According to registered nurse and lactation consultant Elizabeth LaFleur, breastfeeding can burn around 300 to 500 calories a day – this is because the body uses fat cells stored during pregnancy, along with the calories in your diet, to fuel milk production. But despite many guidelines for new mums suggest eating additional calories in order to keep up energy levels and milk production, countless celebrities have promoted the opposite – crediting breastfeeding on a strict diet as the secret behind their rapid post-baby weight loss.
The thing is, not every breastfeeding woman is trying to lose weight. In an impassioned blog post, mother-of-two Teagan Gambin-Johnson revealed just how hurtful being ‘skinny-shamed’ can be: "’You don't even look like you've had a baby’ is one of the most stupid, backhanded ‘compliments’ I've heard,” she said, explaining how it belittled all the pain and struggles she suffered during pregnancy. “Being skinny does not make me any less of a mother.”
While Gambin-Johnson acknowledges some comments are well-meaning, she says it’s still draining dealing with constant observations and questions: “There’s only so many times that a joking ‘Do you eat?’ can be laughed off.” And as other new mothers have found, these statements don’t always come from a good place.
“People always comment on my 'thin figure' followed by things like, 'Oh my god, get him off your boob already he’s eating you alive' or 'You’re getting way too skinny', and the tone isn’t always very uplifting,” Reny Andrade, who has an 11-month-old son, told Refinery29. Jessica Lane, who breastfed for nine months, had a similar experience: “At first I mistook it for a compliment, people were saying I’d lost lots of weight,” she told the publication. “But then it became a criticism.”
Andrade said the negative comments even deterred her from continuing to breastfeed: “I wanted to carry on feeding my child but I felt like people were implying I was dieting and not taking care of myself."
Making assumptions about women’s parenting skills based on their looks is a damaging, but common, concept – those who don’t lose their baby weight fast enough are branded ‘lazy’, those who lose it too quickly, like Andrade, deemed self-absorbed and uninterested in motherhood. And it all ties in to the way society objectifies and sexualises women’s bodies in general – something public health experts blame for Britain’s shockingly low nursing rates; one of the lowest in the world.
As Channel Mum Founder Siobhan Freegard puts it, women’s bodies are not public property and we need to stop treating them that way – especially when it comes to new mothers. “Most of us would never dream of commenting on a stranger’s body – so why do it when a woman has just given birth and is at her most vulnerable?,” she says.
“Body-shaming in all forms is wrong, but criticising a woman for looking a little different when she’s grown a whole new human is ridiculous.”
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