10 Of The Purest Emotions You Will Ever See On A Baby’s Face

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The thing that I love about babies is that they are so GD honest. If a baby is mad because he is teething, you will certainly know about it. ALL DAY LONG—as he glares into your eyes and tries to scratch your face with his tiny baby hands so that you can feel his pain. Clearly, I am speaking from experience.

On the other side of the coin, happy babies are one of the most wonderful things on earth. It’s no wonder that people have baby fever and coo and ooh and ahh whenever they see a giggly baby being pushed in a stroller down the street. Happy babies and puppies and rainbows are what memories are made of.

Baby fear is another category altogether. I never try to purposely scare my kids because I don’t want to damage their fragile psyches. But I did turn on the vacuum cleaner recently and watched my 10 month old freak the fuck out and quickly fear crawl away from me. I hope I didn’t scar him for life and deter him from vacuuming in the future.

Babies live in a glass house of emotions. Watching a baby experience the world is exhilarating and frustrating at the same time. Here are 10 of the purest emotions you’ll ever see on a tiny human’s face:

1. CONFLICTED Baby Is Upset But Doesn’t Really Want To Commit.

2. INTRIGUED Baby Wants To Know More.

3. SURPRISED Baby Will Never Trust Again.

4. TERRIFIED Baby Just Can’t Even With The Fireworks.

5. INNOCENT Baby Is Totally Screwed By Her Parents.

6. OVERWHELMED Baby Just Can’t Get It Together.

7. SAD Baby Can’t Catch A Break.

8. DISGUSTED Baby Hates Your Cooking.

9. EXHAUSTED Baby Can’t Resist Sweet, Sweet Sleep.

10. HAPPY Baby Makes God Smile Upon You.

(Image: Eugene Sergeev/)

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There it is again.

That nagging feeling in the back of your mind that just won’t go away:

You should just give up because you will never be good enough.

Mom life is filled with instances in which you try to ignore this thought but sometimes, life can just be too much.

Sometimes, everything goes wrong and it all just falls apart.

For some, this surrender to self doubt is rare but for others this can happen so often it becomes a way of life.

A recent heartfelt email from a follower really touched me as she shared the painful discomfort she experiences daily due to low self confidence as a mom.

As I read her email, I felt the weight of her burden and saw the desire she had for others to understand her situation. She wanted to believe in her motherly instincts, but how could she without being confident in herself?

I wanted to reach through cyberspace and just give her a hug and fill her with all of my love for her! I know there are many out there like her that want to share their struggles with confidence and wish others could just understand why it is just so hard sometimes.

Low self confidence impedes on a moms’ ability to perform tasks that, to the majority of moms, are relatively easy.

Small things like saying hi to a stranger or simply getting ready for the day can prove to be herculean tasks when the haunting shadow of disappointment always seems to be hovering nearby.

Understanding what a mom with low self confidence goes through will help you be more patient, compassionate and empathetic. Your relationship with them will change as you see the world through their perspective. This is an insider look into what a mom struggling to have more self confidence wants you to know.

Photos in this article are by Christine Olson Photography

1. THEY ARE DOING THEIR BEST: I once heard that parenting is like jumping onto a moving train and trying not to die. There is no manual to parenting or life. We are all trying our best and one person’s struggle is another person’s strength. A mom struggling with confidence sees judgemental eyes and reads your body language. Forget the mommy wars and be a resource for help instead of a voice of disapproval behind her back.

2. PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: Just as a baby takes its first steps and progressively learns to run, a mom has to learn how to be a mom. It’s not easy, but it gets better with practice. A mom working on confidence notices her failures more than her successes. Help her see the sun spots in her day instead of the clouds on the horizon.

3. THEY WANT FRIENDS FOR THEIR KIDS EVEN IF THEY DON’T HAVE MANY: At a young age, in order for a baby or toddler to have friends, the mom needs to have friends. Moms are the ones that set up playdates and activities with other children. But for the mom who is self-conscious it is hard to be the first to open her mouth with an invitation of friendship. So be a friend to EVERYONE. You never know what someone is going through or how they are feeling.

4. TALKING TO OTHERS IS PAINFUL: Ever wondered why the new mom just keeps to herself and doesn’t come to playgroup? There are many who are simply just waiting to be asked. Making initial contact with others can be truly difficult to some and is the reason why many moms with low confidence don’t talk to you before you talk to them. Going out of your way to share a simple hi can help boost her day and make her feel noticed and important.

5. THEY JUST WANT TO FEEL INCLUDED: You may not even notice, but what you share on social media impacts others. When moms see other moms getting lunch together or having play dates they assume their presence is an unwanted burden. Moms with low self confidence want to be included, but often struggle being involved.

6. THEY WANT THEIR KIDS TO SUCCEED EVEN IF THEY FEEL LIKE A FAILURE: Every day to a mom working on confidence is a hard day. Sometimes, even getting out of bed is a struggle for them. That doesn’t mean that they don’t hope the best for their children. They want their children to be happy and successful. They want their children to be included and independent. As a mom who has low self-confidence, the last thing they want for their children is to feel the way they do.

