Postpartum bods

Twenty-two and having a belly painting blast.

It’s not shocking to say the majority of Canadian women are self-conscious of their bodies.

Research done by Media Smarts, Canada’s Centre for Digital and Media Literacy, says these insecurities can start as young as three, flourish in the teen years, and continue into adulthood.

Then pregnancy comes along. Changes happen to a woman’s breasts, nipples, and hair on her head and body. She has to learn to move differently, sleep differently, and use the bathroom differently. Sex is different as is food, if it can even be kept down. When baby is born the postpartum body may have more curves, extra weight and stretch marks. Breasts, hair and body movements are still different. A whole new knowledge of a woman’s own vagina comes into play.

Meanwhile, actress Reese Witherspoon was looking adorable this past summer in celebrity magazines, showing off her baby belly, home to baby number three. Model, Gisele Bundchen appears to fit her long legs into skinny not-so-mom-like jeans just fine. Pregnant celebrity moms such as Christina Aguilera have shown their perfect baby bumps on magazine covers since Demi Moore’s 1991 Vanity Fair shot; looking flawlessly beautiful, no stretch marks, no dark lines, no extra hormonal hair in sight.

Amanda Spakowski, founder of Toronto based, The Nesting Place has been a doula for seven years. Seven years of pre-natal classes, guiding moms and their partners through pregnancy, being there from the first contraction to baby’s first cry and after to continue helping new families adapt. She has seen many a postpartum body.

During labour women may be concerned about losing control of their bowels, or how their vaginas look. Spakowski said a birthing mother might tell their partner not to look while the baby is born. “In labour women are letting their guard down. They may roll their eyes at being called beautiful, because they don’t feel beautiful,” said Spakowski. She plays clips from a film, Orgasmic Birth for her pre-natal class. The documentary follows midwife Ina May Gaskin and shows how if some women allow their movements to be natural, and let their natural voice free, the movements and sounds can be sensual. Spakowski explained the sexier a woman can feel during the birth process, the more their body will open.

“A labouring woman is one of the most beautiful images to look on,” said Spakowski. “The energy of birth is breathtaking.”

She said she is not alone in thinking these sentiments. She has heard and witnessed partners of the birthing mother be in awe of her body and feel ecstatically towards the birthing process. She has heard one father describe how drawn he was to his partner, walking into the bedroom seeing her with larger breasts, hair tied back and feeling an intense wonder for the mother of his child. And though we mothers may not all look like a celebrity mom, Spakowski says there are movie moments. After one woman gave birth, “Her partner looked at her and said, ‘I’m more in love with you than I ever have been,” proceeding to lift her from under her shoulders and giving her a big Hollywood kiss.”

In addition to body image insecurities, Spakowski says many women worry about their body’s function and mobility postpartum and the impact it may have on enjoying their baby.

“A new Mom’s confidence is not so much focused on herself, her extra weight or her self – esteem. But more on having the confidence to care for her new baby in the very best way she can,” said Andrea Grace of Mommy and Baby Fitness Workout and Play.

“I come across hundreds of new moms and babes yearly, and I think that the fact they have just given birth is so empowering and amazing; and they feel so great that they have just created a new life. That is first and foremost before body image and carrying around extra pounds,” she said. Grace encounters hundreds of mothers, not all of who had been working out prior to their pregnancy or learning the workings of their postpartum body. Though she admits some new moms do go to the business because they think they are “Fat” many go to feel good, and the weight loss is an inevitable bonus. Grace suggests coming in to one of its facilities to exercise with babe when they are six weeks old, and taking lots of walks.

Cardio, along with a healthy diet, is what helped mother, chef, photographer and blogger Dana Jackson lose 62 pounds a year postpartum. Jackson didn’t rely on a scale, but the foodie did watch her portion sizes, ate a large breakfast and made sure to drink her water. And when she isn’t using her children as weights, she isn’t shy to take a look at her naked reflection and accept what she sees with open arms. “You have to love yourself every step of the way.  The sooner you learn to accept every roll today, the easier it is to envision your realistic goals for tomorrow,” she writes in a December 2011 Hot Pink Apron blog post.

Spakowski says if a woman does not believe she is beautiful, the compliments people give her saying otherwise won’t truly register. She believes self-esteem needs to be important when girls are young, so they can grow up and know they are beautiful, every stretch mark, and every stray hair.

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