Whether you have experienced an eating disorder before, or this is a new occurrence, the post-partum time can be so special and also exceptionally vulnerable. Not only are you adjusting to life with a new baby, but your body is also healing and continuing to change, you are likely getting less sleep and will probably be prioritizing the needs of your baby over your own.
At times, society can send messages around “bouncing back” and new parents are not always given support on how to rebuild a relationship with the body after so much has happened. This can leave people considering or leaning into new or old eating disorder behaviors, exercising too soon or in unsafe ways and feeling dismayed when desired changes aren’t occurring.
Here are some key considerations for the pregnancy and post-partum period:
❌ Avoid pre-planning weight loss: During pregnancy, whilst your body is changing and growing, there might be a temptation to begin looking forward to the time when you can start to lose weight once the baby is born. You might be anxiously awaiting the chance to use restrictive or other compensatory behaviors, start planning meals or a routine that facilitates change of body weight and shape. Try to shift your thinking from “how can I lose weight after the baby is born?” to “how can i best care for myself post-partum”.
Some new parents outsource meals, which can be a helpful way of combatting the inclination to restrict your eating and take away the pressure of meal planning and preparation.
🧘 Listen to professionals about a return to movement: Every person will have their own timeline to return to movement after birth. It is essential that this is not rushed and should be engaged in with the support and endorsement of health care professionals. This might be getting the “ok” from your obstetrician or connecting with a perinatal physiotherapist. Unfortunately, in some obstetric settings, there can still be a sense of encouragement to “lose the baby weight”, so try to think critically about which services you engage in, whether they are eating disorder informed and aware of your experiences. Returning to movement slowly can potentially be a wonderful way to begin rebuilding the relationship with your body. It can give you the chance to explore what is happening for you, learn about what movement feels good and help to move away from punishing and compensatory movement.
⚖️ Adjust expectations: Just like during pregnancy, your body will continue to adjust and change during the post-partum period. There is no guidelines to tell you what your body should or shouldn’t look like post-partum, and at times, expectations are unrealistic for you and your specific body. There may be changes to your body that are permanent or impossible to “reverse”. Try to treat yourself with kindness. It is okay to grieve for your pre-pregnancy body. By taking things slow in the post-partum period there is more of an opportunity to understand and acknowledge the body through all of the stages of change and challenge and start to gain a better understanding of where the body wants to be, rather than putting intense pressure on it to look a certain way.
❤️ Find your village: They say it takes a village to raise a child. This is very true yet creating the village takes time and can often be isolating and overwhelming to begin with, particularly if you are also at war with your body. Reach out to people and communities whose values align with yours, so you are supported wholly and unconditionally. Be mindful of “lose the baby weight” fitness challenges, or any other programs that might very much appeal to your eating disorder and are removed from what you want for yourself and your growing family. Take the time to understand where your vulnerabilities lie and seek support and community connection where you can.
A final message…
Having a baby is an immense period of change and challenge. It can be beautiful and rewarding, and feelings of loneliness, helplessness and overwhelm are also understandable and allowed to be there. You never have to be alone in the journey and there is support out there to help you, whether the issues be around eating and body image, depression, anxiety or feeding and sleeping concerns.
➡️ Parentline Victoria
132 289, 8 am-12 am 7 days
➡️ Maternal and Child Health Line
132 229, 24 hours 7 days
➡️ Council of Single Mothers and their Children
03 9654 0622 or 1300 552 511 (outside metro Melbourne), 9.30am-3pm, Mon-Fri
Thank you to Senior Telehealth Counsellor, Amy, for writing this article