7. THEY HAVE DIFFICULTY BEING MOTIVATED: What’s the point in doing anything if you always do everything wrong? Motivation is hard to find when you are not confident. It isn’t that they don’t want to go to your child’s birthday party, they just have a hard time getting out of the house when they fear of not being perfect.

8. YOU CAN’T ANALYZE SOMEONE BETTER: Often times, individuals with low self confidence are analyzed by those closest to them. Discussions of good intentions trying to discover the solution to the problem are helpful but true self confidence is cultivated subtly over extended period of time. Encouraging positive actions is much more appreciated than abrupt interventions of positive thinking.

9. BIG GROUPS ARE INTIMIDATING: Feeling uncomfortable in social situations is common for those with low self confidence. They fear saying something wrong and with larger crowds things just get worse. At social functions with large crowds, don’t be afraid to be the hand of kindness that leaves the group to sit next to the mom by herself. She will be so grateful for it.

10. IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT POSITIVE THINKING: Sometimes a smile can be found by searching the internet for a quick meme or motivational thought but confidence is more than that. Confidence is a love of self and high level of trust in one’s ability to perform day to day tasks. Low confidence compels individuals to constantly and negatively compare themselves to others. Sharing a positive thought is great but it will not change a person until they decide to believe in and love themselves.

11. THEY FEAR THE JUDGEMENT OF OTHERS: We all make mistakes. None of us are perfect. The thing about being a good mom, is that there are a million ways to be one. So often women feel judged by what they wear, how their hair looks, if they put makeup on, what snacks they bring for their kids, if they breastfeed or formula feed, if they work or are a stay-at-home mom. By not judging and accepting each mom as they are, not only will other moms find happiness, but you will too.

Lastly, but probably the most important…..

12. A FEW KIND WORDS GO A LONG WAY: The mom with low-self confidence wants you to know that the little things can make a big difference. People may not remember exactly what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

You never know what another mom who lives next door or who simply passes you by at the grocery store is going through. We all have struggles and as you can see, a mom who is struggling with low self confidence wants and needs a friend. So next time you see her, ask her how she is and be the friendly face that brings the much needed smile into her day.

Danielle is the owner of Today’s the Best Day. She strives to provide creative and uplifting content in order to enrich the parenting experience for women everywhere. Danielle hopes to help you and your family to make every day the best day! May 22, 2015 by Danielle Davis | 0 comment

10 Sources of Low Self-Esteem

Previously, I wrote about the ways that low self-esteem manifests in female relationships. This week I will do a brief overview of the infinite places from which low self-esteem originates – how your history and primary caregiver relationships shaped your opinion of yourself and how other external factors contribute. Here is a brief inventory of the sources of low self-esteem and how these feelings manifest:

1. Disapproving Authority Figures

If you grew up hearing that whatever you did wasn’t good enough, how are you supposed to grow into an adult with a positive self-image? If you were criticized no matter what you did or how hard you tried, it becomes difficult to feel confident and comfortable in your own skin later. The shame forced on you for perpetually “failing” can feel blindingly painful.

2. Uninvolved/Preoccupied Caregivers

It’s difficult to motivate yourself to want more, strive for more, and imagine that you deserve more when your parents or other primary caregivers didn’t pay attention – as if your greatest achievements weren’t worth noticing. This scenario often results in feeling forgotten, unacknowledged, and unimportant later. It can also leave you feeling that you are not accountable to anyone, or you may believe that no one in the here and now is concerned about your whereabouts, when that’s actually a carry-over feeling from the past. Feeling unrecognized can result in the belief that you are supposed to apologize for your existence.

3. Authority Figures in Conflict

If parents or other caregivers fight or make each other feel badly, children absorb the negative emotions and distrustful situations that have been modeled for them. It’s scary, overwhelming, and disorganizing. This experience can also occur when one parent is deeply distraught or acts unpredictably around the child. When you were subjected to excessive conflicts between authority figures, it can feel as if you contributed to the fights or to a parent’s painful circumstance. Intense conflicts are experienced as extremely threatening, fear driving, and you may believe you caused it. This feeling of being “tainted” can be carried into adulthood.

4. Bullying (with Unsupportive Parents)

If you had the support of a relatively safe, responsive, aware family you may have had a better chance of recovering and salvaging your self esteem after having been taunted and bullied as a child. If you already felt unsafe at home and the torture continued outside home, the overwhelming sense of being lost, abandoned, hopeless, and filled with self-loathing pervaded your everyday life. It can also feel like anyone who befriends you is doing you a favor, because you see yourself as so damaged. Or you may think that anyone involved in your life must be predatory and not to be trusted. Without a supportive home life, the effects of bullying can be magnified and miserably erode quality of life.

