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The Insanity of Trying To Get Your Pre-Baby Body Back

pre-baby body, motherhood, womanhood, body image, body love

The first time I remember thinking I needed to lose weight I was 7 years old. A thoughtless kid on the playground had yelled, “Move it, fatso!” to me as I swung on the monkey bars, and I instantly went from seeing my body as a place I loved to live to an object to be judged. And judge it I did, for the next 26 years.

I unfailingly listened to my body when it came to my gut instinct about who I should date, what major I should pursue in college, and what business opportunities to go for. Yet, when it came to food, I felt like if I didn’t give myself a set of strict rules that someone else had invented and instead let my body do what she wanted, that she would betray me and go completely off the rails, diving headfirst into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, never to recover her sanity again.

I trusted myself in every area of my life other than with food.

Food rules became a salvation, a touch point I could come back to throughout the day to measure whether I was okay or not. If I was staying on track, I was doing great. If I had veered, I had permission to beat myself up and perseverate on what I needed to do to move back toward perfect.

When I got pregnant, though, my inner knowing got so loud. It was actually impossible to ignore.

My body knew so clearly what she wanted and what she didn’t want. She was totally insistent. There was no debating with her or trying to follow any rules. She was clear, so I just followed.

Growing life within me had me trusting myself around food for the first time since that moment on the playground in second grade when my innate, innocent love of my body was first questioned.

Throughout my whole pregnancy and when I was nursing, I just ate what my body asked for and didn’t much question it. I wanted tons of ramen, so I ate tons of ramen. After giving birth I wanted tons of potato chips, so I ate tons of potato chips.

My body asked for what she wanted so clearly and unabashedly. But she also was very clear when she was done. I barely ever overate during pregnancy because, for the first time since I can remember, I knew what it felt like to be full and simply put my fork down.

I stopped nursing a couple of months ago when my daughter was 18 months old. That clear, strong voice telling me what my body needed to grow and nourish my girl got quieter.

I have felt myself wanting to slip into the well-worn groove of starting a program to “get back on track” and have rules again.

But I will not go back there. I have known what it feels like to nourish myself based on what my body truly needs. I did it for 27 months. I will not go back to following someone else’s rules.

Becoming a mother changes us irrevocably. Our inner voice gets louder. We get fiercer. Our boundaries become stronger. We get really clear on what matters.

We embrace the strength that comes from becoming mothers, but in the same breath, we diminish the very thing that made this becoming possible: our bodies.

If we’re to honor and embrace who we are as mothers, we must honor and embrace the bodies that made it so.

There is no going back. You can’t send the kid back where they came from. You can’t unstretch the stretched skin. You can’t shrink your heart back to the size it was before you welcomed this love so big you could never have fathomed it. Nor would you want to.

Though they were grueling, I wouldn’t give back all the nights spent bleary-eyed, nursing and rocking my baby back to sleep, over and over and over again. I wouldn’t give back the confusion, the letting go, the difficulties, and most certainly, I wouldn’t give back the joy or the love.

“Your new life is going to cost you your old one,” someone once said. (Multiple Google attempts have left me empty-handed as for whom.)

I have not tried to get my pre-baby body back, nor do I plan to, because we can’t go backwards in time. And I wouldn’t want it back, anyway, because with it I would have to give back my little girl and the woman I’ve become as I stepped into motherhood. And I love both of these precious beings too much to even consider a life without them.

Our words matter. Trying to get anything “back” from another chapter of life is futile. Being where we are, reveling in the gifts of where we are, and moving forward from there is the only way.

When we try to go back to another time we dishonor the present and everything that’s happened to get us here. 

pre-baby body, motherhood, womanhood, body image, body love, kate northrup

You can’t get one part back without losing everything you’ve gained since you had it.

So it goes with our bodies. So it goes with everything.

I’m interested in a life that moves forward, not backward. I’ll take my body with me, as she is, as she will be, not as she was, thank you very much.

OVER TO YOU:

If you’ve had a baby, how do you feel about your body now? If you haven’t had a baby, how do you feel about your body now as compared to in a different season in your life? Have you ever wanted a previous version of it back? Tell me in the comments!

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  • Rene Gibson says:

    Love. This. I’ll be 53 this year and I’m STILL trying to get back to my 22 year old body. But, you’re spot on. I wouldn’t trade anything I went through to get my old body back.

