Moms Don't Need Their Pre-Baby Bodies Back—They Just Need Their Bodies Back

Why do we judge moms by how they look instead of by how they feel?

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It’s a cliche but it’s true—I’ve never been more in awe of my body than after childbirth. For a brief period afterwards, I truly felt like an Amazon warrior (one with mesh underwear lined with witch hazel pads instead of armor, but pretty damn powerful nonetheless). And the meals I ate afterwards were consumed with abandon—nursing left me constantly starving and so the more carb-loaded, butter-laden and delicious the better. In the weeks that followed, my body that had stretched beyond comprehension during pregnancy settled into a softer, squishier version of its former self and I oscillated between appreciation for and complete indifference to how I looked, too obsessed with keeping a tiny human alive to think about myself in any other way.

But all good things must come to an end, and as the sleep regressions passed and new milestones were reached, I eventually started to feel some element of “Oh wow, my pre-pregnancy jeans still don’t fit.” And so, during one particularly bleary-eyed nursing session, I found myself Googling the inevitable “how long to lose baby weight.” (If you’ve recently had a baby, please don’t do this—the internet is lying to you and no good will come of it.) It’s not that I was particularly stressed out about the number on the scale, but I did start to think that I should probably cut back on my double breakfasts (a habit I had started during pregnancy and happily continued well into the fourth trimester) and maybe do some exercise. And so, six months after the birth of my second child, I started boxing.

Why boxing? Partly because my husband already did it and had an excellent trainer, and partly because I wanted to do something that made me feel as strong on the outside as I knew I could feel on the inside. And yes, if I’m being honest, I also wanted to fit back into those damn jeans.

Initially, boxing didn’t make me feel very powerful at all. It made me feel awkward and out of shape. But slowly, I could feel muscles that had been lying dormant awaken as I began to understand punches and combinations and footwork. It’s an odious phrase, but with every slip and pivot my body was, quite literally, “bouncing back after baby.” But the most amazing part of the workout wasn’t the calories burned—it was the mental focus and physical reprieve.

Because here’s the thing about motherhood—once you have a child, it’s not just that your body is forever altered by the scars and stretchmarks or the extra pounds and internal discombobulations (after my first born, there was a period where I would wake up in the middle of the night unable to move my fingers—weird but normal apparently). The truth is that post-baby, your body and mind no longer feel like they are fully your own. At first there’s an infant that needs you to feed, rock, cuddle and transport them all the time and everywhere. Then there’s the child, whose intrinsic desire to be held doesn’t stop at infancy—my 4-year-old still relishes in clamoring all over me, his urge to climb, leap, hug and reach practically primal.

We now have the vocabulary to describe this feeling of overwhelm and irritation specific to mothers who are in such physical demand that they can’t even go to the bathroom in peace (another cliche that in my experience has also proven true). We call it being “touched out”. And this feeling extends into the brain, where it becomes increasingly difficult to fully focus on a task without also debating in the back of your mind what to serve for dinner or when to schedule the kids’ flu shots and oh geez, don’t forget to buy a gift for tomorrow’s birthday party, and on and on and on. Our bodies and minds are always attached to our children.

Dr. Sarah Oreck, reproductive psychiatrist and co-founder of Mavida Health, tells us that the feeling of being touched out is common among mothers. “In my clinical work with patients, it's a topic that frequently comes up and is closely linked to maternal mental health issues,” she explains. “Constant physical contact, especially as a caregiver, can lead to a sensory overload. This overstimulation can cause the brain to become hyper-responsive or, conversely, desensitized to sensory input. It can trigger the release of stress hormones like cortisol, leading to feelings of anxiety or irritability. It can make it difficult to feel connected to your own body and often makes intimacy with a partner extremely challenging.”

And that’s where I think we come back that pre-baby body thing. After all, this whole time we’ve been led to believe that it’s about shedding pounds or “getting healthy,” when it’s actually simpler—we just need our bodies back. Period. Sure, for some women that could mean time in the gym or learning how to box. For others it might mean switching to formula or getting a tattoo. Writing in a journal or going away for a weekend. Napping alone or eating a home-cooked meal that you enjoy (even if the kids would never touch capers). Essentially, anything that makes you feel like your body is YOURS. (On a macro level, this means allowing women to choose what happens to their bodies at all—most abortion patients are already mothers.)

So whether boxing and working out has given me my pre-baby body back is irrelevant. What matters is the mental clarity and focus, as well as the physical distance from my family and strength it has provided. In short, it’s time to stop judging new moms by how they look and instead by how they’re feeling. And we all deserve to feel like freaking superheroes.

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Executive Editor

Alexia Dellner is an executive editor at PureWow who has over ten years of experience covering a broad range of topics including health, wellness, travel, family, culture and...