A woman’s body has the capacity for great strength and resilience during pregnancy and birth. It is not surprising that the physical experience can leave some marks or take time to heal.
Stretch marks, changed body shape and weight, surgery scars and pelvic floor problems are common concerns for many women. Some women may perceive themselves as overweight or unhealthy after birth and set strict goals or timelines to lose “baby weight”. They may experience pressure from themselves, from some people close to them or from social media.
With a changed body and high social standards combined, it is not surprising that some new parents’ struggle with negative body image.
Body image refers to how a person perceives their own body, their own attitude to it and what psychological effect these perceptions and attitudes have on their wellbeing. In reality, nurturing and growing a baby and giving birth signal a strong, powerful body. However, it can be hard to believe this when many cultures value “thinness” over these attributes.
Disordered eating may occur as a result of negative body image or because of other stress factors that trigger a need for control. If disordered eating becomes an entrenched pattern, it can be a serious health issue that needs treatment and support. For parents who engage in problematic eating behaviours after birth, such as restrictive dieting, purging or excessive exercising, it is important to get a health professional’s support, starting with a GP. It is important to know that these struggles can be managed, with the help of an experienced health professional and specialist organisations such as the Butterfly Foundation.
Women’s experiences of their pregnancy and postpartum body image: a systematic review and meta-synthesis. Hodgkinson et al. 2014.