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Mom Talk: Saying No To “Bounce Back” Culture

Written by Steph Park

Photography by Photos by Nolan Begley

The term “bounce back” when referring to women’s bodies post-pregnancy has become more and more popular over the past few years via social media. And right alongside it, the pressure to do so. But for Toronto-based certified personal trainer Steph Park her pregnancy and the changes it brought to her body was not something she wanted to bounce back from, but rather embrace. Below, she shares her inspiring point of view. 

As a personal trainer, I knew that movement was going to be a big part of my pregnancy journey. Unfortunately, I had a convoluted perception that my years of training pre-pregnancy would have gifted me some superpower to coast through pregnancy. I fell victim to “bounce back” pressure.

No one ever tells you just how much a woman’s body changes throughout their life, especially during pregnancy and postpartum. When I became pregnant, I knew my body would change, but I wasn’t mentally prepared for how significant those changes would be and how it would affect me psychologically.

As if dealing with a changing body isn’t enough, women are faced with a multi-generational diet culture that pressures us in the same way it pressured our mothers and our grandmothers. Many mamas march to the drumbeat of “don’t let yourself go,” fearing that we will never lose the weight that was gained during pregnancy. If it isn’t what we eat, it’s the expectation that a “fit pregnancy” prepares our bodies to miraculously bounce back.

In my first trimester, I struggled physically and emotionally to hold onto the identity I’d built as a badass, high-intensity trainer and athlete. I wanted to be applauded for my fit pregnancy. I wanted to be a strong mom, burpee-ing through pregnancy so that I could pop out a healthy baby in an easy delivery. I wanted to prove that I could maintain the strength that I had pre-pregnancy. Thanks to social media, it was hard not to compare my physique and growing baby bump to other mamas who were expecting around the same time as me.

By focusing on what I thought I was at risk of losing, I neglected to look at my long-term fitness goals. I took for granted that I would keep moving and I never considered my pathway from pregnant to PR; dead tired to deadlifting. It took me nearly thirty weeks before I realized that I didn’t just need physical modifications to exercise—I needed mental ones, too.

It took soul-searching to understand my true motivation for movement, but I was able to shift my mindset, putting my changing body in a new context, one of temporary autopilot. I got comfortable with change, an uncontrollable but perfectly normal phenomenon.

That said, as normal as the pregnant body is, after nine months of feeling like you’re a passenger in your own body, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the desire for control again. Wanting to feel well rested, spontaneous, carefree, and strong is a shared and valid feeling for all women.

Unfortunately, bounce back culture deceives us into thinking that there is a linear path from prenatal bodies back to pre-pregnancy bodies, that the more you grind the more you gain.

The reality is that the more you grind, the more you stand to lose.

A small minority of women are genetically predisposed to rapidly shed the weight they gained during pregnancy and the focus on weight is completely out of proportion to its actual impact on birth. The weight we gain during pregnancy won’t dictate the type of birth or recovery we have, it’s our genes and our hormones. Some are so eager to erase all signs of pregnancy that we put ourselves through grueling workouts too early to fully reap the benefits. Athletes risk injury this way, overlooking the fact that our new body needs to relearn the fundamentals of familiar movements, with special consideration for our core and pelvic floor muscles. A slow and steady rebuild, informed by expert advice and health professionals, will set you up to regain your strength and become even stronger than you were before pregnancy.

We need to shift the dialogue for young girls and women so that they understand that body transformation throughout life is normal. The first step is using language that normalizes a woman’s changing body.

Before you tell a pregnant friend that she looks the same “just with a bump,” consider the underlying message. You look like you usually do, except for the bump. Does that mean that I need to wrestle with the bump to keep my body? It’s important for mamas to understand that much of pregnancy and postpartum is out of your control. Don’t fight the change, appreciate it. Focus your energy on what you can control (nutrition, mental wellbeing, and moving for enjoyment) and try out these changes in your vocabulary. 

  •  Take on an exercise mindset rooted in the knowledge that pregnancy is temporary, but postpartum is forever, because your body will perform at full capacity once again.
  • “Pre-hab” your body so that you can proactively prepare for a return to your favorite type of movement.
  • Forget your “old” body. Get excited for your new body, because your body has transformed and you can wear it like a badge of honor that you make strong, healthy, and vibrant.
  • You bounce back from injury, not pregnancy. “Evolve” through your pregnancy instead. Build resiliency for the future and celebrate your body for doing something miraculous.
  • Embrace “recovery.” Recovery is highly underrated because your body needs to heal. Use this time to bond with your new family and soak in your great achievement.

During pregnancy, we need to think strategically about how we practice movement for exercise and how we recover. Develop a plan with a coach or an expert so that you when you’re ready to return to physical exercise, you do it with intent, working towards a goal.

Emphasize mental and physical wellbeing that creates healthy habits for the future. Meet your body where it currently is, don’t force it when your mind is ahead of your muscles.

Today, I am prioritizing an adaptable mindset when it comes to fitness. I’m training for enjoyment and health, taking a pre-hab approach during my pregnancy and planning a rehab approach for postpartum fitness.

I won’t bounce back because I’m moving forward, with my new baby and my new body.

After giving birth to her baby boy Teddy in April, Steph has become a Certified Pregnancy and Postpartum Athleticism Coach. You can find out more about her in-person and self-guided programs at stephparkfitness.com.

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