Postpartum celebrities make it look easy. It’s not.
We watch the pregnancies with bated breath and unite in the branding of the bump. Stilettos in month nine, impossibly slender legs beneath the most graceful of bumps. Even though celebrity pregnancies are supposedly far more fabulous, pregnancy can create common ground between the face on the billboard and the rest of us regular folk.
However, once that baby pops out, that common ground fades fast. The bikini body six to eight weeks after the delivery of a new child reaffirms the gap between them and us. Before you can say ‘sleeping through the night’, these moms are back out there in size 0 skinny jeans, flat tummies and other seeming impossibilities of nature.
The tabloids and new mom websites let us know that Denise Richards lost 30 pounds in 4 months by getting up at 5 in the morning to work out with a trainer; Jaime Pressly lost 42 pounds in a few short months by using the cabbage soup diet; Kate Hudson lost 60 pounds by working out 2 to 3 hours per day 6 days a week. Kate Middleton. Kim Kardashian. Reese Witherspoon. The list goes on.
Really? Because after I had my babies I was grateful to get a few hours of sleep, and if I had 2 to 3 hours to burn I might do something as quaint as the laundry or hang with my new child. These body-after-baby articles rarely focus on genetics, which impacts body type and post-pregnancy weight loss, and resources. Most mothers are grateful to be able to afford diapers and detergent, forget trainers and personal chefs.
A body changes after we give birth: breasts grow, bellies get soft, hips get wider, skin gets stretched. More importantly, lives change after we give birth; our focus expands from a myopic focus on self or couple or career to a permanent monitoring of another. This can make scheduling Pilates or chopping organic kale a bit of a stretch on most days. Most new moms are lucky if they can scarf down a handful of Cheerios while soothing baby with the other arm. The National Institutes of Health suggest that rapid weight loss after pregnancy is not safe, and can result in significant fatigue and a lack of nutrients, neither of which are good for mom or baby. A great rule of thumb is 9 months on, 9 months off. Allow yourself 9 months to focus on healthy eating and manageable activity and get back to your baseline weight.
So what do these celebrity baby bodies mean for the rest of us? Most of us are able to look at their mansions, red carpets and cars with curious detachment. Most of us know we will not achieve these lifestyles and that’s fine. But the weight loss after delivery, that seems do-able, right? She lost 40 pounds so I should be able to as well. And if I don’t, that means I am_______________ (fill in the blank: lazy, sloppy, ugly, bad mother, bad woman, you know the drill). New babies typically mean exhaustion, anxiety, and stained clothes, and there is little time for the maintenance of a svelte figure for the typical new mother. The last thing a new mom needs is one more reason to put herself down and these media messages often feed that self-doubt. Even ordinary people take to Facebook to gloat about squeezing into their size 4 jeans after baby, which is not realistic for so many new moms.
Over-focusing on weight loss, rather than focusing on just being healthy after the birth of a new child, can detract from enjoying the experience of mothering, from enjoying the experience of living. Pregnancy is an experience that changes life forever in the form of a child, plan on it changing a body too.
There is also an even darker side. Post-partum depression is observed in 9-16% of women, and the thoughts often have to do with worthlessness, guilt, and devaluing oneself as a mother. Fervent publicists hustle to ensure that we only see the ‘pretty side’ of parenting. But a mom struggling with depression and body image issues is vulnerable to these skewed messages and could feel even worse. In addition, extreme diets after pregnancy could be dangerous for mom and distract her from baby and life. The unrealistic push to a bikini body can lead to restrictive diets and other food rituals that may foreshadow eating disorders. New mom-ing is hard work, and nutrition matters.
When we are vulnerable we compare ourselves to other people. And there are few spaces as vulnerable as new motherhood. There are also few things more beautiful than a new mother. Instead of focusing on body after baby, just focus on baby and mom.