Parents

Olympic hopeful Stephanie Bruce inspires with 'real' post-pregnancy belly pics

A professional runner who took a break from her career to have children is fighting to get back in shape, and now she's got a lot of moms rooting for her.

Stephanie Rothstein Bruce, 32, wasn't trying to inspire anyone when she started posting Instagram photos and blog posts about her post-pregnancy body struggles, but that's exactly what happened.

"I was just being real and sharing the truth," Bruce, who lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, with her husband, also a runner, told TODAY.

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But her posts about the not-so-pretty side of being a new mom — from incontinence to abdominal separation — resonated with many women, who praised Bruce's refreshing honesty.

Bruce explained that it can be particularly hard for women who are professional athletes to start a family.

"As a professional runner, not a lot of women take time off in their careers to have a baby, because there's a lot of fear about getting back to your pre-baby self," she said. "A lot of us have sponsors. We don't have maternity leave. We won't necessarily be getting paid while we're pregnant."

RELATED: No Photoshop: New moms 'take back postpartum' with honest photos

Bruce herself is struggling to get back to her pre-baby speeds, as she trains for this summer's Olympic trials, where she hopes to qualify to compete in the 2016 games. She took a break from competing in 2014, when she had her first baby, a son. She had a second son last year. While she and her husband knew they wanted to have kids, getting back to work while also juggling a family hasn't been easy.

"They just did a number on my body," Bruce said. "As someone who runs for a living, not a lot of women like me had shared this stuff. I got back to training and still had a lot of incontinence and problems, and I was like, does this happen to other women? So I just put it out there — and it does!"

She added, "People always joke that elite runners are superhuman, but I still pee my pants once a month!"

Bruce also has diastasis recti, a separation of the abdominal muscles during pregnancy, which she wrote about in detail in a blog post titled, "My abs are separated, contemplating divorce."

Her fans — Bruce has more than 23,000 followers on Instagram — love her candor.

"Totally fell in love with you," one woman wrote. "You are an inspiration to all of us mommies with 'broken bellies.'"

Bruce wants women to be more open about their bodies after having kids, and hopes that breeds more confidence among women — athletes or not.

RELATED: Mom of 9-week-old decides to embrace her post-baby bump: 'This body isn't shameful'

"Whether you're 105 pounds or 200 pounds, I encourage women to not be afraid of flaunting whatever body you have," she said.

"I don't think I'm this super inspirational person," she added. "I just keep it real and I want to share with women that they're not alone."

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