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August 8, 2016
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August 8, 2016

Accepting (and Celebrating) Your Postpartum Body

When you have a baby, your life transforms?and so does your body. In the first days after your little one’s arrival, you’ll probably be hyper-focused on the immediate healing at hand. Things you once took for granted, like walking and pooping, may now feel like climbing Everest. Take it moment by moment, move slowly and deliberately, and the pain will subside.

Once your acute aches begin to fade and the new baby buzz quiets to a hum, you may find the space to take in your body for the first time. You could discover that you’re standing in a body that doesn’t quite look like yours anymore, that things have changed. Physically, you have gone through a major metamorphosis?the biggest of your life. While you were pregnant, your body shifted and expanded to hold your growing baby. Your organs were pushed to the ride as the fetus grew; your hips and thighs took on extra weight to help sustain baby; and your breasts expanded to new?and dazzling, if you are usually smaller chested?cup sizes.

Now, after birth, your body is between two states?it is no longer on loan to a small human being, but it’s not as tight and strong as it once was. In the first forty days universe, this is the moment when we begin to embrace the understanding that there is no going back. The reality is that once your little one arrives, there are lots of things that have changed: You won’t get your pre-baby sleep schedule back; you won’t get your pre-baby social life back; and you won’t get your pre-pregnancy body back. There is no going back; from here on out, there is only forward.

But, how exactly do you move forward if the image that shows up when you stand naked it front of the mirror is one that you don’t enjoy at all? With tenderness and acceptance, for starters And reverence right after that. You may be staring down unsightly stretch marks, a squishy, pouchy stomach, and underarm flab, but your job is to treat yourself with the same kindness and love that?you give to your baby. In the beginning, this level of self-love requires lots of practice, but it does get?easier, promise. The practice is built around a one-two punch of honor and acceptance. The honor or the reverence, is for the miraculous project that your body just completed. You may have had a bit of help in the early stages and some guidance at the end, but you essentially made a human being and delivered her to the world?alone. This process utilized key components of your physical self: your blood and oxygen to grow and sustain the baby; your muscles and bones to hold you both up throughout the gestation period; your fat to store nutrients and prepare for breastfeeding. To accommodate your growing baby, your body was required to change. You will leave some of?these changes behind after you give birth, but others will accompany you into parenthood. Even the women who count themselves among the small percentage who gained little weight during pregnancy or lost all of their baby weight within the first few months after giving birth will discover that their bodies are not exactly as they remember them. Their belly buttons are now raised slightly or sinking slightly, or one breast is permanently bigger than the other. Or maybe their skin is drier than it was before baby, or their feet are wider.

Here’s where acceptance comes in, sliding in right behind the reverence for all that beautiful baby making you’ve just done. Accepting yourself as you are is the antidote to the shame you may feel when you see aspects of your maternal body that you’re just not crazy about. When you accept yourself exactly as you are right now?with dark circles under your eyes and engorged breasts and mushy belly?you remain whole instead of picked apart, your various body parts shunted into categories of imperfection. When you’re whole, you are stronger, and when you are stronger you’re are more capable, available mother and partner. And most partners will admit that they find the mother of their child incredibly sexy after she gives birth?not just because of her curves, but because she had his (or her) baby.

But acceptance doesn’t mean that you give up on regaining your strength and finding your center again. Once you’ve accepted that things are indeed different and have abandoned the notion of getting back to someplace you were before you had a baby, you can begin to set your sights of what it will feel like to move forward, to feel good in your skin again. It helps to stay away from Photo shopped images of supermodel mothers with their biologically impossible washboard abs. Instead, if you feel anxious to ignite some renewed vitality in your body, begin by turning to your center. I often suggest postpartum belly wrapping, also called rebozo, to bring new energy to a mother’s center. Belly wrapping is used in many cultures throughout West Africa, Latin America, and Asia and is an effective way to reconnect the abdominal muscles that separated during birth and to support the lower back. You can use a long cloth to wrap yourself or use a Physiomat belt, which wraps around your belly and can be worn under clothing. (A quick Google search will lead you to instructional belly-wrapping videos, and the Physiomat belt can be ordered from Amazon.) The firm belly hug of good wrap can feel delightful. But remember, belly binding is not about shrinking your middle. It’s about bringing strength and energy to an area of the body that has been weakened by the effort of pregnancy and childbirth.

Place your loving hands on your belly and body and gently?bring your awareness to your womb and vagina at least once every day. Tune in to how they feel. They have done hard work! Breathe into them and allow any feelings that come up to flow. It is essential that you connect with them consciously and regularly in the recovery phase?even more so if there were complications during birth?because this will initiate deep self-healing. -?ULRIKE REMLEIN, CHILDBIRTH EDUCATOR, DOULA, AND RED TENT FACILITATOR, NATISBON, GERMANY

Text copyright ? 2016 by Heng Ou. Amely Greeven, and Marisa Belger

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