By Crystal Karges
“Giving birth and being born brings us into the essence of creation, where the human spirit is courageous and bold and the body, a miracle of wisdom.” – Harriette Hartigan
Today’s mothers are faced with intense scrutiny when it comes to their bodies and appearances. Raising children in our current culture has taken a dramatic shift in the age of social media and with the Internet at our fingertips. The reality is that the postpartum period for mothers is perhaps one of the most vulnerable and sensitive times for a woman.
Physically, emotionally, mentally, socially and more – a woman is transformed through the process of childbirth and often left with little resources or support when learning to care for herself and a newborn. The postpartum period in particular, with all its challenges, can leave women more susceptible to mental health challenges, including postpartum depression and eating disorders.
Body Dissatisfaction Experienced in Postpartum
Research has demonstrated just how vulnerable a woman is in the year following childbirth, especially in regard to body image, overall health, and social characteristics. The literature has shown that mothers’ body satisfaction worsened from 1 to 9 months postpartum, and body dissatisfaction experienced at 9-months postpartum has been associated with declining mental health, eating/appetite abnormalities, decreased social interactions, and non-breastfeeding status . Body image dissatisfaction has consistently been associated with prenatal and postpartum depression, which is correlated with a host of complications for both mother and child .
In light of this evidence, it is important to question the messages that saturate the mainstream culture mothers find themselves in today. The pressure to “bounce back” after baby is a nonsensical idea that many women are faced with, feeling inadequate in a body that has been beautifully transformed by motherhood. In the face of a billion dollar diet industry, mothers have become an easy target for weight loss products, programs, and the like, all with empty promises for a woman hoping for unconditional acceptance.
Spreading a Message of Freedom and Hope
Promoting the message of Health at Every Size® (HAES) among our mothers today could not be more vital, not only for the benefit of women as a whole, but for the future generations that are being raised amidst a culture that falsely identifies worth and value based on size. Challenging cultural assumptions and celebrating body diversity, regardless of age, ethnicity, race, etc. is necessary for breaking through the systematic forces that cage a mother from embracing her uniqueness and from truly thriving.
Mothers are often the foundation of families, playing a fundamental role in nurturing the wellbeing of her children. Far too many mothers have suffered in isolation and shame in a society that is not conducive with their changing and evolving bodies. Helping mothers flourish in the freedom that comes with a peaceful relationship with food and body begins with the message of Health at Every Size.
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: Gjerdingen, D., Fontaine, P., Crow, S., McGovern, P., Center, B., & Miner, M. (2009). Predictors of Mothers’ Postpartum Body Dissatisfaction. Women & Health, 49(6), 491–504. http://doi.org/10.1080/03630240903423998
: Silveira, M. L., Ertel, K. A., Dole, N., & Chasan-Taber, L. (2015). The role of body image in prenatal and postpartum depression: a critical review of the literature. Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 18(3), 409–421. http://doi.org/10.1007/s00737-015-0525-0