It’s Totally Normal to Feel This Way: Addressing Postpartum Body Dysmorphia

Giving birth is hard. Over many months you changed the way you ate, drank, slept, thought and moved. Then, at the end of such an exhausting journey, you had to push even harder to bring a brand new life into the world. A beautiful, screaming, kicking life — and it’s your responsibility from now on.

It’s amazing, but… it’s also a lot — and that’s okay! When everything around you changes, it’s important to remember that it’s totally normal if you change too.

If you’re feeling like a stranger in your own skin right now, this article is for you. We’ll discuss common causes of postpartum body dysmorphia and walk you through what you can do to address dysmorphia as it happens — both now and in yours and your baby’s bright future.

Common Causes of Postpartum Body Dysmorphia

Postpartum body dysmorphia has two major contributing factors: the physical and the psychological.

  • Physically, your body just went through a major change. Weight gain, skin stretching and the sheer exhaustion of growing a life adds up. At the same time, the hormones produced by your body are behaving in a different way than they ever have before. Levels of estrogen and progesterone rise significantly during pregnancy and drop sharply after childbirth. This fluctuation often contributes to mood swings and emotional changes that impact your perception of everything — including your own body.
  • Psychologically the changes are just as major. Society relies on unrealistic beauty standards to exacerbate feelings of inadequacy when everywhere you look you see people who seem to have it more together than you do. When you’re already sleep deprived and adjusting to your new normal, it’s a lot easier to let those feelings of inadequacy creep in.

Here’s the thing, though — what we see in the media and on social media is only a curated snapshot. It’s never the full picture. The only person who knows your full picture is you. Try not to let yourself forget that.

Social support, self-care and mental health interventions play crucial roles in addressing postpartum body dysmorphia, promoting body positivity and fostering a healthy adjustment to the changes that accompany new motherhood.

Even if you know you shouldn’t compare yourself, it still happens. That’s totally normal and totally okay, too. To help, we’ve listed some tips for grounding during dysmorphic episodes below after answering a few commonly asked postpartum body questions.

Answering Common Postpartum Body Questions

How long does it take for hormones to balance after birth?

Don’t expect your hormone levels to re-adjust until between three and six months after childbirth. If you ever feel frustrated by your progress in this regard, remember that your body just helped you through something fairly incredible. Try offering your body patience as if it were a dear friend — after all, nothing has been there for you for longer.

How long is your body considered postpartum?

Medically, your body is considered postpartum for the initial six weeks following childbirth. After that period, your body doesn’t magically return to the way it was before. Instead, it starts settling into its new normal and adjusting to new hormones and capabilities.

How long does postpartum body last?

Recovering from childbirth doesn’t happen overnight. For most people, they don’t even start feeling recovered until six to eight weeks after birth.

As for your body itself, some things might never go back to normal. You might never be able to sneeze again without peeing a little bit.

Every single person who has ever given birth has experienced this just like you have. If you’re ever feeling unsure about how you feel about your body postpartum, talk to another person you love and trust who has also given birth. Talk to them and trust us when we say that 99% of the time you’ll find out they’ve felt the same way. Knowing you’re not alone doesn’t fix everything, but it does make it easier.

What does postpartum body look like?

There is a wide range of what is considered normal for a postpartum body. When your body gives birth, however it looks afterward is both miraculous and normal. Common experiences include distended abdomens due to the uterus returning to its normal size, stretch marks, loose skin and changes to breasts both before and during breastfeeding. Weight loss occurs after childbirth, though it may not immediately return to pre-pregnancy levels.

The postpartum journey is unique for each person, emphasizing the importance of self-acceptance and allowing time for physical and emotional recovery.

Grounding Techniques for When You Experience Postpartum Body Dysmorphia

Grounding is helpful for individuals experiencing body dysmorphia because it redirects their focus from distressing thoughts about their postpartum appearance to the present moment.

The goal is to become more connected to the present world around you in order to break the cycle of negative self-perception, providing a respite from overwhelming thoughts and emotions.

The next time you’re feeling plagued by postpartum body dysmorphia, take a deep breath and try these grounding techniques:

  • Deep Breathing. Inhale slowly and deeply, focusing on the breath, and exhale slowly, allowing your body to relax.
  • Body Scan. Close your eyes and mentally scan your body, noting sensations without judgment. Are you hungry? Is your shoulder tight? List things objectively in your mind.
  • 5-4-3-2-1 Technique. Identify five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste.
  • Affirmations. Repeat positive affirmations about your body and the journey of motherhood, and challenge negative thoughts with affirmations of self-worth. You are worthy. You are powerful. You are wonderful. You are really nice and cool and funny and good at being a mom, too.
  • Gratitude Journaling. Write down things you appreciate about your body and the postpartum experience and reflect on the strength and resilience you’ve shown. Because you have shown a lot of it.
  • Sensory Grounding. Engage your senses by holding a comforting object, feeling its texture and weight in your hand. Surround yourself with soothing scents or listen to calming music. Avoid using your baby for this exercise because they tend to wiggle.
  • Mindful Movement. Practice gentle exercises like yoga or stretching, and focus on the sensations of movement and the connection with your body.
  • Nature Connection. Spend time outdoors, appreciating the natural world and ground yourself by connecting with the sights, sounds and textures of nature. Sometimes it really does help to touch grass.
  • Social Support. This one is the most important. Talk to supportive friends, family, or a mental health professional about your feelings and share your experiences to receive understanding and encouragement.

Finally, remember that your body is yours. If you’ve spent time with the thinking and techniques listed above and still find yourself wishing something was different, that’s okay too.

Whether you want your body to be different or stay the same, the choice belongs to you. For those who want to make permanent physical changes, RENEW’s sensitive and supportive surgeons are available to discuss a Mommy Makeover with you. Whether you want to tighten skin, lift breasts, get rid of stubborn fat retention, or all of the above, we will work with you to determine the best procedures to help you look more like the post-pregnancy you that you remember. Contact us to start a consultation.

Renew Plastics
About the Author:

Renew Plastics

The team of award-winning Minneapolis, Minnesota-based plastic surgeons at Renew is devoted to helping you look and feel as good as possible.