  • Liz says:

    This is timely. I just had a second baby in November. I barely gained weight with my daughter and sprung back from my first pregnancy in 3 months but this time around has been different. Things are looser. I have a small diastasis recti and my core/pelvic floor needs to be retrained and strengthened. It’s been harder to get to yoga/gym even with help (nannies, husband, etc.). I still have 10 pounds to get back to pre-baby weight and I have never, ever had a muffin top. Certainly two pregnancies in 3 years leaves the body in a different place and you are right, it’s futile to try go back to “pre-baby” body. I realized though so much of what we as women are fed culturally is that we should “erase” the mark of pregnancy and maternity as soon as possible and go back to being “normal”. What a shame to cover up this miracle–and I decided it’s fine to embrace maternity on our bodies. That requires a lot of self love and acceptance and being okay with where we are right now. Two human lives were created and birthed from this body! I have employed the strategy of making time for me to feel better (bikram yoga) as a critical piece of my week; I eat as healthy as I can (some days dark chocolate is just in the cards); talk to myself kindly as I would my children with love and encouragement; and do things that make me feel beautiful right now: hair, new make-up, manicure, dressing well. A big piece was purging my wardrobe of some clothing didn’t represent my new self or fit well. Some of the smaller buys I love, I saved as I know I will fit in them down the road. I gave myself the pleasure of buying new pieces that fit me well in cut and style while I move through this period of recovery (pregnancy isn’t really over until the baby weans so I still have at least a year to go). This won’t be forever, but in this interim, I may as well embrace myself with love and enjoy the journey. Thanks for the nice read and sharing.

    • Kate Northrup says:

      I’m so glad this resonates with you. And I love what you said about how our culture tries to have us erase the miracle of becoming a mother. I love all you’ve said about how you’re caring for your miracle of a body!

  • Hi Kate,
    I had twins 6 years ago and have never got my prebaby body back and I know to an extent I never will as i have incredible stretch marks and loose bits that no amount of muscle toning will aid. As a life coach myself I want to embrace what I have as a result of what my body when through but also being human I am still affected daily by pressures to look a certain way.
    X

    • Kate Northrup says:

      It’s up to us to change the culture by shifting our perception of our bodies. Thanks so much for reading and congrats on your twins!

  • Stephenie says:

    Hi Kate!
    Oh my gosh! This just spoke to my heart so much! I was probably 9 years old when I first really felt fat. I developed a bit early and I remember my dad saying I might need a bra. I was mortified. Not sure why that statement meant fat to me but growing up with a mom that struggled with weight, something connected there. Fast forward through the teen years and still overweight and never truly comfortable in my skin.

    I gave birth to my first son 5 years ago and I was at my lightest I had ever been due to having gestational diabetes. I managed the GD with diet and exercise. My body responded well to it while pregnant but once I gave birth I just jumped back to eating whatever. Same story with my 2nd son. I was lighter than when I got pregnant, loved being pregnant, felt sexy and beautiful! I miss feeling this way.

    No almost 2.5 years after having given birth for the 2nd time, I am working on feeling that way and listening to my body. Self love, self care, self acceptance, whatever you want to call it, I want to feel like I felt while being pregnant and just post partum.

    Thanks for this wonderful post! It was very thought provoking for me.

  • Holly says:

    Wow! The last couple of days between your book and this post in feel like you’re talking right to me!! I really love this piece. I have definitely been stuggling with my post baby body and I think a lot of it is because I was struggling really hard right before I found out I was pregnant with the way it looked. I have definitely been working on giving myself more grace and adapting to this new life. Everything changes when the time is right. I might not be able to get the body back that I had in high school and that’s ok, that version of me didn’t create a new life.

    • Kate Northrup says:

      Exactly! That version of you didn’t create a new life! I’m so glad this resonates with you!

  • Jess says:

    I absolutely love this post and wholeheartedly agree. I’m actually in better shape now than I was pre-babies, but it’s all because I’ve accepted, embraced, and loved myself – regardless of my size or shape in any given moment. Bravo! Love this post, Kate! <3

  • Mary says:

    Kate, this is inspirational. I have three beautiful girls and my baby is almost 22! For years I have not listened to what my body wants and longed to get that flat stomach back. Reading this has removed the scales from my eyes as to how silly I have been to not embrace all the changes my body underwent to give life to my girls and what an amazing powerful wonderful creator my body is. I am now feeling quite in awe and looking at myself with a whole new lot of respect. Wow! Thank you xx

    • Kate Northrup says:

      Oh wow Mary! I’m so glad this helped you switch perspectives. Powerful for you and your girls!

  • Kanelli says:

    My twin girls turn 7 tmrw!I still have a belly due to diastis recti and I love my boobs more for having breastfed my girls for 3 years.My belly for having carried them to almost full term.Last August I got back into routine fitness swimming it took that long to find my consistent groove again.I swam my first race in 22 years cause I want my girls to watch a fit mommy.I still have a belly and it’s always going to be part of me,my story,my journey!I did mastery this year with Mama G,a journey of note I am so glad my girls can love their body parts too by watching me!

  • Mary says:

    Thank you So much for your wonderful blog Kate, I really needed to hear that!
    So freeing!

