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.
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?