Postpartum body confidence sounds like an oxymoron. You just spent nine months with your body taken over by another human. You’ve been stretched out. Now you may be breastfeeding and/or pumping, so your body isn’t yet your own again. You likely still have increased hormones that are affecting your body physically and emotionally.
The postpartum period is loaded with physical, mental, and emotional challenges, and it’s often a time when women feel self-conscious about their bodies. These feelings can be compounded if you’re returning to a workplace setting where it may feel uncomfortable to show your postpartum body. Let’s face it. Postpartum bodies are curvy. And from body shape to hair and skin, they are constantly changing. Many of us feel self-conscious about bearing these physical changes in a professional setting.
I remember feeling very body conscious when I returned to work after the birth of my oldest daughter. My breasts and hips were larger than normal. I couldn’t figure out how to consistently dress my body in a way that felt professional and didn’t either hug my curves in an attention-grabbing way or feel matronly and gross. I felt like my body called attention to itself no matter what I did, yet all I wanted to do was blend in physically and be respected as the professional colleague I was.
Sometimes postpartum is even a peak point of body shame. This needs to change. I founded Fulcrum Apparel because women need great clothing options suited to this unique time when they’re acclimating to a new life, reconciling their personal and professional identities, and experiencing so many physical changes.
So how can we return to work more confident in our postpartum bodies? Here are six ideas based on my own experiences and the wisdom of the many women who have contributed to the Fulcrum Apparel community.
Remember that your body just did an amazing thing growing a human for nine months. It’s an enormous accomplishment enabled by extensive physical changes that occurred over almost a year. It will take time for your body to transition out of that baby-making mode to more of a “normal” mode. Furthermore, if you’re breastfeeding and/or pumping, your body is feeding another human, which is another huge accomplishment. It can be hard to remember all the amazing things your body has done, but we need to keep these achievements top of mind and commend our incredible bodies. Challenge yourself to view your experiences as a confidence boost rather than a confidence suck.
Recreate a circumstance that contributed to past body positivity. Remember a time recently or long ago when you felt great in your body, and try to pinpoint what you were doing that contributed to feeling good. Don’t just focus on a time when you liked the way your body looked, but rather when you felt the strongest and most confident about your body. Perhaps you meditated regularly, trained for a 5K, committed to a regular social gathering, or ate five fruits and veggies every day. Try to recreate whatever habit sparked your past body positivity. When I received this advice, I immediately thought of the years during my twenties when I did competitive ballroom dancing. I’ve loved dancing my whole life, and when I move to music, I don’t feel like I’m exercising, though I do get great exercise. For me it’s an endorphin rush and a cardio blast. When I realized this a couple of years ago, I started attending a weekly dance cardio class at my gym and I’ve been amazed by how integrating an activity I truly love really does help me feel the strongest and most satisfied in my body.
Find a part of your postpartum body you like and focus on it. Intentionally highlight it every day. Maybe it’s your larger breasts, your great postpartum hair or skin, or your toned arms from carrying a baby all the time. Pick whatever speaks to you, focus on those parts, and force yourself to ignore any negative thoughts about your body that come to mind. The negative thoughts do not serve you, so replace each negative thought with a compliment to your body.
Work with a physical therapist for postpartum pelvic floor physical therapy. This treatment will help rebuild your core and pelvic floor muscles that are significantly impacted by pregnancy and labor. Not only will you gain a critical core strength to help your body feel strong again and prepare you for regular exercise, but the experience can feel like a well-deserved investment in yourself during a time when so much of your energy is going into caring for your baby. This physical therapy experience was critical for helping me to feel like myself again after the birth of my second daughter, and I would highly recommend it for all postpartum moms.
Invest some time and money into creating a small postpartum wardrobe that really works for your body and the way you plan to spend your time during your baby’s first year of life. If you are nursing and/or pumping, make sure the garments enable you to do so efficiently. If you plan to return to work, make sure these pieces aren’t just for lounging at home but can help you show up to the office looking and feeling great. Find a few versatile pieces that fit well and can be mixed and matched with items from your “regular” wardrobe like cardigans, blazers, and accessories that aren’t as affected by a changing postpartum shape. With a little effort, you can create a postpartum wardrobe that you don’t have to think about, that makes you feel great in your body, and eliminates negative feelings about being in this “in between” stage that’s not maternity or your pre-baby clothes.
Be patient with your body as it finds its new normal. It took me a year before I even started to feel like myself again physically, mentally, and emotionally. It took me a year and a half to feel like my body really belonged to me again and was as strong as it was pre-pregnancy. Each body is on a different timeline, and we have to respect our own journey.
So how do you want to feel in your body as you return to your professional life? What can you do to feel physically strong, to nourish your body and spirit in a way that makes you feel confident, and to learn to appreciate your body for all of its amazing accomplishments?
For me, I know my body will never be an exact replica of what it was pre-babies, but each time I come away from a pregnancy-birth-postpartum cycle, I feel stronger and more confident in what my body can do. The rebuilding process offers the opportunity to regain strength where you want it and to honor your body in ways that work for you.
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