As a society, we are very aware of the changes a woman’s body goes through during pregnancy – however, less is said about what comes after.
It’s inevitable that carrying a child for nine months and giving birth might have an impact on how women feel about certain aspects of themselves – but too often, these changes can be seen as a negative thing, with incredible amounts of pressure to get ‘pre-baby bodies’ back.
In fact, research from 2019 found that 41% of women who had been pregnant felt more negative about their bodies afterwards, compared to just 12% who felt more positive.
While there’s no denying that pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood has the potential to change your body forever – contrary to what we’re often led to believe, it’s not always for the worse.
It’s a subject former Hollyoaks actress Sarah Jayne Dunn has spoken about on Metro.co.uk’s new podcast Smut Drop, since her move to OnlyFans.
Explaining how she’s trying to bust the myth that you can’t be seen as sexy if you’ve had a child, the mum of one said: ‘You don’t suddenly become a mum and then go, okay, “Right, I better keep my skirts below the knee”… You still can dress sexily or be body confident. And I think it’s really important to spread that message.’
Sharing this sentiment, Metro.co.uk spoke to three women who feel the same.
Yes, I am a mum – but I’m also still a woman
Hannah Syers, 34, is a PR Director from Leeds and has one daughter.
‘I loved being pregnant and I loved getting bigger, because I knew that meant my daughter was always with me. I knew where she was and I never felt alone.
However, when I gave birth, I wasn’t prepared for it and it didn’t go quite according to plan. Nothing quite prepares you for quite how difficult the physical recovery afterwards will be. I felt like I’d been hit by a train; then the week after like I’d been hit by a truck; and a few weeks after a car.
It took me a while to reclaim my relationship with my body. It’s difficult to describe but I remember feeling like I had a hole in my stomach where my daughter should have been.
Initially, I kept thinking that I shouldn’t wear certain things anymore, because I was a mum now. Before, I saw my breasts as a sexual thing – now, they were the things that fed my child.
But, in time, I did realise that they could be both things – and so could I.
It took just over a year to start feeling like myself again. And now, I can honestly say that I feel better than ever about myself and my body.
I remember the lightbulb moment where my mindset changed like it was yesterday.
Around a year after my daughter was born, I was sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, and I was passing the time by reading gossip magazines. I came across a few ‘ring of truth’ features, where they highlight areas of different women’s bodies for not being ‘perfect’. There were women of all different shapes and sizes; some were mums, some weren’t.
At that point, something clicked in me. I realised that I would never please everyone. Women are too skinny, too fat. We can’t win.
So, at that point, I just thought, ‘What am I doing? Why am I torturing myself this way?’
I went home, did a social media cull of all the accounts that were making me feel bad about myself, I bought some CBT books, decided to change the way I was talking to myself – and I became my own cheerleader.
All too often, I think that women lose all sense of themselves when they have a baby. Yes, I am a mum – but I’m also still a woman. And, it’s so important to remember that you can be both – it doesn’t have to be one or the other. I have given life, I’ve fed and kept a child alive – it’s really empowering. But I’m still me.
The pressure of becoming a mum and what that should look like really got to me at first. But I’m much more accepting of my body now.
I recently put on two stone after starting a new medication. Before I had my daughter, that would have upset me – but now, I just got some new clothes in a bigger size, and I embraced it.
Now, I might wear short shorts in summer and backless cocktail dresses to black tie events, but I also wear maternity jeans when it’s that time of the month, so that they hold the hot water bottle that is soothing my stomach.
I dress how I want, when I want.
Whether you have a baby or not your body will change over time. Being a mum can be all consuming but it’s important for you and the child you’re raising to still be a person, a woman.
My daughter said to me just the other day, ‘mummy you always look so sassy and glamourous.’ I just hope, when the time comes, she remembers that you can be mum and still feel sexy – and most importantly like yourself.’
Being pregnant finally let me feel comfortable in my own skin
Emiliana Hall, 36, is founder of The Mindful Birth Group and has two children.
‘I’ve had three babies – two of my own and one as a surrogate for my best friend in 2020 – and in many ways, giving birth was the best thing that could have happened for my relationship with my body.
From a young age, I’d suffered with disordered eating, was prone to excessive exercise and I struggled with body dysmorphia, in that I genuinely thought I was huge when I was a size eight.
Now, three births later, I’m a size 14 and I feel more confident in my body than ever.
When I first got pregnant, aged 29, I was initially worried about getting bigger – particularly due to the issues I had around my body image.
During my pregnancy, I carried on exercising, regularly running and practicing yoga. However, my maternal instincts took over when it came to eating and, as I was aware that I had to nourish a baby as well as myself, I stopped restricting my food and learned how to eat properly for the first time.
