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The pressure some new moms face with returning to their pre-pregnancy bodies can be colossal — and it's an issue at least one reproductive mental health expert has experienced postpartum.
"There's that self-judgement," said Catriona Hippman, a postdoctoral research fellow with the British Columbia Women's Reproductive Mental Health Program. "Why am I not able to get back to how I looked before?"
It's a question that many mothers face, oftentimes forging tons of anxiety and stress.
There are many factors on why some people's bodies bounce back quicker than others after giving birth. But Hippman said that for her, it's not possible to get back to who she was before because it's part of becoming a parent and experiencing that "shift in identity" — something many others can likely relate to.
"Your body has been through this enormous change and I think there's a process that's important to get to know and to get to love your body as it is now and all the ways that it's changed," said Hippman.
She acknowledged, however, that loving one's body is hard in a society that "police's women's bodies."
"There's a sense that society kind of owns a woman's body ... that they actually feel entitled to share their judgments. And so people might be critical in ways that you're not expecting when you're pregnant or in postpartum."Catriona Hippman
She said it can be helpful for women who may feel pressured to look a certain way after giving birth to think about "how miraculous it is that your body has been able to grow another human being and then provide for it."
Unique bounce-back periods
It's also helpful, according to Nicole Letourneau, a professor in the faculty of nursing at the University of Calgary, to realize that every body is different and that the postpartum process will be unique to each.
She said if someone bounces back to their pre-baby bodies right away, it might have to do with how fit they were before pregnancy.
"If they were fit before ... their body is likely to be more able to adapt," Letourneau said. "And those people are more likely to return to walking and exercising and doing the kind of things that they did before, just because it's a habit."
She said a woman could also be the most fit person in the world, but if they undergo a birth requiring something such as a complicated C-section, then there may be recovery challenges that can't have them be up and active as usual.
"(Sometimes) people also don't have support for the things that they need to be fit like being able to eat nutritiously and exercising a bit," said Letourneau.
The number of children that women already have and whether they're being supported by other people can also play a role.
"You just can't do as much for yourself with more children. ... But if you have a lot of people to help and support you, then you could be one of those people who can have the time to return to (being active) and watching your intake of calories," Letourneau said.
She also pointed out that people don't talk about whether or not women breastfeed after giving birth.
"Breastfeeding takes weight off. Literally that's what the body is doing — converting fat stores and new nutrient intake into a feeding substance for the baby," said Letourneau.
"I remember when I was breastfeeding, I couldn't keep the weight on. I had to eat more than normal. I lost weight and I had to keep on eating more than normal because I could not feed my baby."
Mental health issues could also be largely responsible. Letourneau said 50 per cent of women go on medication for depression in postpartum, and some of it can contribute to weight gain.
Following birth, some women also resume taking birth control, which can sometimes cause weight gain and make it harder for some people to shed pounds.
"There's so many factors and challenges, a lot of hills to climb for women to regain their pre-pregnancy weight," said Letourneau.
The Abbey's Kitchen creator began by stitching a video from a TikTok user who claimed that her body bounced back "right after" giving birth. In the clip, Sharp urged her followers not to be "fooled" by social media.
"Bounce back culture is incredibly damaging for women and young moms," she said after the initial TikTok clip, before encouraging her followers to "generally take the focus off of postpartum bodies."
Sharp went on to say that after having a baby, one's physical aesthetic should be "so far down" their list of priorities.
In the research and work that Letourneau does around mental health, the professor said issues with body image and bouncing back don't come up often.
She said women's priorities seem to not be about their looks. Instead, many are more so focused on how they feel and the challenges they face around managing the transitions of being a mother while still trying to maintain a healthy relationship with their partner.
"Frankly, (the mothers' concerns are) the burdens of childcare and trying to do everything right for your child," said Letourneau.
Pressures to 'bounce back'
There are tools and resources available to new moms who may struggle with body image post-pregnancy. Hippman said mindfulness and self-compassion are some techniques that can be useful.
"There's a lot of evidence supporting mindfulness as being very helpful in the prenatal period," Hippman said.
"It allows you to recognize these thought patterns that are maybe judgmental and help give you the space to step back ... so it doesn't immediately hit your heart and make you feel unworthy."
Cognitive-behavioural therapy is also an option, which helps people "examine how they make sense of what is happening around them and how these perceptions affect the way they feel," as explained by Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
"It can help promote thoughts that are kinder," Hippman said.
For those who want to try and lose weight, she cautioned that it is possible to overdo it with exercise.
"It's important to remember the nutrition piece. ... You actually need quite a lot of energy in the postpartum period and it can be easy to forget to eat," she said.
"Especially if your focus is on losing weight. ... It'll make it a lot harder to feel good about yourself if you don't have enough nutrition. So there's kind of a balance there."
— With files from Ellie Spina