It took four days for Kristen Sullivan to find the courage to post this photo.
The 35-year-old mother of Long Island, N.Y., recently posted a picture of herself on Instagram three weeks after giving birth, a small glimpse, she says, on what a realistic body post-birth can look like.
“This is probably the most intimate photo I’ve ever shared, so I had some reservations, worried about the negative comments that were sure to come,” the mom of two tells Global News. “But with a gentle push from my extremely supportive husband, I got over it and shared it, knowing that so much of the mom community on Instagram would be appreciative.”
The photo, which was posted last week, was meant to share the importance of all postpartum bodies, she says.
“I’m certainly not the first one to share anything like this, I just think messages of all types of postpartum bodies should be shared more often, so new moms aren’t always thinking that there is only one way we should be ‘bouncing back,'” she says, adding we should get rid of that phrase altogether.
The left image shows Sullivan three days before giving birth to her son Gavin (who was born in July) and the right photo is three weeks after labour.
“I’m sharing this to show moms that sometimes it doesn’t matter if you’re thin, ate right and exercised during pregnancy, sometimes your body grows in such a way that simply doesn’t allow you to ‘bounce back’ in three weeks,” she wrote on the social media site. “I feel like all I’ve been seeing is new moms sharing their amazing postpartum bods, 11 days after birth, two weeks after birth, etc… And while that’s wonderful for them, for many others, KNOW that it’s not realistic.”
A recent study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, found whether it’s pregnant women on television shows or photos of celebs post-birth, media portrayals of pregnant and postpartum women tend to be unrealistic, Science Daily reports.
“Images celebrating celebrities’ lightning-fast weight loss after giving birth — and the media’s overall focus on women’s bodies during and after pregnancy — can be detrimental to other women and their infants,” researchers noted.
Social media users react
After Sullivan posted the image, many people in the parenting community applauded her for being open.
“You are amazing and look amazing (not that it matters, as long as you’re both healthy and happy). All I see is a woman who recently gave birth, whose uterus did its job and is still working hard doing its job,” user electric_blarney wrote.
“Currently my situation! Been really hard on myself, as others have remarked my stomach didn’t bounce back right away after my first. I have decided to take my time and recover at my own pace. I applaud you immensely. Babies take nine months to grow, it’s OK to give us time to heal and bounce back,” user twintlc commented.
“My kids are 21,19 & 15, and I still have a saggy belly. I have spent years in the gym sweating my ass off trying to get my pre-baby body back. Sometimes it just doesn’t ever happen. Doesn’t matter though. My body created three humans. And they are happy and healthy and I wouldn’t change a thing,” user maebeenel wrote.
But Sullivan adds she has had some negative comments as well, which is definitely expected when you put yourself out there on social media.
“Some of the negative comments were more along the lines of, ‘gross, why would you share that, cover up and feed your baby,'” she says. “Based on the overwhelmingly positive response I’ve received, it’s clear that women needed to see a message like this.”
“This message is meant to help mothers and mothers-to-be that may just need a reminder that our main focus after birth should not automatically be how we get our bodies back to the way they were. If you don’t like the message or the photo, feel free to look away,” she continues.
How bodies change after birth
According to Parents magazine, there are several ways the body changes after giving birth. Hair loss, skin discolouration, and back pain are completely normal.
“Just after giving birth, your uterus is still hard and round (weighing about 2 1/2 pounds) and can be felt just by touching your naval. In about six weeks, it will weigh only two ounces and will no longer be felt by pressing on your abdomen,” the magazine notes.
READ MORE: 6 foods pregnant women should avoid
Sullivan says she also shared the image of herself to shed some light on diastisis recti, a condition she believes she currently has.
Also known as diastasis recti or rectus diastasis, it is the stretching of connective tissue that joins the two rectus abdominus muscles (abs) from the midline.
Experts say yoga in particular can be beneficial, however, it should be addressed through a physiotherapist or doctor first.