It's Time To Embrace Your Postpartum Belly

If your postpartum stomach is still around after birth, know you are not alone. It is completely normal for your body to change after carrying and having a baby.

Postpartum belly after baby

Carrying and birthing a baby changes you. From the obvious (hello, you're a parent!) to the subtle, it alters every aspect of your life. But while you may have anticipated many of the changes, like sleepless nights, one thing you may not have been prepared for is how pregnancy transforms your body. If you're reading this, there's a good chance you're worried about your postpartum stomach. And while we totally get it, we do—I Googled "how long will my postpartum belly be around" days after giving birth—remember that you (and your body) just did an amazing thing: You grew a human being, and that should be applauded. You should celebrate it, with fireworks and a parade.

"Remind yourself of the miracle you just performed," says Chaye McIntosh, clinical director at ChoicePoint Health in Fairlawn, New Jersey. "Remind yourself that the baby you are now holding in your arms is worth the stretch marks and belly pouch. Remind yourself that you are beautiful just the way you are. And remember that your baby needs a strong, self-assured, and dedicated parent—not just one with a flat tummy."

"These changes are normal," McIntosh adds. "They are the most natural thing."

That said, we understand the desire to return to your pre-baby body. You want to be and feel like yourself. But no matter what you look like—or, rather, what your stomach looks like—you are still you. Stretch marks cannot change that, and some sagging skin should not take your identity away.

Here's everything you need to know about your postpartum stomach, from what it looks like to how long it may last.

What Will My Postpartum Belly Look Like?

While it should go without saying, every person and pregnancy is different. This means that what's "normal" for one may be abnormal for you. It also means there's no one-size-fits-all answer to this frequently asked question.

Your stomach may be squishier than usual and/or distended. You may appear bloated or "deflated." Some describe their postpartum stomach as a balloon. And your stomach may have stretch marks. The linea nigra—a dark, vertical line on your tummy—may also be present.

"Every postpartum stomach is going to look different, just like every baby bump looks a little different," says Nicole Nina, a licensed clinical social worker at Mindful Mountains in Aurora, Colorado. "Some [people] will experience their stomach deflating quickly, within hours of giving birth, while others will see their stomach remain protruded for weeks, and even months or years after birth. But regardless of what your belly looks like, remember it is completely natural—and normal—and that your experience is unique to you."

Is It "Normal" to Have Loose Skin On Your Stomach After Giving Birth?

Many new parents will have loose or sagging skin on their stomach after giving birth. It's both normal and natural—and a common complaint. However, before you lambast yourself or your body for not "bouncing back," realize that numerous factors are at play. For example, during pregnancy, the skin surrounding your stomach gradually stretches to accommodate the growing fetus. After giving birth, it can take several weeks or even months for the skin around the abdomen to "spring back," but some may find that their skin has lost elasticity altogether.

Diastasis recti, or abdominal separation, can also occur. This condition causes a literal gap to form between your right and left abdominal wall muscles and weakens the connective tissue which holds them together.

When Will My Postpartum Belly Return to "Normal?"

While many new parents want to know when their body will "bounce back" or return to "normal," the answer is nuanced—and quite complex. Your size and shape before conception will affect your size and shape postpartum. Your activity level will play a role, as will the rate at which your stomach grew. Dietary decisions will impact your waistline, and genetics will affect how your body changes. The number of children you've had also matters. Baby number one is very different than number three or four.

That said, assuming your body will "bounce back" is part of the problem—and is toxic, through and through. Some people never "bounce back" after birth. Rather, their body changes, taking on a new form. Some people return to their pre-pregnancy shape but find certain features have changed. You may have stretch marks or sagging skin, for example, and both are OK. There is no right way to look after having a baby. What's more, no matter what happens postpartum, realize your body is strong. It is resilient, and you are exactly where you are supposed to be.

"Parenthood changes you, inside and out," says Veronda Brooks-Bellamy, a therapist and life coach from Charlotte, North Carolina. "Remain present... shift your focus away from your stomach and, instead, toward you and your mental health." Be patient. Have realistic expectations, and give yourself grace. "Your stomach is a badge of honor," she adds, one which you should celebrate—not meet with shame.

What Can I Do To Embrace My New Body?

While you can focus on your physical health with your doctor's approval—with things like mindful eating and postpartum exercise—the best thing to do is to embrace yourself, here and now, and prioritize your mental well-being.

"It is very normal for new parents to feel uncomfortable as their stomachs contract back down, and they deal with the excess skin, fat, and fluid needed to grow a baby," says Nina. "I encourage new parents to try and boost their confidence in alternate ways, such as doing their hair, makeup, reading affirmations, painting their nails, and taking other small steps to feel more comfortable." Journaling can be very grounding, particularly if you make these entries about your growth and successes. Use the phrase "I'm proud of" as a jumping off point. You also can and should do things you enjoy, particularly with people who uplift and inspire you, as these activities will help you feel more like yourself.

If you're still struggling with accepting your new form or your self-esteem, you can and should seek support from a mental health professional, Nina explains. "Transitioning to a postpartum body can be completely overwhelming, and having the support of a professional can make all the difference."

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