The utopian, contradictory expectations mums have to face
She’s an organizing talent, manager of the family, self-sacrificing mother, career woman (just not at the expense of the kids), constantly well-groomed with a well-toned body and always relaxed, smiling and loving.
There is probably no other group of people who have to meet as many expectations as mums. In so called mom shaming mums get criticized for decisions they’ve made for themselves.
From day one of the pregnancy the woman’s body, the childbirth, and later the upbringing of the child are being assessed. It begins with questions such as „So, was it a planned pregnancy?“ and goes on to comments about tired eyes and to well intended advice (always anecdotal, of course!) on uploading pictures of your child to the internet, vaccines, breastfeeding and the best time for your child to start kindergarten.
Often times, it’s mums among themselves who missionize one another, even though we should be the ones knowing how impossible it is to meet all these social norms. After all, they often contradict themselves!
Behavior after birth: Definitely resting
Mums can expect the first criticism from their surroundings as early as few days after having given birth: Society expects new mums to stay in bed, spend time with their baby and to rest. But what if I don’t want to do that? Each mum is different. For some it surely is the right thing to spend puerperium in bed with their baby, others can’t wait to be active and move again. Important here is listening to what your own body is telling you and not what society tells you to do. Women who’ve placed much importance on working out before becoming pregnant don’t necessarily have to obey social conventions and force themselves to remain in bed, if they crave (moderate!) movement.
Once the mandatory resting-phase is over (but please, not on any account it should be more than 8 weeks!) it’s time for the project after-baby-body. How many times have we seen it in tabloid media: There tends to be a race who manages to regain the same body as prior to pregnancy the fastest among women. Almost as if pregnancy hadn’t happened at all.
This extreme weight loss surely doesn’t always take place in a healthy way. The immense pressure often makes women worry about getting back into shape and trying not to gain too much weight during pregnancy already. Being overweight definitely harms mum as well as the baby, but so does being underweight: The risk of premature birth and an underdevelopment of the baby increases.
On average, women gain 10-16kg during pregnancy. Thus, there is no reason to punish the body (which after all performed at peak performance by having given birth) only because there as social concepts like the after-baby-body.
What is most important after birth is being careful when working out. The body is in a fragile state and shouldn’t be harmed for the sake of a smaller size. Hence why after pregnancy, rebuilding has got a higher priority than fitting into your old pair of jeans. Special postnatal programs like the MumMeFit-App offer exercises which have been particularly tailored to the body after birth.
Starting regular working out too early can negatively influence the prevailing rectus diastase (the gap between the straight abdominal muscles), which, according to studies, affects one third of women who gave birth for the first time and two thirds of women who’ve given birth several times already.
Besides, regular sports doesn’t pay enough attention to the pelvic floor, which has been strongly affected by pregnancy. After birth, the only way to strengthen the weakened and stretched pelvic floor again and to set the foundation for a further full body training is a targeted pelvic floor training. Furthermore, getting back into sports, that contain a lot of jumps or impacts, e.g. running, too early, can damage the pelvic floor permanently.
Get slim fast for the price of being incontinent?
Fully giving yourself away for the child
On the one hand, mums are expected to be slim, on the other one they get criticized if they don’t conform to the normative image of a mum, who puts her own needs behind the child one’s, and invest TOO MUCH time in their workout instead. What a contradiction! In her book „Das Versagen der Kleinfamilie“ political scientist Mariam Irene Tazi-Preve states that the image society has of mums has barely changed at all in the last 100 years. Mothers are still the loving managers of the entire family, who sacrifice themselves for their child’s wellbeing and place themselves as an individual last in line. Thus, motherhood is a 24-hours-project, which doesn’t allow any breaks.
But same thing as earlier applies here: There is no such thing as the one right way to do it. Each mum has to decide for herself how she wishes to live her motherhood. And this also applies to getting back into work life, or deciding not to get back into it. Whatever you decide to do, you wont be able to please everybody anyways!
Stress? What’s that?
To conclude: The perfect mum goes through the average pregnancy, knowing exactly how to feel at any given moment. After having given birth, she quickly gets back into shape, keeps meeting her girlfriends, always dressed perfectly, is politically and pop-culturally up to date, volunteers and pursues hobbies. Still, she doesn’t invest TOO MUCH time into herself, her kids have got top priority to her. The perfect mum always keeps the house clean and decorated according to the season, is a lover to her husband, pursues the right career path, eats a perfectly healthy diet and only cooks fresh produce for her kids without exception. And most importantly: She is never stressed out.