5. Bullying (with Over-Supportive Parents)

Conversely, if your parents were overly and indiscriminately supportive, it can leave you feeling unprepared for the cruel world. Without initial cause to develop a thick outer layer, it can feel challenging and even shameful to view yourself as unable to withstand the challenges of life outside the home. From this perspective, you may feel ill prepared and deeply ashamed to admit this dirty ugly secret about you, even to your parents, because you need to protect them from the pain they would endure if they knew. Instead, you hid the painful secret of what’s happened to you. Shame can cloud your perspective. Eventually it can seem as if your parents’ opinion of you is in conflict with the world’s opinion of you. It can compel you to cling to what is familiar in your life, because it’s hard to trust what’s real and what isn’t. You may question the validity of your parents’ positive view of you, and default to the idea that you are not good enough or are victim-like and should be the subject of ridicule.

6. Bullying (with Uninvolved Parents)

If your primary caregivers were otherwise occupied while you were being bullied and downplayed your experience, or they let you down when you needed their advocacy, you might have struggled with feeling undeserving of notice, unworthy of attention, and angry at being shortchanged. When the world feels unsafe, the shame and pain are brutal. These feelings could also be evoked if parents were in transitional or chaotic states – so that what happened to you wasn’t on anyone’s radar. If there’s chaos at home, it can be hard to ask for attention or to feel like there is room for you take up space with your struggles. Instead, you may retreat and become more isolated and stuck in shame.

7. Academic Challenges Without Caregiver Support

There’s nothing like feeling stupid to create low self-esteem. If you felt like you didn’t understand what was happening in school – as if you were getting further and further behind without anyone noticing or stepping in to help you figure out what accommodations you needed – you might have internalized the belief that you are somehow defective. You may feel preoccupied with and excessively doubt your own smartness, and feel terribly self-conscious about sharing your opinions. The shame of feeling as if you aren’t good enough can be difficult to shake, even after you learn your own ways to accomodate for your academic difficulties.

8. Trauma

Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse may be the most striking and overt causes of low self-esteem. Being forced into a physical and emotional position against your will can make it very hard to like the world, trust yourself or trust others, which profoundly impacts self-esteem. It may even feel like your fault when it couldn’t be less your fault. Obviously, in these scenarios, there is so much going on at one time that you might need to check out, dissociate, go away. It can make you feel like nothingness. In an effort to gain control of your circumstances, in your head you may have convinced yourself that you were complicit or even to blame. You may have found ways to cope with the abuse, to manage the chaos in ways that you understand are unhealthy, so you may ultimately view yourself as repulsive and seeringly shameful, among a zillion other feelings.

9. Belief Systems

When your religious (or other) belief system puts you in a position of feeling as if you are perpetually sinning, it can be similar to the experience of living with a disapproving authority figure. Whether judgment is emanating from authority figures or from an established belief system in your life, it can evoke shame, guilt, conflict and self-loathing. Many structured belief systems offer two paths: one that’s all good and one that’s all bad. When you inevitably fall in the abyss between the two, you end up feeling confused, wrong, disoriented, shameful, fake, and disappointed with yourself over and over again.

10. Society and the Media

It’s no secret that people in media are packaged and airbrushed into unrealistic levels of beauty and thinness. It’s an epidemic that’s only getting worse. Now, males and females alike feel they can’t measure up to what’s out there. Maybe the seeds of low self-esteem are sown elsewhere, but now society and the media make imperfections so immediately accessible, there is no relief from feelings of inadequacy. As media access is available younger and younger, kids are subjected to these unfair comparisons earlier and earlier.

Of course, each of these sources of low self-esteem merits an infinite number of posts. It is, however, most important to understand that experiencing any of these early circumstances doesn’t mean you must be bound by them as an adult. They will be woven into your fabric and absorbed into your sense of yourself in different ways over time, but there are many paths to feeling that you are better prepared, less fragmented, and more confident moving forward. As an adult, when you examine your history, you can begin to see that in some cases the derision or intense negative messages you encountered weren’t necessarily meant for you. Rather, they flowed from the circumstances of the people who delivered them. That perspective can help you to dilute the power of the negative messages about yourself you received and formed. Furthermore, understanding that you are not alone in your experience can help decrease the extent to which you feel isolated and shameful.

There are some circumstances you may have suffered that may be impossible to understand. You can’t and aren’t expected to understand, empathize or forgive in these circumstances. What matters most is continuing to find ways to feel as ok and as safe as you can in your own life right now. The more you understand the sources of your low self-esteem and can put them into context, the more you can use your self-understanding to begin the process of repairing self-esteem.

Twitter: @DrSuzanneL

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Do New Moms Struggle with Low Self-Esteem?

Having a child is one of life’s most incredible experiences. It is also one of the most challenging situations that come with mood swings and psychological changes.

If you’re a new mother who has been experiencing low self-esteem, you’re not alone. A group of researchers recently took a look at why new mothers experience low self-esteem and dissatisfaction with their romantic relationships.

Analyzing data from over 80,000 Norwegian mothers, the researchers uncovered some significant patterns that represented how pregnancy and motherhood changes a woman’s attitude about herself and her partner.

The Self-Esteem Roller Coaster Ride

The study found that women’s self-esteem comes and goes. During pregnancy, a woman may experience a dip in her self-esteem. However, once the baby is born, her self-esteem begins to rise again. But only for a short time, then it dips again, only this time the dip is more gradual but prolonged.

