Written by Kelsey Beach, PT/DPT, CMTPT
It seems like everywhere you look nowadays, you see some new fitness challenge or diet trend that is supposed to help you “bounce back” after having a baby. Some are even specifically marketed to new moms; targeting you in your most vulnerable state of motherhood transition. And while there is nothing wrong with wanting to get back in shape after having a baby, the problem comes when these challenges and trends start to promote unrealistic standards and expectations; enter the “toxic bounce back culture”.
So what is the “toxic bounce back culture”?
It is the belief that you need to immediately “bounce back” to your pre-pregnancy body or even better. It is the idea that you need to lose all the baby weight as quickly as possible and get back to working out and dieting like you did before you were pregnant. It’s fitting back into your pre-pregnancy skinny jeans. This culture is toxic for several reasons. First and foremost, it puts unnecessary pressure on new moms who are already dealing with a lot. It also promotes unrealistic standards and expectations. And lastly, it ignores the fact that a woman’s body goes through a lot of physical changes during and after pregnancy.
Why “The Bounce Back” is Toxic
When it comes to the “bounce back” culture, it is important to realize that it is not realistic or sustainable. For instance, it is unfortunately all too common for new moms to feel pressure to “get their body back” after having a baby. This pressure comes from friends, family, and even strangers, but most glaringly from social media. But new research is showing physical healing can take months or even years for a woman’s body to fully recover after having a baby. So expecting you to return to your pre-pregnancy body immediately is unrealistic. The problem with this culture is that it makes it seem like the only way to bounce back is to start dieting and exercising immediately after the baby is born. It encourages new moms to push themselves beyond their limits when in reality they should be focusing on rest and recovery. Not to mention you are at a higher risk of injury if you start a new workout regimen while your body is still healing and you have not had it properly assessed. This kind of pressure to “bounce back” can lead to guilt and shame, stress, or even worse physical injury to your core and pelvic floor muscles.
How Social Media Compares to Reality
Social media can be a great source of support and information for new moms. It can also provide a place for new moms to connect with other moms and share their experiences. I know I have personally made strong connections through Instagram with other moms and wellness providers. But I also feel shameful when I see a mom who has bounced back quicker than me or looks better than me in her high-waist shorts and crop top. What I have to remember is these profiles rarely show the whole story, and they don’t tell us the struggles that these moms had to go through while they were on their journey. It also might not show the village of support they had during their journey. It’s important to remember that everyone’s journey is different, and so is every individual’s body.
The truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to postpartum healing. Everyone’s body recovers differently, so it is impossible to judge what is “normal” or not. The problem with the “bounce back” culture is that it puts a timeline on a very complex process. It makes it seem like if you don’t bounce back within a certain amount of time, you’re not “normal” or worse, something is wrong with you. The truth is that the postpartum period is a time for recovery, not for bouncing back. Every woman’s body is different and it is impossible to judge what is “normal” when it comes to postpartum healing. Each woman needs to take the time she needs to heal and should focus on her individual journey, not on what others are doing or what “normal” is supposed to look like.
Why We Need to Rethink the Postpartum Period
It is time to start talking about the postpartum period in a different way. Instead of focusing on “bouncing back” to your pre-pregnancy body, we should be focusing on recovery and healing. We need to acknowledge that postpartum healing is a process and it can take months or even years to fully recover. We also need to start talking about the importance of physical, mental and emotional healing during the postpartum period. Instead of prioritizing fitting back into your skinny jeans, we should be focusing on seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist to have your new postpartum body assessed. Instead of posting your perfect filtered picture of you and your newborn to Instagram, we should be focusing on finding the perfect mental health provider to navigate any postpartum mood disorder you might be feeling. And instead of putting pressure on moms to bounce back, we should be focused on finding a moms group you can join to build a community of support.
Now more than ever, it is important to start talking about what a healthier postpartum healing journey could look like. It could start with accepting your post-baby body and recognizing that it might take time to get back to your pre-pregnancy body. It could also involve taking things slow and focusing on physical, mental and emotional healing. Next, instead of pushing yourself to do more than you are physically and mentally capable of, focus on building strength, resilience, and stamina. Take baby steps and celebrate each step of progress, no matter how small. Last but not least, surround yourself with a supportive community of friends and family who can encourage you and remind you that your unique journey is special and beautiful.
About the Guest Author
Kelsey Beach is the owner of enCORE Therapy & Performance where her mission is to empower women to rediscover their bodies starting from the pelvic floor and core. Through her work, she teaches them about all the wonderful changes their bodies will go through during their reproductive and non-reproductive years and how to manage their own symptoms and be their own advocates for healing.