How To Make Friends With Your Post-Pregnancy Body

By Alison Canavan – Mother, Model, Author

If anyone knows the realities of the post-pregnancy body, it’s a model whose livelihood depends on it. Read Alison’s story below:

Most people go through periods of insecurity about their body, especially during puberty. The problem is that a lot of us carry these unresolved issues with us into our adult years, especially when we become a mum.

Through the media and our circle of friends, it’s easy to become obsessed with our body image often creating unrealistic expectations for ourselves post baby. We compare ourselves to people who are a different height, build and even ethnicity and yearn to be just like them. Hollywood stars who are back in their jeans a week later but what we are forgetting is that we see the after picture and not the hard work they've put in.

Having been a model for 23 years there is absolutely nothing I haven’t seen when it comes to bad relationships with our bodies and food. During my time modelling in Paris, I saw horrific things going on between agencies and their models. I have witnessed girls lose their lives in a bid to be a model and live their dream.

These dreams can often turn to nightmares after all the grass is always greener and what looks like a glamorous job on the outside can be heartbreaking when you are in it for some. Gisele once said that she is predisposed genetically to being a model. She has a naturally thin body type. If you are not she said you shouldn’t be doing the job as it will only make you miserable.

She caused a lot of controversy with this statement but I actually agree with her because it’s not right to go to work miserable and have to starve yourself and suffer to do your job. I also had many friends at home struggling with eating disorders who were not in my industry but had a strong desire to be thin as thin equals beautiful in most young people’s eyes. We are sold this image constantly and consistently, even our subconscious is constantly absorbing images from the media which affects our way of thinking.

Very few people can say with confidence that they truly love their body. I have to be honest, after I gave birth to my son I felt like an imposter in my new body, waiting for my old one to return. I naively thought that as I was a model and had never had any weight issues, my body would pop back into shape post-birth. My mum had five kids and always seemed to shed any baby weight pretty easily, so I should have nothing to worry about, right?

Wrong! The body I had handed over for nine months as a baby-making machine was now all out of shape and I felt a bit like play dough that needed to be molded back to its original form. I had stretchmarks and cellulite where there was previously none. 

It can be hard to accept, but just remember that your new body has created a miracle, given birth to a miracle and, believe it or not, left behind a miracle and that miracle is you. You need to respect the miracle in all its glory, big, small, stretchy, not so stretchy anymore and give yourself a break!

Just think about what our little miracle machines do:

  • You share your energy
  • You share your life with your baby
  • You create a heart to love
  • You create little lungs to breathe
  • You create your baby’s first home
  • You’re creating the future
  • You’re creating a mind that can change the world

We are all different and will all have different stories, but one thing remains the same: we all need to be kind to ourselves. After I gave birth it was the first time in my life I really cursed my career choice because as a single mother my income depended on my body size (not on my feelings) and with no maternity pay, I had to get back to clothes-horse size pretty quickly.

I use the term clotheshorse here because during this time I really began to realize how ridiculous my job can be sometimes and how much pressure I placed on myself. But please listen because I was the crazy new mum that did crazy things so you don’t have to.

Learning to love my post-baby body was the first time I had ever consciously loved my body. I now respect my body, which was something I certainly never did before. I thought about how much I cherished and nurtured my body with a baby growing inside it and wondered why I didn't feel that way all the time, especially when the baby came out.

The fact that I would always put someone else first, especially my baby, was very telling about the nature and journey of motherhood. Just look at how any animal protects its young – there is simply nothing you wouldn't risk or do to protect your newborn, even when it's inside you. It’s natural to protect both your unborn child and your newborn, but we have to make the space to protect and mind ourselves too.

If you don’t create that space for yourself, you’ll become exhausted and resentful and those feelings will threaten you and your family’s happiness. It benefits everyone when you take a sensible approach to parenting and ‘me time’.

It took time, baby steps and a lot of hard work but I have now learned to love and respect my new body. It was difficult, but I think it’s probably difficult for every woman. It’s all too easy to wear the slouchy clothes, eat the sugary foods and tell yourself it’s for the good of your baby. That will be fine for a few weeks, but inevitably it will catch up on you and you’ll find yourself with low energy, up-and-down hormones, bad skin and weight gain.

Those things will, in turn, make you feel awful about yourself, and you might well try to drown those bad thoughts in ice cream, chocolate or wine. It’s a truly vicious cycle. The good news is you have the power to smash through that cycle right now and change how you feel.

So I’m giving you permission to congratulate your body and give it some R&R, feel free to take it for naps, rub cream on it, wear comfy clothes and you can even take it out for a few hours or on a day trip to a spa for some treatments. Why? Because you deserve it! 

I often hear mums say (and indeed I said it myself), ‘I wish I had my pre-baby body back’, but can you honestly tell me you didn't moan about your pre-baby body, too? Once you have given your body time to really heal and recover, then you can begin getting used to your new body and learn to love and accept it.

No one’s body is the same and no one can look exactly like someone else but by living healthy and eating well you can be the best you that there is. Living healthy will also increase your confidence and help you to feel better and who doesn’t want that?

Alison’s book Minding Mum shares the tips and tricks she’s picked up on her journey through new motherhood and post-natal depression. She looks at the reality of a post-birth body and how it affects our own body image, as well as the importance of good food, exercise and making time for yourself and your own dreams, big or small.