Body image and womanhood can be a very complex and triggering topic for many. Body image and motherhood, even more so.

Interestingly, women’s body image during pregnancy seems to be at an all time high.  Initially this may seem wonderful. And, of course, it is wonderful that women feel good about themselves during this time. But when you think about why it highlights some of the travesties women still face… 

I have spoken to countless women who have said they felt better than ever about their body during pregnancy. For a lot of us being pregnant makes us feel properly and truly ‘in tune’ with our bodies. We feel acutely aware of our femininity. We feel radiant, glowing, full, quite literally, of vivacity. A kind of innate attractiveness. We’re growing a person and we feel, for probably the first time, properly in awe of our bodies. This is all wonderful and makes total sense but it’s sad that I’ve also heard so many women say that it’s the first time they’ve felt comfortable to wear tight fitting clothes. I remember someone saying to me that it was great as she no longer had to breathe in. Women feeling like this is so sad. It’s wonderful how empowering pregnancy can be but it also highlights how powerless women usually feel within their bodies: how little we appreciate them and how critical we are of them. 

This pregnancy body image high is also particularly bitterly juxtaposed with the immediate postpartum period. Women are so often left feeling heavy; wobbly; weak and no longer so keen on their body bearing proof of the life it has created; birthed, one remarkable way or another;  quite possibly continues to sustain and undoubtedly continues to nurture. Add to that a tender Caesarean incision, some piles, some sore vaginal stitches, a fissure, some incontinence and/or some cracked, bleeding or blistered nipples and we’re not feeling quite so radiant.

Whilst much of the rawness of that immediate postpartum fades women are often left feeling, for many months, years or longer, as though they no longer recognise their own body. This can be deeply unpleasant and unsettling. We think of our bodies as being constant. As being familiar, ‘ours’. But actually they’re constantly shifting and evolving. Everyone’s is. But the changes across pre-pregnancy, pregnancy and postpartum are so vast and so rapid that it can be quite shocking and overwhelming. So much of who we are can feel wrapped up with what we look like and such big changes over such a short space of time take some adjusting to.  

Something I have learnt from my own experience of two pregnancies, deliveries and recoveries – the latter fraternal twins – is the immense and game changing  power of feeling strong. Nothing feels as good as strong. With my second pregnancy, the twins, I continued working out and lifting weights and walking and fitness instructing and although I obviously felt bigger I didn’t feel less strong or less fit. There are so many things about pregnancy and beyond that are unknown. This in itself can feel unnerving. But being strong and fit, while certainly not providing any guarantees, can only be positive in terms of outcomes and recovery. The mental effects of feeling strong and fit are immeasurable. This is hugely empowering through pregnancy, instilling you with an optimism for birth and recovery which is so beneficial for maternal mental health. 

Postnatally, it is one thing feeling inevitably heavier, not recognising your shape, and even suffering some of the unpleasant ‘side effects’ aforementioned – but if you feel strong you feel different. Better different. If you still feel fit and strong you again have that optimism. The optimism and knowledge that you will not only feel like you but look like you again – albeit the you who has mothered your children – and what could possibly be wrong with that. Having the hope, positivity and confidence to feel like you again is massively empowering and could be transformative for many women’s mental health.  

Early motherhood, particularly new motherhood, whilst obviously being wonderful can also be an exceptionally challenging time for women. Everything is new and different. Literally, your every waking (and those brief sleeping) moment. That’s really hard to imagine until it happens and as much as you desperately want it, it can feel unsettling. Anything new does at first. Moving into your dream home would be great but may feel a little odd at first. And if on top of that you then feel physically unrecognisable and weak it certainly doesn’t help or make for calm and positivity.

As much as appearance is insignificant- more than ever when you’ve just given birth – and not what’s important, it can have an undeniable correlation with mental health. I’m not for one second suggesting that how you look, especially when you’ve just had a baby, is even remotely important but how you feel is everything. And negative body image undoubtedly correlates with poor mental health. And why it’s so important is because it’s one of the few things as a new mum that you can have some control over – there’s something you can do about it to help yourself feel better.

It is all about empowerment. After so many years of women being told exercise is unsafe during pregnancy they need support and guidance to be taught how to keep their bodies strong through their journey into motherhood and beyond. Feeling fit and in tune with your body and understanding the wonder you’re performing you will feel confident, powerful and positive which will have a hugely beneficial impact on maternal mental health.

Some text here.