By Kells McPhillips
Pregnancy is one of the most significant transformations that can happen in a human life. So it’s no surprise that many of us may feel disconnected—and even alienated—from our postpartum bodies after nine months of watching ourselves change in small and large ways.
Before we dive in and talk about how to feel good in your own skin, it’s important to note that the focus of this article is slight disconnection, not disassociation. If you experienced a traumatic birth (and even if you experienced a normal birth that has left lingering trauma) that has sparked dissociative episodes, it’s critical to stop reading and contact your doctor.*
If you’re feeling ungrounded right now, know that you’re not alone. Mental health professionals say that this experience is complex but incredibly common. Below, learn about why you may feel distant from your postpartum body and how to get back in touch.
“Childbirth, while miraculous, can also be described in many other ways,” says Kara Kays, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Thriveworks. “One way the human body attempts to manage extreme emotions and body sensations is through releasing hormones.” These hormones, combined with the medicine you’ve taken at the hospital, can leave you feeling woozy and unlike yourself—and those feelings can linger, she adds.
Besides the delirium of the hospital visit and birth, an onslaught of new stimuli may also leave you feeling like your body isn’t yours. Perinatal psychotherapist Kara Cruz, LMFT, explains that caring for a newborn baby puts a lot of pressure on your nervous system. “New mothers are constantly needed for something. They’re overstimulated to the point where they’re feeling overwhelmed and tired—even after just a simple touch,” she explains. Whether that sense of overwhelm comes from frequent feedings, persistent crying, or just a lack of alone time, these feelings are normal.
While you’re experiencing this tsunami of emotions, be mindful of your thoughts and resist the urge to blame yourself for having complex emotions. You can love breastfeeding your baby and feel inundated at the very same time.
Some good news: There are plenty of small ways to touch base with your body in the spare moments between meeting the demands of being a new parent. Consider which of the following practices might support you, and try one (or a few) of them out today.
“Mindfulness can be described as being present in a moment with specific intent,” says Kays. “Mindfulness of the body would be a great starting point. Take note of how the body feels, moves, stays still, engages with your mind, and engages with others.” She explains that “being present with the body in its current state will begin to create a sense of meaningful connectedness.
Try choosing a grounding phrase that you can pull out of your pocket in difficult times. “Mantras can be beneficial to keep a certain headspace, or better yet, to help develop a wanted headspace,” says Kays. “Imagine how grateful you are to your body or how you want your body to feel.” She recommends creating a short phrase that you can repeat anytime you’re feeling disconnected, perhaps something as simple as “I am grateful to my body.”
If the idea of creating a mantra feels daunting, Kays recommends saying “thank you” to different parts of your body.
“Movement tends to be an ever-present piece of the recovery puzzle,” says Kays. “Being kind to yourself postpartum with slow movement that brings awareness to all parts of the body will help reawaken the mind/body connection.”
We understand that the idea of exercising may feel exhausting. Just know that the simplest movements, like gently stretching your neck or extending your arms up and over your head, can ground you when you’re feeling far away from yourself.
Of course, make sure to run any formal exercise regimen by your doctor first.
Kays recommends listening closely to what you’re craving right now. Do you want fresh fruits and veggies? Something more hearty? A dessert? Try to give your body the nourishment it’s asking for rather than telling yourself there’s something you “need” to eat or snacking on whatever’s around.
Writing is one of the easiest ways to plug into how you feel and what’s troubling you. “Keep track of when you feel most connected, most disconnected, most rested, and most exhausted,” says Kays. “Allow yourself to bring attention to what needs attention and what deserves attention. In order to journal, we need to bring our minds to a space of awareness. This awareness has the ability to work wonders.”
*Call the National Maternal Mental Health Hotline, 1-833-852-6262, for more information.