Are you worried about what pregnancy will do to your body? You aren’t alone. Many women find themselves concerned with the physical changes their bodies will undergo during and after pregnancy. Knowing what to expect and how to cope with the changes your body will go through can be extra helpful in preparing you for what is to come.
Our relationships with our bodies are often very complicated. Every negative thought we’ve ever had about food, weight, culture and our own identity is exacerbated by the physical changes we find ourselves undergoing. Add in the mental and emotional toll that pregnancy can take on you, and it’s no wonder it’s so simple to find yourself struggling with body positivity.
It is important to realize that body positivity in pregnancy is not about looking perfect or doing something “right.” It is about treating your body well, avoiding critical and comparative thoughts and practicing self-care. It means surrounding yourself with a strong support system and protecting yourself from other people’s critical voices or opinions. Honor your own body history and the stage of self-acceptance you have reached.
No matter where you are in your journey to a better body image, these nine tips will help you deal with whatever body image issues you may have during your pregnancy.
Remember That Weight Gain is Normal
Gaining weight in pregnancy is completely natural and necessary. After all, your body is carrying an entire human, as well as extra blood, placenta, amniotic fluid and more. Many women struggle with the idea of gaining weight, and it can be a huge struggle to overcome.
Look at weight gain as a sign of health for both you and the baby. Understand that some women will gain more or less than others, and this is normal, too. Since society often puts a lot of pressure on women to be thin and maintain an ideal body shape, weight gain goes against everything we feel is normal. But in this instance it is certainly okay to gain a healthy amount of weight.
Embrace How Your Body Changes
Weight is not the only thing that changes in pregnancy. While it’s easy to prepare for a certain amount of gain and an inevitable bump, other physical changes are harder to imagine until they happen to you. Pregnancy can impact weight distribution, such as thicker thighs, swollen feet and ankles, or bigger breasts. It can bring on a lot of self judgement, and unfortunately it can even invite unwanted comments from friends, family members and even strangers.
Instead of looking at these changes in a negative way, embrace them as a part of this exciting journey you’re on. Your entire life is going to change with the arrival of your child. Why shouldn’t your body show this? Some women will go back to their pre-baby bodies easily, and others will find the changes are more permanent. Whatever the case may be, pregnancy will always be part of your body’s history, and you should honor it.
Forget the Scale
Focusing on a number on a scale does no good to those who find it hard to deal with positive body image. There is a lot of focus given to the “right” amount of weight each woman should gain, but the truth is that each body is different, and each pregnancy is, too.
For the duration of your pregnancy, stay away from your scale at home and consider asking your doctor’s office to let you get weighed backwards so that you don’t see the number. Your OB will let you know if there is a problem, and you can relax without stressing over an arbitrary number on a scale.
Exercise to Reset Physically and Mentally
Exercise is great for the body and the mind. During pregnancy, it can be extra beneficial as it provides a much needed endorphin rush, energy boost and a more positive outlook. It can also improve post-pregnancy outcomes. Exercise helps to cut the risk of gestational diabetes and other complications, so it’s great for the health of both mom and baby.
Whether you exercised before pregnancy or not, you’ll want to check with your doctor before engaging in any workout routine. But as long as you get the okay and don’t go crazy, exercise can give you exactly what you need to feel good in your skin.
Wear Comfortable Clothing
As your body grows and changes during your pregnancy, it’s easy to outgrow your normal clothing. Even maternity wear can be troublesome if you end up growing more than you think you will. Wearing comfortable clothing is great for your mental health as you go through your pregnancy, so take the time to find things you feel good in.
Maternity clothing is often not a great investment. They can be really expensive and are only used for a short while. Instead, borrow them whenever you can. Friends and family usually have some from their own pregnancies, and second-hand shops are a treasure trove with heavily discounted prices.
If you’re not into maternity gear, invest in stretchy skirts, leggings and other clothing that can accomodate your growing belly. Large t-shirts and sweatshirts are also very forgiving. Plus, they can all be used after pregnancy, as well.
Don’t forget the often overlooked body parts. In pregnancy, your feet may swell up to the point where your shoes no longer fit. If appropriate, buy some flip flops or similar shoes that can be slipped on easily.
If you plan to nurse your baby, buy nursing bras and tank tops early on. They are very comfortable in pregnancy and can be used as long as you like afterward. Sleep bras are helpful, too.
Find Your Support System
Surrounding yourself with positive support is one of the most important things you can do when you are pregnant. Whether you have friends or family who can offer you comfort and advice, or you need more professional support in the form of a therapist or online support group, it’s important to reaffirm your committment to body positivity.
Just as important as supportive friends is the birth team you choose. This can include your OBGYN, a midwife, a doula, your partner or anyone else you choose to have with you. You will want to choose the right care team from the beginning, discussing your body history and triggers so that they are aware and can help you through any possible issues before, during and after birth.
It’s important to be able to advocate for yourself, but if you are not able to do so, having a good support team on your side can mean getting the care you need. Hopefully you have friends or family willing to take on this role and ensure you have everything you need to begin life as a new mom.
Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
Looking at celebrity pregnancies can give you a false sense of what pregnancy looks like. Models and actresses are paid millions of dollars to look good at all times, and their livelihood depends on them keeping their figures trim and keeping off any extra weight and unsightly bulges. They also have the money to hire the best nutritionists, cooks, personal trainers and even plastic surgeons to make sure their pregnancies do not get in the way of having a perfect body.
Even regular women can make you feel like you have impossible standards to live up to. There are women who have given birth to many children and are still as thin as ever while others have only one child and struggle to find their way back to the body they think they need. The truth is that genetics have a huge part to play in how your body recovers from pregnancy as well as how it reacts to pregnancy itself.
If you find yourself obsessing about certain people, whether celebrity or in your life, do what you can to ignore them. Social media can make it difficult to miss what others are putting out into the world, so it is totally okay to unfollow them if you need to. Give yourself grace and understand that you are beautiful and amazing as you are.
Practice Self Care
Physical, spiritual and emotional self-care are things we don’t do enough in this world. But they are especially important during pregnancy. It is always okay to indulge in a bit of pampering if it can help you to be your best self, and as long as you are not neglecting others in the process.
Self care is not a selfish act. Your life as a mother is going to be filled with taking care of others, so take this time to give yourself the extra attention.
Intuition plays a huge part in self care. Listen to what your body is telling you it needs. It can be as simple as feeding it the right food, using a soothing lotion or going for a walk. Sleep when you are tired and eat when you are hungry without feeling guilty about either one. Honor your feelings without worrying if they are right or wrong.
Plan for Postpartum
Childbirth and early motherhood is a time of transition fraught with turbulence. It is a life-changing experience that alters us physically and mentally. Navigating the postpartum period is often ignored by doctors and books, and new moms flounder as they try to figure it out on their own.
Explore the idea of the fourth trimester so you can understand what comes next. Your body will be different and it can be strange to see the changes without context. Stretch marks, saggy skin and even varicose veins can make you feel awkward in your own body, but these are normal parts of the postpartum period.
Remember that it took nearly 10 months for your body to grow and change. It will take time for it to go back to a new normal.
Hopefully you realize by now that these tips are all basically saying the same thing. Your body is amazing. Focus on what it is doing instead of how it looks. And if you are focused on how it looks, realize that it is beautiful no matter what. In the words of a famous singer, “Your body is a wonderland.” Treat it as such.