• The pressure on new mums to reclaim their 'pre-baby body' can feel overwhelming

  • Body image specialist Harriet Frew offers 5 ways you can think about your body differently in motherhood

  • If you are struggling to cope with poor body image issues, find a therapist here 

You have carried your baby for nine months and for thousands of steps. You have gone through labour; oh so aptly named! Your body feels bashed, stretched, worn out and exhausted.

Your tummy may have that rounded look of an early pregnancy (or more), and for many women this is not their best moment of body confidence. But for a little while, this all blurs into insignificance as you hold your beautiful new born in your arms. However, within hours of giving birth, women can feel under incredible pressure to lose the baby weight and get back in their jeans. Haunted by the images of perfection slashed across the press, it is easy to see why. 

Rather than simply concentrating on being a mum and letting your body recover, there is a relentless pressure to get your body back again. Mums commonly are breastfeeding not only to nourish their newborn but also as a means of weight loss. They might also be missing meals; going for endless walks with the pram to burn off extra calories; then doing sit-ups at midnight all before collapsing into bed with exhaustion, to repeat it all again the following day. I feel tired just writing it! 

For the majority of women these regimes are not sustainable and come at a cost. Tiredness, irritability and feelings of being overwhelmed are all too common when trying to achieve these goals and look after a baby. The flip side to this intense control can often lead to emotional and compulsive eating as a stance against deprivation. When you are feeling particularly exhausted and emotional food can provide that quick comfort and self-care that is so often lacking in those early baby days. For a few short minutes, you can escape the treadmill of life and have a little bit of ‘me time’ through eating. You might be standing at the fridge munching whatever is in sight; emptying the biscuit tin or finishing the children’s food.  This happiness is short lived and soon afterwards, feeling of guilt, shame and body self-loathing can surface. This is followed by the renewed determination to restrict again and the destructive cycle is in motion.

Five tips for staying sane with food and loving your body after birth

  1. Your body has done an AMAZING job of carrying and giving birth to your wonderful baby. Right now, it is so important to look after yourself so you can do the best job as a mum. Good self-care means better parenting; more energy and an increased ability to cope.
  2. Everyone’s body is different. Try not to compare yourself to others. You don’t know the cost that someone maybe paying to have that skinny post-baby body.
  3. Focus on eating regularly and filling up on nutritious foods that are going to give you energy. Drink lots of water; eat enough protein; include low Glycaemic Index carbs; go for healthy fats and lots of fruit and vegetables.
  4. Avoid guilt around eating. Don’t ban foods. You will crave them more. Nothing is forbidden. If you want a cake, sit down and enjoy it, rather than eating it at the fridge in a hurry.
  5. Keep focused on your values. When you are 90 and looking back on your life, I am sure that you are going to value more, this special time spent with your baby way more than getting back in your jeans again.

Some mothers struggle to cope after childbirth. Post-natal depression and disordered eating are both areas in which counselling or therapy can help. If you are suffering with your new role as a mother in this way, take a look at our directory to find the right person for you to talk to. 

Further reading

Maternal isolation: why it takes a village to support a mother

What does it really mean to be a mother?

Post-natal depression: what it is and how to cope

How to help a friend with post-natal depression