  • Audrey says:

    This is what so many more women need to hear and believe! Before my son was born, I was very thin. Underweight, in fact, but not unhealthy. Just have always had a super high metabolism. I’d struggled with body image (for being too thin–trust me, it was real!) all through my teens and early 20s, and then finally in my 30s began to accept and truly love my body. Then I got pregnant. And after giving birth, I had the telltale fluffy tummy pouch that still has never gone away. And I love it! I embrace it. I have never tried to get rid of it. It is the proof to me and everyone that I brought a human being into this world with my love and hard work, and I’ll be damned if anyone will judge me for a little fluff! I just wish more women would have this attitude. Thank you for sharing!

  • Annette says:

    What a beautiful and empowering message. Thank you Kate. My body has created 8 lives, 2 beautiful little ones here with me aged 6 and 7 and 6 angels who decided to return to heaven. For so long I’ve felt my body failed me because 6 babies didn’t make it. Your message has reminded me that my body made me a mama and that is the only thing I ever wanted. As of this moment, I will see this spectacular body of mine as a place to be revered and respected for all of the life she created. Thank you. This has been huge. X

  • Read minds much? I’m two months postpartum with my second child and weigh almost as much as I did when I was 42 weeks pregnant with my first. Last time the weight just dropped off with nursing and a little exercise; I ate however I wanted. This time I’m working out more and watching what I eat while also nursing and the weight just isn’t budging.

    I judge my body for being so “fat” and then I judge my mind for being so vain. What kind of example is this to set for my newborn daughter? Or my 4YO son?

    It helps to read your post and the comments to reset my perspective and I am encouraged to keep trying this self-acceptance thing.

  • Kim says:

    This was great. I do use the words “get back to”, when it refers to many things from my happiness level, to my ability to be care-free and many other things. But you are right, we can never “get back to” because we would have to give up all of the lessons that we have learned along the way.

    I am 46 years old, with two grown children. I focus on being the healthiest version of myself. I am healthier and more energetic than my 30-year old self. I can keep up with my children, and someday, I will be the cool grandma who runs and dances in the rain with the kids!

    Thanks for this great post. I really enjoyed it!

  • Michelle King says:

    I have 2 beautiful girls (5&8) who are the loves of my life. Just like every other woman, I have my “battle scars”. In fact, with my second I had an emergency c-section, so ended up with that scar along with a few stretch marks here and there. It’s a reminder to me that my body created 2 of the most beautiful miracles. And that c-section? A reminder that my youngest was a fighter right from the beginning as we were very close to unknowingly losing her. Do I miss my old body? Truthfully? Not really! I made my peace with the body that housed 2 growing babies and then nourished them for months. It was not a peace that came immediately, but once it arrived, it’s amazing what my body was able to do again. I am now in my forties and am stronger than I have been in years. I know I can’t compete with my 20 year-old self, but she did not have all the blessings my forty-something self now has. However, I am back to doing things I had given up for a while (mainly basketball at the moment). I want my girls to see that it’s possible to be healthy and strong at any phase in your life and will continue to teach them about being healthy, not thin.

    • Kate Northrup says:

      I love that you’re doing things again that you’d give up for a while and yes to health and strength at anytime!

  • Rabea says:

    So true.
    I just had this beautiful experience on the dance floor the other day.
    I connected with my body with deepest gratitude and, wow, felt how super proud of her I am!
    I’ve carried twins up to the due date, been through labor and emergency cesarean and have breastfed them both. These guys grew inside of me (I mean, what a miracle is that in itself – no matter how many babies), they have been nourished from my blood and grown and grown and thrived…. And my beautiful body just knew what to do! Healing and nourishing at the same time. Now they’re 4 years old and I get to breathe and connect with myself more and more again. And not only again but …in a new way.
    And when I danced I really felt this deep appreciation for my body. And yes, I’ve got stretch marks and wobbly tissue which will stay- they’re my warrior scars and I am intending to keep loving myself and my miraculous super mama/woman body as much I can. Reminders are always good. Because we do forget at times… So thank you, Kate! :-)

  • Claire says:

    You’ve captured everything I felt! I had played with intuitive eating for several months and it finally clicked into place for me during pregnancy. I remember having a moment where I felt so odd, having eaten potato chips for a snack and not feeling guilt. I was proud of myself for listening to my body and realized that baby or not, I needed to continue this.

    I refuse to change. This is healthy for me and as a model for my new baby girl. If she sees her mom eating all foods with no restrictions, I can help her have a healthy relationship with food.

    Additionally, I remember thinking my post-baby body, while different, was amazing. Instead of stretch marks and extra weight, I saw pure strength and nourishment for my baby. I was proud and nothing else, and I wish that for all women.

  • Alexandra Gutierrez says:

    Wow! I’m currently 34 weeks pregnant. I have had moments in which I love my changing body and moments in which I don’t. After reading this blog, I can only see the beauty in my changing body and as a consequence I’m more accepting of this current transforming reality. Creating a human life is an experience that it’s worth anything. Thank you Kate, what a beautiful insight -> When we try to go back to another time we dishonor the present and everything that’s happened to get us here.

    Love it!

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