Relationships Take a Hit as Well

New mothers don’t seem to be excited by their romantic relationships either! The researchers found that during pregnancy, first-time mothers tend to be very satisfied with their romantic relationships. However, once the baby is born, these same mothers experience a gradual decline in relationship satisfaction over the next few years.

The pattern is fairly similar for mothers having their second, third or fourth child. Though a bit less pronounced than new mothers, experienced moms gradually become less and less satisfied with their relationships once the baby is born.

The biggest takeaway from the study is that self-esteem and relationship satisfaction are definitely linked. While the researchers did not uncover exact mechanisms for these mental health changes, we can safely surmise a fluctuation in hormones and a big lack of quality sleep most likely contribute.

Having said that, motherhood is hard enough without having to battle low self-esteem and relationship dissatisfaction. Here are some things you can do:

Have Realistic Expectations

New mothers have an idea of what motherhood will be like, Sadly, they’ve gotten this idea from Hollywood and Madison Avenue. The reality is, motherhood is not one big bouquet of flowers. In fact, at the very beginning, all you may really notice are the big, prickly thorns. Later, once the baby sleeps through the night and stops waking you every two hours, you may notice how lovely the roses smell.

All of this is to say you have got to have realistic expectations. Breastfeeding may not come naturally to you – and that’s okay. You may not like your baby at first – and that’s okay. You may not feel like you know what you’re doing most of the time – and that’s okay. In fact, all of these things are perfectly normal.

Setting unrealistic expectations for yourself as a mother will only cause your self-esteem to take a nosedive. Don’t try and be the perfect mother, they don’t exist (sorry Mom). Just try and do your best and enjoy the experience as best you can.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Other Mothers

Nothing pokes at our self-esteem quite like unfair comparisons. If you’re a brand-spanking-new mother, it is hardly fair to compare yourself to someone who’s been doing it awhile. So what if your sister, who’s on her third child, makes motherhood seem like a breeze AND bakes her own scones? She’s had time to practice, you haven’t.

While it’s fine to seek advice from other moms, never make comparisons or you’ll just set yourself up to feel badly about your own mothering abilities.

Consider Couples Counseling

If your relationship has taken a hit, it’s important that you and your partner try and reconnect. This is sometimes easier said than done, which is why seeking the guidance of a therapist is often the best way to heal the relationship.

A therapist can help the two of you communicate respectfully and effectively, something that’s not always easy when you’re both averaging 3 hours of sleep per night!

If you are interested in exploring treatment options, please get in touch with me. I would be happy to discuss how I may be able to help.

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Who among us has never wished for longer legs, a smaller waist, or a better-proportioned body? It never takes long, when in a group of mothers, before the discussion turns to our mama bodies. Very few mamas have a good postpartum body image.

First Published: February 11,2019… Last Updated: January 23, 2020

We criticize our saggy boobs, the elephant skin flapping around our navel, and those last five pounds of milk fat stores on the thighs that have yet to believe that we are done sustaining another life.

In the 15+ years I have been a mother and the 10+ years I have worked in women’s fitness and health, the drumbeat of the postpartum body image song has been strong and steady.

“When will I get my body back?,” is the common refrain I hear regularly from my friends, my postnatal personal training clients, and my inner critic.

Motherhood, Self-Identity, and Postpartum Body Image

Many women experience a general disconnect with their postpartum body. This common feeling results from the tremendous physical experience of gestating and birthing a baby. Your body may feel or look unfamiliar to you for a while. Living in that in-between state of no-longer-pregnant and not-back-to-normal is disconcerting.

Even if you did not birth your child, the transition into motherhood rocks your self-identity. Whether your motherhood badge was earned via adoption or a blended family, your inner idea of who you are changes.

Shifting identities of self are at the root of body image challenges for new moms. It is far easier for us to see our physical bodies than to have the clarity of mind to tap into what is happening emotionally. As a result, the body becomes the target of our uncertainties.

Struggling with Postpartum Body Image?

Why are we so quick to judge, criticize, and self-flagellate? It is these same bodies that link us physically to our children.

Many of us gestated and breastfed our babies. But even if you did not birth your child or nurse her, your body has a central role in your mothering– hugging, holding, carrying, cuddling, chasing, tousling, and more.

These bodies of ours? They deserve to be honored and respected. Whether that means simply flipping the script in your head to the positive or seeking out professional help, you and your body are worth it.

Self-Care Exercises

One of the self-care exercises I recommend regularly to the new mamas I work with is to make a body-love list. I think you’ll find that once you start looking for what you love about your body, it really isn’t so hard to see it!

Ultimately, there are far more than 26 reasons to love your postpartum body!

Turning your attention to what your body has accomplished—and away from what it looks like—is a powerful shift. When we believe our body is an amazing vessel that allows us to have deliciously human experiences, self-confidence follows, along with major and essential changes to our postpartum body image.

Please note: If you are experiencing feelings of self-hatred for any reason—including your postpartum body, I encourage you to seek support right away. You can start with the healthcare provider who attended you during pregnancy and delivery. Please take an online postpartum depression screening quiz and share the results with your physician.

