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June 13, 2023

207 – Postpartum Physical Expectations vs Reality

Let us talk about bounce back culture, and how, even with realistic, logical expectations, somehow I was still surprised by my body at four and five months postpartum.

I have plenty of family, members and friends, who are active and have had multiple pregnancies and postpartum recover periods. I know in my mind that a realistic expectation for not getting your body back, but feeling more familiar in your body and yes, to an extent looking more like a past version of your body, would take 12 to 18 months.

And that it would be a very slow and gradual process.

Even with that logic, I found myself confused and a bit disappointed in my four and five months postpartum body.

Strength, wise, and performance wise, I felt good or better than I thought I would, but my physique did not reflect that. Essentially, I was used to my genetics working for me. I would describe myself as a super responder to training. Not the best, but, if I train and eat, well, without tracking, macros, or anything, typically I can build muscle fairly easily, and remain lean. I don’t lie about having genetics on my side, and that is the reason that I never used my body to sell my programs. Because I didn’t want people to expect my physique out of my training programs.

There are so many factors in postpartum that are not typical factors in my physical response to training, however.

We have sleep, deprivation, likely, high, cortisol, hormone imbalances, and milk supply to maintain, among other things.

And let me just pause to make the point that this episode is simply sharing my experience, and some of the mindset journey that I’ve gone through this far in postpartum, as a fitness, professional, and someone who logically had what I would consider realistic expectations.

I expected that by six months I wouldn’t look like I never had a baby, but that I would not be 15 to 20 pounds still overweight. And that obviously does not look the same in a swimsuit as it did pre-baby.

I entered a small deficit around the four month mark in my milk supply dropped. I can’t say why, or if I would’ve been eating different foods maybe it would’ve stayed up. But I was drinking 160 ounces of water per day, and the deficit that should have had me losing like a quarter of a pound a week. It was very mild. For whatever reason, my supply dropped, and that was a no go for me. 

In soft lighting, I actually feel like I look pretty damn good. It’s clear that my training is building muscle under an extra layer or to a fat. So I started treating postpartum like a bulking phase essentially.

That is, once I felt strong enough, and coordinated enough after what I would consider my rehab phase. Though I consider postpartum rehab to somewhat be forever. There’s nuance there I won’t go into in this episode.

My point on the lighting topic is that in certain lighting at four or five months I looked great in my opinion. My muscle was providing shapes that I prefer on my body. But in harsh sunlight, it was like a 180. I just have a thin layer, or a thick layer in some places of cellulite and literally all over my body. That was not something that I personally expected.

And don’t take this as me hating it. This is just me observing my postpartum experience. The body that I have now is not the body that I will always have. My goal is always performance over aesthetics. And I also want to have more children, so this is just a piece of a much longer journey.

Another expectation versus reality was that I don’t think I will ever fit into 60% of my clothing again. I expected that my body would change in someways for the long term. But holy shit, my rib cage, my feet, in my hips. I just don’t see how they could go back to the way they were. I wouldn’t personally get rid of anything until I’m through all of my pregnancies and can see what body I end up with due to age, changes in pregnancy and postpartum, the physique that I build via weights and nutrition. But I know women who were back in most of their normal clothing at three months postpartum. And given my genetics, I do think that I mostly expected that. I expected my body to be much softer. And maybe even weigh more, but I thought that I would be in my same wardrobe. That has not at all been the case. 

And if you’ve ever tried to put your body into clothing that does not fit properly, it is not a fun experience. For me, especially because I don’t feel super negative about my actual physique, but then I would put on clothing, and that would quickly change the narrative. So I personally made the decision to purchase a few pieces of clothing that do fit my current body well, and that I feel good in. To each their own.

The mom butt. It is a thing. The glutes disappear. But they can be rebuilt. Focus on strength training, fatiguing the glutes often, and EATING.

I was personally surprised and pleased with upper body in terms of muscle retention and strength retention. I don’t feel I lost much of anything in my pregnancy and postpartum experience so far.

In the same light, I was surprised by stomach “shape” sticking out. I have never had a “flat” stomach. My abs have always protruded a bit. But the difference between flexed and unflexed was definitely less aggressive than it is now – or was at 4-5 months.

I thought my hips and core would feel weird or for a longer period but they adapted quite quickly to training.

Overall, I think no matter what we have subconscious expectations for the postpartum. That just take us by surprise. And there’s truly no way to know what to expect.

For me, it’s been wildly helpful to have mom friends to reach out to them, and share my experience with, as well as hearing theirs.

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I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.

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