or endometriosis reporting that their symptoms of these conditions minimized or even disappeared after giving birth.
6 Truths: Your Body May Never Be The Same
You may need to come to terms with the fact that your body may never be the same, and not just because of the obvious things like a few, or many, new stretchmarks. Your alignment and way that you walk may be altered now that you have had a baby. While you can definitely work on improving your posture, there’s nothing you can do about changes like a newly widened pelvis. And things like pelvis width play a role in the way your body moves.
For some this may be inconsequential, but if you are particularly in tune with your body, like dancers or athletes, you may feel a sense of identity loss accompanies this change in movement patterns since not only is gait a fairly individualized trait, but it could make your return to your beloved physical activity somewhat difficult. Be patient with yourself as you adjust to these changes.
5 Truths: You Can Get Back In Shape, Or Better Shape Than Before
Hanging up the towel on fitness once you have a baby is definitely not necessary. In fact, some women find it easier to build the body they want after they’ve had a baby. This might seem counter-intuitive, but here’s why. For one, staying on track with an exercise program can be tricky when it’s solely for looks. No matter how bad you want to fit in your skinny jeans, its often just not enough to keep you focused on your goals, but once your little one arrives you’ll want to be healthy and fit enough to watch them grow and be able to play with them.
This may be the extra motivation you need to maintain your gym routine. Or if you’re just not a structured exercise kind of person, as your baby grows they’ll get you moving!
4 Truths: Extra Skin On Your Belly Can Happen
Yet another thing that you just can’t do anything about: extra belly skin. Unfortunately, sometimes once the skin on your stomach stretches enough to cover that big baby belly it just can’t find its way back to its original shape after the baby’s born. Even if you lose all the weight you gained, build more muscle, and eat right, that stubborn skin just won’t go anywhere, because that’s what it is skin, not fat.
Though you may be able to improve its appearance, if it’s a small amount of extra, by drinking enough water to smooth the wrinkles, it’s not leaving without a fight, namely surgery. So, if you’re not willing to go under the knife for a perfectly taut tummy, you better get used to your somewhat flabbier skin.
3 Truths: Your Stomach Won't Be Flat Immediately
With very few exceptions, if any, including the rare women who don’t look like they were ever pregnant less than a month after having their baby, your stomach will not be flat after giving birth. To be honest, it might look downright weird. The baby’s out, so it’s smaller, but your uterus is still in the way keeping your middle pushed out, and if you gained some stretchmarks, they are looking just brutal now that the skin's not being held so tight.
But, before long your uterus will return to normal size, the clawed by a tiger look of your stretchmarks will subside, and you will be able to begin strengthening your core muscles again to hold everything back in where it belongs. In the meantime, relax; enjoy your baby, and know that pretty much everyone is in the same boat after their baby is born.
2 Truths: Leaking Is Not Normal
Though you’re definitely not alone as many women accept this as a cross they must bear after having a baby, incontinence isn’t normal. Now initially, before you’ve really had time to heal it could be expected that holding it in just isn’t possible, but once your beyond the first few months, these issues should be resolving themselves. If not, you may have a prolapse, meaning the organs inside your pelvis (i.e. the bladder) aren’t supported up where they should be.
If persistent urine leaks are part of your life, get in touch with your doctor and/or a physical therapist that specializes in this area to get a diagnosis and plan of attack for your recovery. In severe cases of prolapse this could mean surgery, but for many women it’s just a matter of re-teaching the muscles in your pelvic floor to work correctly.
1 Truths: No Two People Or Pregnancies Are The Same
This one is huge: do not, I repeat do not compare your post-pregnancy body with anyone else’s, not even your own from a previous pregnancy. Every woman and every pregnancy is so different that it is completely unfair to compare your current postpartum body with any other postpartum body. All this will do is bring you, or someone else if you feel the need to rub it in someone’s face how easy you got back in shape or amazing you looked after having your baby (which is seriously rude don’t do this), down making it harder to find the motivation to improve your body.
Just remember: whatever happens during pregnancy happens, control what you can, let go of what you can’t and get back to enjoying your adorable new baby!