I loved being pregnant and the body that came with it – something I never could have anticipated. I felt so comfortable with my baby belly, and I adored the fact that it was serving a purpose, so it wasn’t something I had to worry about. It was supposed to be there.
I think this acceptance of my pregnant body broke the cycle that I had with my disordered eating and unhealthy body ideals.
When I had my second baby, this time aged 32, I had less time to think about myself because I was busy looking after the baby I already had.
My weight wasn’t in the forefront of my mind, either. I had breastfed my first child for a year and was busy growing another one inside of me – I was mainly just astounded by what my body could do.
So, rather than being concerned about what size of clothes I was wearing, my overriding feeling was: ‘wow, my body is amazing.’
Two years later, when I was pregnant with my friend’s baby, as a gestational surrogate, I had even more admiration for my body – here it was growing someone else’s child inside it! This time, however, I gave birth via c-section, which I found harder to recover from physically.
But once I started feeling strong again, I felt attractive because I was comfortable in my own skin – and I wasn’t wishing it looked like someone else anymore.
I am now several dress sizes bigger than I was before I had children and I am so, so much more confident. Before having babies, I used to say no to going to stuff if I thought I didn’t look good enough. Now, that wouldn’t even enter my head.
I work with lots of pregnant women in my role at The Mindful Birthing Group and a common worry is that their partners won’t find them attractive any more. I can sympathise with them – I was afraid of what pregnancy might do to my body, and my sexuality, but the reality is so far from that.
I did wonder if my relationship with my husband would change because I physically looked different but it hasn’t – I think he’s also in awe of what my body has achieved. Obviously the tiredness that comes with having kids puts things on the back burner sometimes! But it’s never because of how I feel about myself.
Before, I went out of my way to cover up my body. Now, I dress for my shape – I’ll accentuate the right things and I know what looks and feels good.
Of course our bodies change during pregnancy however, it’s all for the best possible reason and it’s not a negative thing.’
I feel sexier than I ever did before I had kids
Victoria Powter, 43, is owner of CBD Angel. She has three children.
‘Until I had my kids, I always had what people describe as a ‘boyish’ figure. I was flat chested and skinny, with not much in the way of hips or a bum. I’d just always been a bit of a tomboy and I didn’t ever really dress to accentuate my figure or make myself feel ‘sexy.’
Back then , I mainly dressed in jeans, T-shirts, jumpers and hoodies. It’s not that I hated my figure, I just wasn’t particularly bothered about it. I think, in part, my lack of caring stemmed from the fact that there wasn’t a constant stream of toned Instagram models to compare myself to like there is today, and less pressure in general to look amazing all the time. If I was in my 20s now, I might feel differently.
I got pregnant with my first child (my son, who is now 17 years old) aged 25. To my surprise, I absolutely loved my body, and being pregnant.
That said, after I had my son, I initially struggled to lose my baby weight (and it’s so indicative of society that ‘baby weight’ is even something we’re programmed to be thinking about – you’ve just given birth to a whole human being).
I was the biggest I’d ever been and I went up a few dress sizes. Initially, my body felt a bit alien to me as I went from being skinny to what I saw as quite ‘chubby’.
However, my confidence in my body grew as I went to the gym, thought about what I ate for the first time ever and – most importantly – learned to appreciate the changes my body had been through.
I’ve since had two more children (aged 14 and nine now) and with each pregnancy, my confidence in my body has grown more and more.
This is in part due to physical changes that have occurred. For example, with pregnancy number two, my boobs increased to a C cup, and then they went up to a DD after my third. They’ve stayed this size and, as they weren’t big in the first place, they’re perky and I love them!
I also got a more curvy bum and hips after having each child, which I never had before. At 43, I do feel more sexy than I ever did before I had kids.
However, the way I feel isn’t solely down to changes in my physical appearance, it was also a positive attitude shift.
Before kids, most of my friends were male. After I became a mum, I started hanging out with more women and other mums, I began to think more about what I was wearing and felt more ‘feminine’ – in some ways, it felt like my body was adapting to suit my changing circumstances.
Although I’ve had a positive experience, I would say that societal pressure on women as a whole is at a level that has never been seen before – I’d go as far as to say it’s disgusting. Women feel pressured to get back to their pre-baby body – I know I did.
However, I’m now confident to wear more revealing clothes than I ever was before babies. For example, I’m happy to wear low cut tops that show off my post-baby cleavage, or something that’s tighter, or brighter, or more attention grabbing – that’s not to say I’m looking for attention, but I’m happy to wear whatever I think looks good on me.
To anyone worrying about their body after having a baby, I’d say embrace it. You’re having a baby. Your body is about to go through the biggest transformation it’s ever gone through in its life – and if you’re anything like me, you’ll love yourself even more than you did before.’
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