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Pillowy bellies and engorged breasts: Mothercare’s ad and the pleasure of post-birth bodies

Coming in at No 6 on the list of “Shocking things about having a baby that no *$&*%er ever told you beforehand” (after “You will bleed for up to six weeks”, but before “You will become public property”) is: “Having a baby will fundamentally change your body.” So praise where it’s due to the team behind a new Mothercare advertising campaign, Body Proud Mums, which has created 10 images of beautiful, diverse, joyful and – yes – real women with their babies, without getting all Dove about it.

Flaunting – to use the correct tabloidese – pillowy bellies, engorged breasts, scars, stretch marks, fading linea nigras and triumphant smiles, the people in the campaign represent a salve against all the casual body shaming about “snapping back”. There is no airbrushing, just some bodies (in – don’t flip out – leggings and bras) that have given birth.

We need them. I dare you to look at these photos and not smile. Mothercare’s research reveals that more than half of new mothers report feeling unable to be proud after giving birth. And if you can’t feel proud of making, sustaining and expelling a new person from your body, how can you love it at any other time? Also, 80% of mothers in the UK said they had compared their post-birth bodies with unrealistic images. Which is unsurprising, considering unrealistic images are the norm. Except they aren’t.

My body is two babies in – or is that out? – and that there is evidence of what it has done seems inevitable and right. My tummy is soft and pouchy; the perfect resting place for a toddler’s head. My breasts have completed a four-year breastfeeding marathon and are a tad lopsided. I have a C-section scar. My belly button is more like a buttonhole. All of this I see daily but, unless campaigns such as this dare to tell the humdrum truth, I rarely see it beyond the boundaries of my own body. Next step? Maybe we can move on from branding it “honest”, and just call it what it is. Bodies, post-birth.

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