Instead of Snapping Back, I Saw the Beauty in My Postpartum Body

The pressure to “snap back” leaves many struggling with unrealistic expectations after giving birth. This clinical psychologist shares how to recover.

Mom exercising at home with her baby daughter
Photo: Getty Images

I can recall seeing images online pointing to the beauty and grace of women that have "snapped back" postpartum for as long as I can remember. Unknown to me were the waves and tides that I, and so many others, would encounter postpartum that have brought great beauty into our lives. I've also found this time provides a reckoning of the old and new. While navigating new motherhood, thoughts can surface around a mom's connectedness to her individuality. After giving birth, many of us can be negatively impacted by images suggesting how new motherhood should look. Decades of images have permeated the media and influenced body image and self-identity.

Dr. Amber Thornton, a clinical psychologist and motherhood wellness consultant, says the pressure to snap back makes things harder because it puts this unrealistic expectation on moms. She outlines a few suggestions for resisting that pressure and embracing the beauty of healing postpartum.

Embrace the Magic That Is the Postpartum Body

Given all that occurs during motherhood, the added layer of body image pressure can be taxing. Dr. Thornton says we can make this transition easier through acceptance. "For most women, their bodies do change after having babies," says Thornton. "We need to create a new norm accepting that most mothers' bodies will change and teaching them how to love their new bodies." Thornton has found that the time it takes for the body to heal can be up to a year but varies based on many factors, including whether a mother has a vaginal or cesarean birth. Embracing that healing magic can do wonders as the body restores.

Have Patience With the Process To Reduce Pressure

Pregnancy and postpartum stages bring new experiences and new pressures. These shifts can be a lot for new parents to navigate. "New moms face a ton of pressures from interconnected areas related to their health and mental health," says Thornton. She notes expectations for their role as mothers, and how they plan to serve as partners or employees add to concerns they can juggle all of these while taking care of the baby. I found that all of these parallel processes are equally important and intertwined but take time to evolve. Trusting the process even when change is not visible to the naked eye creates the space to continue on.

Lean into Your Support Network

"Support postpartum can and should look like communal support. The support of a village can move mountains when it comes to the demands of the household, childcare, and physical and mental health support," says Dr. Thornton. In her findings, practitioner support can also look like mental health therapy, a postpartum doula, physical therapy, and pelvic floor therapy. She says an instrumental aspect of this support can also be "staying connected to a close group of friends or a community of new moms to minimize the chances that a mom feels isolated while embarking on the motherhood experience." Attuning to the notion that you aren't alone on the journey and your healing is important can override unrealistic expectations.

Heal the Old To Develop the New

Dr. Thornton says a mom can also better heal when she gets clear with herself about what to expect when having a baby and how it can change her body. In addition, she has found that a mother changing her mindset from 'I need to get back to my old body' to 'I need to appreciate my new body' can have a sweeping impact. For example, a study found that viewing more body-diverse images can create a buffer in the eyes of the viewer against a thin ideal. In addition to that buffer, leaning into doing the mental work or "energy clearing" can aid in the path to healing.

The path may have many unique hills and valleys but can be so promising for those who welcome the journey.

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