Why Seeking Help is Important

It is so easy for new moms to neglect their own body’s needs because we focus so intently on our baby. This is human nature. We are biologically programmed to protect our young.

Even though it would be easy to say “baby needs a healthy mom” to justify taking care of yourself, I don’t believe that’s the whole story. You are still a person yourself, and you deserve to be healthy and whole to honor your own worth. Learn more about rediscovering yourself after motherhood here.

Are you limiting your social or professional engagements because of your negative postpartum body image? Or are you unable to participate in activities you have always loved due to a lingering condition?

Seek Professionals Who Can Help

Either way, there are professionals who can help heal your body to get you back to the activities you enjoy.

Furthermore, it is often these very activities that nurture our self-identity. If you are living in a postpartum body that is limiting what you can do, you are experiencing a compounding of the identity crisis that affects many new moms.

Put simply, your quality of life suffers.

And if you are a woman who has never had challenges in her body before, you may feel extra stymied by this experience with poor postpartum body image. This is not the time to doubt yourself or blame yourself for how your body responded to pregnancy and delivery. It’s simply an experience that is putting you more deeply in touch with your humanity.

Once we receive the support we need to make our body healthy from the inside out, we can return to the activities we love. Reconnecting with these activities validates our self-identity.

How to Build A Positive Body Image

When we can flip our mindset from wanting to “get our bodies back” to appreciating all they have done for us, we can build a new relationship with ourselves.

If we can embrace the mama body and be grateful to it for what it has contributed—an opportunity for us to nurture another human life!

There are common physical conditions postpartum women experience that may contribute to significant postpartum body image issues. But just because something is common does not mean it’s normal!

As someone who works with postpartum bodies, I assure you that most new moms are walking around with some sort of condition that is common but not normal. And whether these mamas realize it or not, there is almost always someone who could help them.

When these common issues are addressed, you can be back in your best body. And when your body is working well, it can be a source of strength and self-confidence.

Recognize Common Postpartum Body Challenges

Diastasis Recti

Diastasis Recti (DR) is a condition where the six-pack abdominal muscle separates along the midline of the body. DR is extremely common in women who have been pregnant. The Mayo Clinic says about two-thirds of pregnant women develop a diastasis!

Most women with a DR want it to heal because the separated abdominal muscles often leave women with a small pooch belly, contributing to a poor postpartum body image. More importantly, however, an unhealed diastasis often leads to other issues like low back pain. DR also contributes to postpartum constipation. Healing diastasis recti is about much more than how you look in a bikini!

If you feel especially weak in the abdominals or low back, have you been checked for DR?

Know that some exercises can exacerbate DR, so make sure that, when you are ready to return to an exercise routine, you are practicing tummy-safe fitness.

Sore Breasts

Sore Breasts limit some new moms, particularly if you are breastfeeding. To avoid this discomfort, you need to tune in to the rhythm between your baby and your milk supply.

You may have already experienced the serious discomfort that comes with trying to exercise when your breasts are full of milk. Timing your workouts to coincide with just after a feed may make exercise more comfortable. Wearing a supportive bra is essential.

While some women may revel in the novelty of having big, full breasts, others may find them nothing but a nuisance. Neither feeling is right or wrong. Just recognizing the normality of having new feelings about your mama body can feel validating.

Stress Incontinence

Stress Incontinence is another common-but-not-normal condition many new moms experience. If you have ever peed on yourself (even just a tiny little bit!) when laughing, coughing, running, jumping, or when scared, you have stress incontinence.

Maybe you remember your healthcare provider telling you to do Kegels (or pelvic floor exercises), but you just never really got around to it. Or maybe you knew you were going to have a c-section, so you didn’t think it was that important. Regardless, learning how to do Kegel exercises appropriately is a good first step.

If Kegels don’t work, don’t think that you’re doomed to pee on yourself forever! Seeking help from a pelvic physical therapist is life-changing. These wonderful angels have dedicated their lives to helping women who are brave enough to admit they have a leaky pelvic floor. Go see one, and get back your ability to run, jump, and play! Rebuild your postpartum body image with professional help!

Don’t be the mom who sits on the sidelines just because she’s worried that she might leak. Your kids are going to want you out there living life with them. And you don’t want to miss out on that, do you?

Prolapse

Prolapse occurs when an internal organ like the bladder, cervix, vagina, or uterus slides out of the body. Women who experience long pushing stages of delivery are at a higher risk for prolapse due to the longer time bearing down.

Prolapse is a serious medical condition. Do not think your body will just fix itself on its own. And certain exercises make prolapse much harder to fix!

Women who return to high-impact exercise like running or cross-fit too soon risk a prolapse. If you participate in these activities, be aware of any change in how you feel in your pelvic floor.

If you ever feel a heavy, dragging sensation or can see and organ at the opening of the vaginal canal, get yourself to your midwife or gynecologist immediately. They will refer you to a quality women’s health physical therapist who can help get your lady bits back where they should be.

