Why Moms in Laos Don’t Join the Gym Right After Childbirth


I once read a story about postpartum differences in cultures. If I remember correctly, there was a Western doctor who witnessed an African mother giving birth into a sand ditch, strapped the newborn to her back, and went into the field and worked. You’d think, “Holy shit! She’s CRAZY. Why is she doing that so soon? She needs to slow her roll!” Mothers and birth professionals know postpartum care includes healing, bonding, and recovery from labor. Labor is called, well, labor for good reason.

Is the story about the African mother any different than a mother in the U.S. fretting over her baby weight a few months into her postpartum period? The difference here is merely a shift of priorities between the two mothers but also a difference in motherhood culture.

So, when I read the quote provided by a tweet by Healthy Baby Network, I immediately reminisced about my postpartum experience in a society fixated on losing baby weight. Whereas in my family’s homeland, the term “baby weight” is unheard of. Mothers in Laos have far bigger things to worry about and I’m sure an extra womb stretching is the farthest thing from their daily mind. Their daily exercise is necessary for feeding their family and keep the immediate, local economy thriving. With this priority shift, America exists with this ‘baby weight’ phenomenon from before conception, throughout gestation, and well after birth. It looms over every aspect of motherhood dialogue as if it is attached to it like breastfeeding, naps, and first words. I believe it’s just another mainstream idea formed against our biological norm within society just like cribs, bottles, and strollers.

Hubba-hubba, what a woman!

Photo credit: Jim Harris from Project Sekong 2012

I was a first-time mother immersed in this competing dual culture of a mother’s body image. It’s no secret that a woman’s body is regulated by politics and marketing. Third world or not, our body is doing amazing things from healing from birth and feeding a human being. Your sweet new baby does not mind if you’ve lost or gained a pound. As long as your arms are strong for carrying, your body hydrated to breastfeed, and your sleep is plenty, should anything else matter?

How have you dealt with your weight before, during, and after pregnancy and childbirth? Was it a big deal to you? How does your culture regard weight and motherhood?

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15 thoughts on “Why Moms in Laos Don’t Join the Gym Right After Childbirth

  1. I haven’t done much to manage my weight since having my daughter in April 2010 that was different from my life prior. I didn’t “abuse” my pregnancy and eat crazy, but I haven’t exercised after (unless you count chasing a toddler around all day).

    I had a touch of a tummy before I had her and is still there now, just a little looser from stretching with her growth :-/. Lol. War wound. I’m not super concerned about it, though. I was lucky enough to be able to wear my same clothes after having her. As long as my weight isn’t costin money (buying more clothes), I’m fine. The hubz is fine. Mayah’s fine. Everyone is happy.

    Perhaps because my family is African-American and southern, there isn’t as much pressure to be a certain size? My only responsibility was to take care of Mayah. The only flack I got was that my butt was smaller lol. My mom actually thought (and was right) that I was neglecting myself because I was smaller after I had her. Not eating good and nursing took a toll on a body.

    There’s so much pressure to be a certain size, when it should be on the health of the mother. More often than not, skinny moms should be worried about instead of those that carry around extra pounds because their priorities have shifted. Great article! Glad to have found you through your sidecar tutorial yesterday :). It worked like a charm too. My daughter slept in her crib for the first time! Just as long as she felt me close by :).

  2. I didn’t really have to deal with the pressure because I had per-natal diabetes which prevented me from gaining too much during the pregnancy, but I’ve seen how my friends are dealing with the stress of meeting societal expectation about post-baby weight. Once response that makes me cringe is a pregnant friend who said she wants to breastfeed, not for the amazing health benefits for her baby, but because it would help her lose weight faster. I’m hoping once she experiences the act of breastfeeding, that she will stick with it even after the baby weight is gone and for a less superficial reason.

  3. While I have only had a few sporadic body image issues in my life, what I appreciate is that body feels puposeful now that I have carried and given birth to my child. I have begun to be more mindful of what I put in my mouth (Potamus is definitely watching me eat that cupcake when I hand him a banana) and getting out for activity because it makes me feel good, and am trying to not listen to the culture that is so focused on thinness. I do get annoyed when people say, ‘I heard you were supposed to lose a lot of weight breastfeeding,” thinking “gee, thanks, you calling me fat?”

    I like your point about mothers in other countries simply getting exercise/activity because it is part of life, of surviving. While I’m not running to be the first in line to give up some privileges of being here in America, I do think we would benefit from getting exercise because we needed to walk to work or to the store. That it would become more natural than just trying to carve out 2 hours a day for pilates/treadmilling.

    • Agreed! Not to say that exercise isn’t important but I think making it a part of life rather than a chore. It breaks my heart when moms beat themselves up for not losing it ‘fast enough’ or not back to fighting weight! That body housed a happy and healthy baby, it’s supposed to be praised, not judged!

  4. While I was preggo I was worried about how I would look afterwards… I rubbed lotion all over my tummy every single day to avoid stretch marks. I was also determined to be strong and healthy during it all, I took prenatal water aerobics and I actually went on walks with my boyfriend all the time… I still got stretch marks…. And I broke 200lbs before the end.. I lied to everyone who dared to ask but its true 😦

    I can honestly saaay I look AWESOME now! No gym membership. Exercise includes chasing Emery, going on walks to the park, and BREASTFEEDING! I eat differently bc I’m incredibly poor so homemade meals are where its at, plus I am concious of what I’m feeding my Emery now too…but seriously its allll bc of the breastfeeding!

    • I dont do it for the dieting reasons, im growing a genuis here… But its a great response to the comments I get about how skinny I have gotten. I enjoy shocking people who somehow find it strange to be breastfeeding a 15m old

      • When did breastfeeding past infancy become so strange, I wonder. I can’t imagine looking at 15-month-olds and think, “Not a baby.” In Laos, it’s normal to nurse till 5-6 which directly coincides with the world’s average age for weaning. πŸ˜€

  5. Pingback: What Four Years Did To My Body | The Laotian Commotion

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