For women, the pressure to look their best at all times is nothing short of immense. Looking like a million bucks can be an unreachable challenge in itself on a regular day, so what happens inside the mind of a soon-to-be mom as she observes her body becoming less familiar with each passing day?
We surveyed over 1,000 women, both pregnant and postpartum, to find out how they navigated the ups and downs of a changing figure. From exercise to plastic surgery and self-acceptance to waning confidence, here are our findings.
Despite myriad efforts to bring mental health treatment into the mainstream, we still have a ways to go before a fractured mind is treated with as much care as a fractured arm. New moms experience a host of physical and physiological changes – mentally and physically – after giving birth, but it seems these changes are not created equal.
This dichotomy was abundantly evident here, as less than half (47 percent) of respondents kept their mental health top of mind after giving birth. This is especially significant in light of postpartum depression, which affects approximately 1 in 9 new mothers every year. Meanwhile, 65 percent of respondents were concerned about their body weight, while only 35 percent reported their weight was on the back burner. In comparison, 53 percent said mental health was not paramount on their radar.
The majority of surveyed women exercised both during and after pregnancy, at 57 percent and 75 percent respectively. On the other hand, dieting was only adopted by 13 percent of pregnant women. This could potentially be because expecting mothers’ diets are already quite restrictive.
Body Part Insecurity
To the casual observer, a growing belly is the most obvious physical change during pregnancy. To the expectant mother, her body as a whole is taking on new forms from head to toe. That said, the stomach area was respondents’ main point of contention, with 95 percent of women reporting insecure feelings surrounding their post-baby midsection.
The second-most prominent area of insecurity experienced by women was the breast area (43 percent). Pregnancy can not only affect the look and feel of a woman’s breasts but also change her relationship with them during the breastfeeding period.
The skin can undergo a host of changes as pregnancy hormones course through the body, including stretch marks, acne breakouts, varicose veins, and if you’re lucky, it might just glow. Thirty-one percent of our respondents felt insecure about the changes that happened to their skin while pregnant, compared to 28 percent of women who had qualms about their butt, and 22 percent regarding their face.
Workouts for Baby
Mood improvement, increased energy levels, a better night’s sleep … you don’t need a magic spell or miracle pill to achieve these things. You simply need to exercise.
The majority of women who took part in our survey were able to slip back into their pre-baby bodies due to regularly working out during after pregnancy. However, those who exercised throughout their pregnancy had slightly better odds with certain forms of training: 85 percent of women who did cycling or spinning while pregnant regained their pre-baby physique.
Running was the second-most effective form of exercise for pregnant women, yielding a 78 percent rate of return to a pre-baby body. Respondents took up swimming, yoga, and walking the furthest out from their delivery date, at 22 weeks for all three. For expectant mothers getting into yoga, there are certain poses that are great to conquer during pregnancy, and others that are better off avoided.
Classes specifically tailored to pregnancy had the desired effect for 62 percent of women, but they were also attended for the shortest period of time before our respondents’ delivery dates at only 18 weeks.
Life After Birth
There’s always a good reason not to exercise – especially as a new parent. Among pregnant women and brand-new moms, one predominant reason was that there may simply be no time for exercise after baby arrives.
The lamentation of not having enough time spiked aggressively for postpartum women – from 30 percent to 44 percent – likely because their newborn was eating up each spare moment. On the other hand, not exercising for health reasons was about half as prominent among new mothers versus pregnant women, potentially due to certain physical limitations that come along with pregnancy.
For 24 percent of postpartum women, their job was the reason why exercise took a backseat, compared to 15 percent of pregnant respondents. In the United States, allotted maternity leave is staggeringly low compared to other countries’ averages: the UK at 12.2 weeks, Canada at 27.3, and Germany at 42.6, for example.
In comparison, Americans were receiving 2.8 weeks. But that number is only an average – 35 percent of women who were not satisfied with the length of their maternity leave were getting 4 entire weeks less than their satisfied counterparts.
Birth and Body Confidence
Getting acquainted with your post-baby body can be a rollercoaster of emotions, often eliciting a feeling of intense desire to go back to the way it once was. For women who re-attained their pre-pregnancy bodies, it meant a lot in self-confidence: 36 percent of respondents in this position felt a high level of self-confidence.
When it came to self-confidence, being married made a difference in body satisfaction. Compared to 25 percent of single women and 27 percent of new mothers in a relationship, 41 percent of married respondents felt confident in their bodies after giving birth. Following that, married women also had the lowest incidence of medium-to-low body confidence at 59 percent, compared to 75 and 73 percent of single women and those in a relationship, respectively.
Your Relationship With Your Body
The relationship we have with our bodies is extremely personal: It is fluid, complicated, and occasionally stormy. Throw a pregnancy into the mix, and it becomes outright contentious for some. If we’ve learned one thing, it’s that regular exercise is a formidable companion for those on a journey to reclaim their postnatal bodies.
The goal, of course, is for women of all shapes and sizes to feel comfortable in their own skin, with or without a baby on the way – but for those who wish to take their figure into their own hands, signing up for a spin class or lacing up a pair of running shoes can be the first step toward a renewed sense of self-love.
We collected 1,014 responses from women who have given birth. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 81 years of age, with a mean of 38 years and a standard deviation of 11 years. We did not have a validated measure of body confidence, so we created a scale of confidence level from 1 to 5, with 1 being “low level of confidence” and 5 being “high level of confidence.”
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