Postpartum Body Image the Second (or Third or Fourth) Time Around

Just like no two babies are alike, no two postpartum experiences are alike. Your health and fitness during pregnancy was likely not the same from one baby to another. Your birthing experience is also unique each time. Our pregnancy and birthing experience contribute directly to our postpartum body image.

Some women feel much more confident with each pregnancy and baby. Other women feel more distance from their self-identity the larger the family grows. There is nothing right or wrong about either experience.

It is important, however, to recognize that, just because you had no issues one time, that doesn’t mean it will happen again. The good news is the converse is also true—just because you had a less than optimal experience one time doesn’t mean it will always be that way.

Motherhood is a winding journey. Being mindful of our bodies and the work they help us do is a respectful form of self-care. And we’re worth it—each and every one of us.

Interested in more postpartum content? Learn the truth about postpartum recovery, read Katy’s experience dealing with postpartum anxiety, and find out about the best postpartum pajamas.

Tell us more about your experience(s) with postpartum body image in the comments. Recognizing how other women feel can help us all reconnect with our own senses of self.

Karen Shopoff Rooff is a women’s wellness warrior with a decade of experience educating body-wise women. As a certified personal trainer, women’s wellness coach, and health coach, she combines science-backed information and practical, realistic tips so women are empowered to build the fit, healthy, and balanced life they crave. Karen founded Balance Personal Fitness Training in 2008 and has grown her coaching practice into a popular blog, Running on Balance, and a suite of health & wellness ecourses. Her Instagram reveals that life as an entrepreneur, wife, and mom of three kids can have balance without having it all together. Join the Well Balanced Women community on Facebook or Pinterest for more inspiration.

Katy Huie Harrison, PhD( Author )

Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, toddler mom, and owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband (affectionately known on the internet as “Husband,”) son (Jack), and dog (Charlotte). She believes our society has historically placed too many expectations on women, defining womanhood and motherhood in a way that is restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Scary Mommy, Motherhood and Social Exclusion, and various other podcasts and websites.

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Science Says Having a Baby Tanks Your Self-Esteem for 3 Whole Years

I’ll be honest: My self-esteem has never been super great. In high school I felt like a goth misfit. In college, I struggled with eating disorders and body image. And even as a young adult, I felt awkward. It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I finally “blossomed” and felt comfortable in my own skin. Through exercise, nutrition, and a lot of therapy, I’d finally made peace with my body. But it was a fragile peace-one easily shattered when I had kids.

No one can quite prepare you for the immense way a child will change everything in your life. Nothing is the same-not your relationship, not your career, and definitely not your body. So even though I truly wanted to have a baby, I was still completely wrecked afterward, physically and emotionally.

I’m not the only one to experience this phenomenon. A new study, forthcoming in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, followed 85,000 mothers before, during, and after pregnancy. The researchers found that most moms experienced a significant dip in self-esteem after having a baby and that dip lasted up to three years. This was true regardless of the mother’s relationship status, job situation, and level of education.

I’d say it took me about two years after having a baby to return to an even keel, but it was still a lot longer than people expected. During that time I got a lot of comments from people who said I’d be “back to normal” once the baby got into a routine or started sleeping through the night or stopped breastfeeding or any number of other milestones. So when I didn’t feel normal, like they promised, I thought something was wrong with me. Where was the beautiful post-baby bliss from the diaper commercials?

While the study didn’t examine the causes, I can think of a lot of possible reasons for this self-esteem crash and burn after baby. There’s the obvious one: the physical aftermath. My body, the one that used to do pretty much whatever I asked it to, was now suddenly gushing, leaking, and spurting uncontrollably-not to mention looking pretty different. All the hormonal changes wreaked havoc with my emotions, making it even harder to accept my new reality. But there was so much more than stretch marks and alien boobs to deal with.

When I had my first kid, I gave up a competitive job as a university professor to take a more flexible position at a community college. Not only did my peers think I was crazy, but I kind of thought I was too. My identity and self-esteem had always been tied to my career, so when I took a step off to follow the “mommy path,” it made me question my intelligence and competence. It also didn’t help that I quit a job I was good at and got a lot of praise for (teaching) for a job I sucked at and that I not only got zero recognition for but was actively criticized for (mothering). To this day I still get weepy remembering a woman in the grocery store yelling at me because I didn’t put socks and a hat on my infant-on a 90-degree summer day.

I also lost a good chunk of my social circle. Because I chose to have a baby at a younger age than most of my peers, I often felt alone. I’d go days without seeing anyone other than my husband and my squishy-cheeked infant, who, though adorable, wasn’t much of a conversationalist. I eventually found a mommy group that basically saved my life. But in the interim, losing friends did a number on my self-esteem.

Then, there was being a mom itself. I loved my baby, but I wasn’t sure I liked him very much, especially at the beginning. For something so “natural,” absolutely nothing about mothering came naturally to me. Babies can’t tell you what they need and are so fragile that it makes everything you do feel Super Important (and thus Super Scary). So I did what many new moms do and pored obsessively over parenting sites, forums, and books-which made my anxiety skyrocket and did nothing to help my self-esteem.

