Guest expert contributor for Hatch Athletic, an online postpartum training programme for athletic mum (https://www.hatchathletic.com/blog/not-made-to-bounce).
Look at any celebrity magazine or social media platform and you may believe the human female body has magical superpowers following birth. It can apparently create a whole baby without any lasting changes. It can, it appears, be miraculously unaffected by birth, and this is seen as quite the achievement. So, it seems, the female body can “bounce back” from somewhere, as if it was simply left behind or stored away a few months ago, to just be picked back up again from where it was waiting. Ta-da! Magic.
Don’t be fooled. The media portrayal of the postpartum “bounce back” is a rose-tinted world. It’s not real. The images of strong athletic mums, plastered over Instagram and Facebook provide little escape from an impossible reality. It’s little wonder we might develop a false sense of what normal looks like and have unrealistic expectations following childbirth.
Sadly, according to a 2017 study from the University of Illinois and Brigham Young University , nearly half (46%) of all new mums feel negatively about their post-birth body. Their INCREDIBLE, AMAZING bodies that have bought another human being into the world.
Our bodies are incredible, they can do so much but we are not made to bounce. We are not designed to be stretched and then to spring back. “Bouncing back” is not normal.
Perhaps you thrive on challenges. Perhaps you have become accustomed to regularly pushing your body past what is considered “normal” but pregnancy and postpartum is different.
Bringing a new life into the world changes everything. Not just how your body looks, your body’s biochemistry and day-to-day routine changes too. Suddenly you have a whole new person to consider, someone that is completely dependent on you. Someone who you’re probably up all-night caring, soothing and feeding. Perhaps you feel as though you are forever changing nappies and doing the washing. Quickly nipping out to the gym like you used to might now feel like a Herculean task.
With all of the changes, it is natural to feel a sense of loss and grief for the life you once had.
New motherhood can be an overwhelming and vulnerable time. It is easy to fall into the comparison game looking at other women who seem to have it all together. Those women, who from the outside, seem to effortlessly float through pregnancy looking glamorous and out the other side already looking fighting fit. I guarantee on the inside they feel the same as you. Thinking that you, or someone else has it all together. And even if you don’t feel as though you do, be kind to yourself.
You are amazing. You have achieved so much.
I don’t have all the answers, because let’s be honest – being a mum is a tough gig but I do have some suggestions to help you ease through the transition. My hope is that these suggestions will help you achieve your goals faster with the kindness and respect you deserve.
- Strive For Balance
As athletes we know the fundamentals to be healthy – move your body regularly, rest (yes, rest is equally important), and eat nourishing food. How about self-compassion? If we put too much emphasis on one aspect of wellness, say on training, another area can be neglected leading us to feel off-balanced. Like legs on a stool, if the legs are not of equal length the stool will wobble.
As athletes, many of us prioritise our physical wellbeing over our mental wellbeing. What would it be like to give equal weight to both? What would it be like if you trained your mind the same way you trained your body? To speak kindly to yourself when you looked in the mirror. After all, you are how you move, eat and think.
2. The Importance Of Small Steps
In sports training, there is the principle of progressive overload. For the body to adapt and to grow stronger it must face increasing stress in small increments, one F.I.T.T principle (frequency, intensity, type and time/duration) at a time. A jump that is too big, or a change in too many principles, can overwhelm the body and slow the progress. The same principle applies to everything in life. By focusing on one small change at a time the body and mind get stronger. Ditching the wide-angle lens and focusing in on those small wins every day is a more effective way of getting where you want to go.
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- Reset Your Expectations To Progress Over Perfection
We are all a continuum, wanting to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. There is no one best version. Perfection does not exist, besides if it did life would be boring. There would be nothing to strive for no challenges.
Our continuum and place on the continuum are dynamic. We wouldn’t expect a 90-year-old to have the same performance expectations as a 25-year-old because they change with different life stages and events. Giving birth is a pretty big life event and so it would make sense for our continuum, and place on it, to change. Imagine looking forward from today and progressing from there rather than looking at yesterday. By resetting your expectations to “progress” you will reach your goal quicker and it will feel a lot kinder.
- Performance Is About Behaviour Not Outcome. Celebrate The Behaviours.
As athletes, we like to feel in control. To be in control of our bodies and how they perform. Usually, our chosen behaviours lead to the desired outcome, but things don’t always go this way. Things can happen outside our control that influences the desired outcome.
Imagine a runner lining up for a race. Her eye is on the prize she wants to win. She has followed her training programme to a tee and has perfected her nutrition and hydration strategy. She is confident for a win. As the gun goes Usain Bolt steps up to the start line, takes off and wins. Our runner blows her previous personal bests out of the park but places second. If performance was about the outcome she hasn’t performed, yet her training behaviours have led to a top performance worthy of celebrating.
In life, we can’t control everything. You may wake up early to train but perhaps your baby has other ideas and needs your attention. While you may not get the outcome you were wishing for, your behaviour is worth celebrating.
5 Tips For Being Kinder To Other Mums
Social expectations are social, they are passed from one person to another. This means we all hold the power to set and change them. Here are some ideas on how you can help reduce the pressure on new mums to “bounce back”:
- Ask How She Is And Really Listen To The Response
It’s easy for all the attention to be bestowed on a gorgeous wee bub but let’s not forget the miracle worker who gave birth to the object of your affection. How is she really feeling? Listen to her response, both the words used and the tone. Look at her body language. Acknowledge and validate how she is feeling. Being listened to and validated is one of the greatest gifts to receive. Offer support and help when it’s needed, including helping her to find professional support if it’s needed.
- Let Her Know Being A Mum Is Hard Work, It Will Get Easier And She Is An Amazing Mum
Lots of new mums go into motherhood being told that “You’ll be a natural mum”, “Everything will fall into place”, and “You’ll know what to do instinctively”. Sure, perhaps for a small minority, it may feel easy but for everyone else it is a hard slog. Nothing in this world can prepare you for motherhood. Remind her that being a mum is hard and like everything in life it will get easier with practice, and of course, that she is an amazing Mum.
- Offer, Better Yet, Give Help
Reach out to her and let her know you’re there for her whenever she needs you. However, for many, it’s hard to ask or even accept offers of help in fear of being a burden or appearing weak. If you think this may the case, you may need to take the matter into your own hands. Pop around for a coffee bringing the coffee with you, take around some meals that can be kept in her freezer, offer to babysit so she can get out or catch up on some sleep, even a little “You’re Amazing” card or text will brighten her day.
4. Celebrate Her Incredible Achievement of Giving Birth Rather Than What She Looks Like
This is a tricky one as we all like to be told we look wonderful, however depending on how it is delivered, it can add to body-image pressure. By all means, tell her how fabulous she is looking but also celebrate the amazing achievement of giving birth. Under no circumstances, even well-intended, leave diet tips, or make subtle remarks about how amazing so-and-so looks following her pregnancy etc. Never ever!
- Support Her Into Self-Care
Another tricky one. Self-care is super important however to many reminders of all the things she “should be doing” to look after herself can be an expressway into more mummy guilt. Rather than telling her to take time out for herself support her to do it by helping out (see tip 3).
6. Share This Article
If your friend is an athletic new mum like yourself who’s used to pushing herself past averages share this article with her.