In August 2014, the Yahoo Contributor Network was shut down. All the copyrights to articles thereon were returned to their authors, so I decided to publish certain articles of mine, originally written for Yahoo UK on my own blogs. This is one of them.
Once again a photo of a postnatal mother's body is causing a furore on the internet. Caroline Berg Eriksen has posted an image of her incredibly slim and toned post baby body, just 4 days after giving birth.
I think it's great when women celebrate their bodies, regardless of their shape and size. I was particularly heartened by how she described her motivations. She is proud of what her body has been through, and she has every right to be. Just like every new mum, she just made a new human being! That's amazing. Forget how she looks, the sheer resilience and capability of the female body is something to be proud of.
She also remarks that all mothers should be similarly proud, regardless of how their body looks. I can certainly agree with her on that.It is a shame that this is riding on the back of Maria Kang's postnatal selfie and the uproar that caused. While Caroline's intended message is "my body made a person and it's still doing alright, arn't mums amazing?" many interpreted Maria's "motivational image" as "why are you not as good as me?" - although she retains that her motivation was to inspire, not shame.
As a perinatal yoga teacher, I witness many women's journey through pregnancy, birth and recovery. I see women in late pregnancy, who barely show and still fit in their jeans. I meet women who are still able to run, or stand on their head a few days before giving birth! These, like Caroline, are the outliers. There is nothing "right" or "wrong" about how they cope with pregnancy, they are simply cases at the extreme ends of the spectrum of normal and healthy women.
Most women find they need to slow down in pregnancy, their fitness lapses because their metabolism is naturally slowing, and their body's resources are being redirected to their babies, leaving little spare for leisure. Those who are not naturally predisposed to being slim and athletic (and even those who are) can expect to lose a little fitness, and gain a little weight.
Gaining weight in pregnancy is a usual part of the process. New mums need that extra stored fat in reserve ready for breastfeeding - a greater strain on the body even than pregnancy.
In fact it has recently been proposed that the body's natural set point for weight adjusts after the first pregnancy. This could better equip a woman for motherhood, and gestating larger babies, once her ability to birth safely has been tested.
Our media culture deeply values women who "bounce back" after having their babies. Celebrities are celebrated for having a toned belly postpartum, and vilified should a glimpse of spare flesh or stretchmarked skin be spotted. Women are presented with a false ideal. The product of good genetics, dieticians, personal trainers and photoshop. It is a rare thing to see the less than "perfect" examples of mothers' bodies.
There is an incredible pressure put on mums today, to conform to the celebrity standard. Many women remain unaware that it is usual to take months for the body to recover after the incredible changes liable to take place during pregnancy and birth. Moreover, it is entirely acceptable, if not necessary, for a postpartum mother to rest and recover at a pace that is suitable for her body and lifestyle. I was caught out by this too.
After seeing a photo of a television celebrity resplendent in a bikini, just two months after giving birth, I was sure that I would have no problem slimming into my wedding dress by 10 weeks postpartum.
In an endeavour I now consider foolhardy at best, I did drop two dress sizes in time. I was also exhausted, irritable and lacking the glow of a healthy new mum. Nursing and caring for a newborn, without extensive support and working against my natural not-willowy predisposition took its toll. Even after the initial rapid loss, I did not return to my pre-pregnancy weight before I fell pregnant again 15 months later.
After my second pregnancy, I returned to dance and yoga quite quickly, but I paced myself. That's not to say I was lazy (before I am asked for excuses…) six months postpartum I was often found training at 10pm or later, the only child-free part of my day. The difference was that I did not make myself ill doing it. It took just over a year, but no dieting for me to return to the weight I was before my first pregnancy.I am not going to pretend however that I have "got my pre-pregnancy body back". Becoming a mother changes so many aspects of your life. It causes your body to face challenges unlike any other, there will always be changes. Whether those challenges change the way a woman's body looks, or make less obvious changes to the way it functions, they are amazing and nothing to be ashamed of.