Now, add in society’s crushing unrealistic expectations of mothers. You must be everything to your baby, all the time! Anything bad that happens to your kid or is done by your kid is 100 percent your fault! Oh, and you must make being a mom look effortless and joyous as you mark every month’s milestones and post them on Instagram-in between candid shots of yourself in perfect makeup wearing your cutest pre-baby-sized outfits. Exhausting.

And forget about the “self-care” strategies that used to make me feel better when I’m down. Things like sleeping eight hours a night, showering for more than two minutes, eating nutritious meals on dishes at a table, having long conversations with my sister, and working out became much harder. (See: How to Make Time for Self-Care When You Have None) Add all that together and it’s a recipe for self-esteem disaster. Frankly, I’m amazed all new moms don’t just explode in a burst of bottle-shaped confetti.

But somehow, we don’t, right?

Because along with all the downsides come some truly amazing experiences that only having a baby can bring. Sure it’s hard learning all those new mom skills. But once you’ve mastered changing a boy’s diaper without a urine fountain or getting your little one to eat peas without spitting them back in your face, you feel like a freaking ninja. You’re the one your baby turns to when they’re scared or hungry or sleepy-and you can give them everything they need to feel better! Plus you get all the big firsts: You’re the first face they see, the first word they say, and the first tattoo they’ll get (a mom can dream, right?). So what if your self-esteem never quite returns to what it was? Once you’re a mom it isn’t about returning to “normal” (whatever that means anyhow). It’s about creating a new normal with this new person-and finding the happiness in it.

  • By Charlotte Hilton Andersen @CharlotteGFE

I gained a lot of weight during my last pregnancy. A lot.

My diet was fine, I exercised when I could, and I didn’t have gestational diabetes. Still, my weight gain was crazy high.

I talked a big game about being okay with it, and I was. I still am.

My body did exactly what it needed to do in order to grow a perfectly healthy 9 pound 3 ounce baby girl.

But here’s the problem.

It’s hard to accept 55 pounds of pregnancy weight gain when that cute baby is on the outside and it’s three months postpartum, but you still look real damn pregnant.

Not to mention I’m older this time, and my post-baby body isn’t bouncing back as fast as it did last time.

So I got a FitBit, I’m walking every day provided it’s not 100 degrees out, and we cut our pizza habit down to once a week. And I’m nursing.

Even so, that postpartum belly won’t budge.

A Decision

Six weeks postpartum is about my limit for continuing to wear maternity pants. Something about pulling that big stretchy band up and over an empty, flabby belly gets depressing after a while.

But at the 6-week mark, I was nowhere close to fitting back into my pre-pregnancy clothes. So I broke down and bought two pairs of yoga pants.

Athleisure, I hear the kids call it nowadays.

Which sounds trendy and all, but it doesn’t change the fact that every single day, I wear the same freaking yoga pants.

And my shirts? They don’t fit either. Thanks to the gift that nursing brings, mainly. But also because my pre-pregnancy style is to wear slim-fitting shirts, and “slim-fitting” on this postpartum body looks a lot like “sausage casing.”

So I went and splurged on five new t-shirts at Target, $6 apiece. Sky blue, hot pink, burgundy, light purple, and dark purple. That’s the extent of variety in my wardrobe right now.

Note: Sky blue absent on picture day due to an unfortunate spit-up incident.

Mornings Are the Worst

I go to the closet and pull out my mom uniform.

I set the yoga pants and the cheapo t-shirt on the bathroom counter and stare at them.

I know I need to hurry and get dressed because the toddler’s been quiet for more than five minutes, and the baby in her bouncy seat is starting to fuss.

It’s past the time when we need to leave to take the second-grader to school, and I still haven’t nagged her to stop playing LEGOs and get her shoes on and brush her hair and why didn’t you give me this homework last night if you wanted me to check it?

But I stare.

Those blasted yoga pants.

Every couple weeks, I lose it and do something crazy.

I try on my pre-pregnancy clothes.

Which is worse.

Not so much a muffin top as a portobello mushroom.

Related: 7 Tips for Postpartum Clothes That Won’t Make You Look Pregnant

This Morning, Something Changed

It was one of those mornings, where my hatred for my yoga pants bubbles up in my chest. My husband Ty had already left to take our oldest to school, so I was home with the two little ones.

My toddler Bailey sat nearby on the bathroom floor with a stack of her older sister’s Nancy Drew books and flipped through them, one by one.

Ty and I were meeting for lunch – nowadays with a newborn and a toddler to wrangle, we don’t do it very often anymore. I wanted to look nice. Or at least less like a yoga-pants-wearing, sleep-deprived mombie.

First I pulled out my trusty first-trimester jeans. The ones that are two sizes too big normally.

I couldn’t get them zipped. I grabbed the belly spilling over the edges, and I sighed.

Bailey looked up. “What do, Mama?”

“Oh, I’m just trying to find something to wear.”

Peeled those off and tried a pair of relaxed fit jeans.

Same.

“Ugh,” I said.

“Mama okay?” Bailey asked.

