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OBGYN’s viral TikTok explains why it’s scientifically impossible to ‘bounce back’ after giving birth

By Justine Lorelle LoMonaco

If you’ve had a baby, odds are you’ve encountered the pressures of bounce-back culture. Inspired by the toxic idea that women’s bodies need to “bounce back” as quickly as a rubber ball to pre-pregnancy weight and shape after giving birth, this notion has become an obsession for paparazzi-stalked celeb mothers and the rest of us alike. But besides its dehumanizing terminology, bounce-back culture comes with scads of other issues―not the least being it’s an entirely unreasonable expectation to put on women’s bodies. 

Fortunately, we’re not the only ones who think so. OB/GYN, writer, and educator Dr. Jennifer Lincoln posted a TikTok video explaining the physical ramifications of pregnancy on a woman’s uterus. In less than a minute, Dr. Lincoln shares anatomical models of a woman’s uterus pre-pregnancy (about the size of a fist) and what it looks like at delivery (closer to the size of a butternut squash). Her powerful demo underscores that expecting a fast transition back to a pre-pregnancy body is not just unrealistic―it’s downright impossible and potentially harmful. 

And it’s clear the messaging has struck a nerve: The video has already been viewed over 30 million times, with over 30,000 comments, like “The education system failed us. I SHOULD’VE BEEN LEARNING THIS” and “Me covering my mouth even though I had 2 kids 😳” 

Dr. Lincoln isn’t alone in her stance. Her message is often echoed by experts in women’s postpartum health, like Jenna Perkins, Women’s Health NP, and pelvic floor specialist. “There is no such thing as returning to the same body a person had before pregnancy and birthing,” Perkins says. “Tissues stretch, muscles change, hormones shift, and these changes can be permanent and worsen over time. The goal should not be to return to the body you once had. The goal should be to function at the highest capacity in your new body.”

Reaching that point of healthy function might also mean seeking help outside of your OB/GYN, as oftentimes, the care provided focuses on a healthy pregnancy, not life post-delivery. 

“There isn’t a big focus on postpartum wellness in healthcare in general,” says Dr. Kristina Kehoe, PT, DPT, Board Certified Women’s Health Clinical Specialist. “Our system is not set up to support extensive postpartum education since most women see their OB/GYN at four to six weeks for one follow-up, and that just isn’t enough to truly educate women on all they should expect.” Additional help with recovery can come from pelvic floor specialists, nurse practitioners specializing in women’s health, and physical therapists who will provide gentle, realistic guidance for your safest, healthiest recovery postpartum.

So what is a more realistic timeline for recovery? “Whether someone had a vaginal delivery or cesarean section, I educate patients that it takes six to 12 months to recover fully from pregnancy and childbirth,” Kehoe says.

“This doesn’t even mean that it would be realistic to expect to be at pre-pregnancy levels at that point―it just means that all tissues, muscles, etc., are healed. While there are certainly things women can do to improve recovery, there is no changing the fact that it takes months for tissues and muscles to heal and regain strength.” (One more time for the people in the back!) 👏

Sadly, ditching bounce-back culture isn’t as easy as double-tapping on social media. According to a 2019 online study by the Mental Health Foundation, 54% of the surveyed women aged 25-34 who had been pregnant felt more pessimistic about their body image after pregnancy than before they were pregnant. The study cited “commercial, social media and advertising pressures on body image” as some of the biggest culprits of adding pressure to women during an already emotionally taxing time, leading to greater dissatisfaction with their bodies.

If you’re a new mother feeling the pressure, though, there are important things to keep in mind for your healthiest―not just your quickest―recovery. Instead of prioritizing getting back into an exercise routine, most experts agree that rest should be prioritized. 

“Rest is incredibly important. By pushing too hard, too early, it’s possible to cause things like increased pain, bleeding, and fatigue,” Kehoe says. “I typically recommend that for any activity that you do early on postpartum, such as light walking, then balance that with time for rest. For example, if you walk for 10 minutes, rest for 10 minutes. The body needs that rest time for the muscles and tissues to be able to heal and regenerate.”

And above all else, try not to let societal pressure color your own expectations of your body. “A body that has given birth has undergone a major transformation―it is not the body that it was before,” Perkins says. “This does not mean that it can’t be as strong or even stronger than before, but it is essential that we acknowledge that a change has occurred. Consider this transition like that of puberty―the body has changed, but it is not broken.”

While there may be no quick bounce back from bounce-back culture, the popularity of videos like Dr. Lincoln’s make it clear that mothers today have had enough of unrealistic expectations that can sap the joy from new motherhood. As more complete reproductive education and support continues to ripple through society, we’ll hopefully see more mothers able to focus on caring for their child and themselves after pregnancy.

After all, as Dr. Lincoln says in her TikTok, you just grew a human!

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