“Yeah, I’m okay.” Although hearing myself reply reminded me of Sadness from Inside Out.

I tried a black skirt with a stretchy band and turned to the side to see my profile in the mirror.

Pregnant. I looked pregnant.

Maxi skirt? Lumpy. Shorts? Bumpy.

I came back to where those yoga pants sat on the counter, and I picked them up.

But as I started unfolding them to put on, I couldn’t do it.

I squeezed them into a ball and threw them through the bathroom door into the bedroom, where they hit the opposite wall.

“Mama?”

Her eyes wide.

“Mama’s frustrated,” I said.

“Mama throw?”

Oh, great. I spend all this time trying to teach her not to lose her temper and throw things, and then I go and do it right in front of her.

“Mama got frustrated and threw her pants, but they’re soft so they won’t hurt anyone,” I said.

“Oh,” she said. And went back to her Nancy Drew.

Related: The Dirty Little Secret About Pregnancy Weight Gain

Temper, Temper

The worst part about having a fit and throwing something when you’re a work-from-home parent is that eventually, you just have to get over yourself and clean up the mess you made.

Which is double annoying because you don’t even have time to get the basic housework done in between sprints of your other work, and now you’ve added an extra task.

Still mad at those stupid pants, I retrieved them and headed back to the bathroom.

I put them on and refused to look at myself in the mirror.

I stepped over the pile of Nancy Drew books on my way to the closet to pick a shirt, and Bailey stood up to follow me.

Blue, pink, or purple?

Baby Charlie started fussing in the bouncy seat on the bathroom counter.

But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I may be stuck with the pants, but I couldn’t wear the same shirt again.

I pulled a pre-pregnancy shirt off the hanger and put it on as I walked back to the mirror, Bailey trailing me.

“That looks horrible,” I mumbled. Charlie fussed louder.

To the closet for another one. That one over my head, and back to the mirror.

“Horrible.” Charlie agreed, I think.

To the closet again.

I scanned the hangers, picturing myself in each shirt and getting more and more frustrated with each mental image.

Finally, my eyes settled on a shirt with potential.

Just an Anthropologie t-shirt from the days when we had just one kid and I still had a desk job, so we were okay spending $30 on a t-shirt because it wouldn’t be subject to baby spit-up or diaper blowouts or collateral toddler-found-a-Sharpie damage.

Gray with light pink stripes. Soft and flowy.

I pulled it over my head and headed to the mirror, Bailey on my heels.

“Hmm,” I said. “Not great, but not horrible.”

The Turning Point

I picked up poor Charlie and saw we were close to blowout territory, so I turned back to the closet to lay her on the changing table.

Bailey pulled out a wipe before I even had Charlie’s onesie unbuttoned, and she held it up to me.

I smiled. “Thank you, sweetie.”

She stood next to me during the diaper change and just watched. Unusually quiet.

After I got Charlie buttoned back up again, Bailey reached a little hand up to my shirt and felt the fabric.

“Mama look nice,” she said.

I looked down at her. “What did you say?”

She smiled. “Mama look nice.”

“Oh honey.”

And my eyes felt hot.

I realized she’d been watching me that whole time.

Watching me frustrated with my body.

Watching me grab my post-baby belly flab and frown.

Watching me call my body “horrible.”

A Painful Reminder

Most of my life, I’ve worried about my dress size and my weight and whether my belly pooch was too…poochy.

As a teenager, I studied Seventeen magazine and thought if I could just look like Alyssa Milano, a boy would finally ask me out on a date.

In college, I would stare at my profile in the mirror and wish I could just slice off my belly. Even though I was at a perfectly average weight for my height.

Funny enough, it was gaining weight during my first pregnancy that pushed me in the direction of finally accepting my body as it is.

After a lifetime of battling my own body image issues, I went and modeled the most unhealthy behavior possible for my toddler.

My toddler who’s always watching.

Learning from what I do. What I say.

My Promise to My Post-Baby Body

From now on, I will accept my postpartum belly pooch.

I won’t stop trying to get rid of the dang thing.

But I will accept it.

I will set a good example for my toddler and my second-grader and my newborn who’s already started watching me too.

I will talk to my daughters about how strong my body is after growing three healthy girls.

And for now, I will pull on my yoga pants one leg at a time, then look at myself in the mirror and say:

“Mama look nice.”

By the Way…

Ty never got to see me in that fancy t-shirt at lunch that day.

It became a casualty to a mid-morning blowout.

RIP, soft and flowy Anthrolpologie shirt.

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Want More?

Check out 7 Tips for Postpartum Clothes That Won’t Make You Look Pregnant.

Your Turn

How did you make peace with your body after pregnancy? Share in a comment below!

Hi, I’m Kelly. I’m a mom of four, a recovering perfectionist, and the author of Happy You, Happy Family. Parenting is hard enough without all the guilt we heap on top of ourselves. So let’s stop trying to be perfect parents and just be real ones. Sound good? Join my mailing list and as a bonus, you’ll get 25+ incredibly helpful cheat sheets that will ease your parenting struggles.

Body image after baby

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