by Melissa Hartwig Urban, who knows of what she writes.
Going into my pregnancy, I had some, shall we say, misconceptions. (My friends call it “mythical thinking” on a good day, “damned delusional” on others.) I thought I’d gain maybe 15 pounds total, because I’m super fit and healthy and the baby will only weigh like 8 pounds, right? All that weight would show up only in my cute little basketball belly, and nowhere else. I thought I’d wear my same pre-pregnancy skinny jeans all the way through (maybe just unbuttoned, of course).
None of those things happened. Duh.
Myths, lies and misconceptions
Many women—most, I’d dare say—struggle with body image. In an effort to manage or contain these feelings, they over-exercise, under-eat, and strive for a level of skinny that is not only unhealthy, but is kind of unattractive. Even if they come out of this dark place and make peace with their bodies, the idea of getting pregnant may still worry them. Losing control of your body (not to mention all those horrible “symptoms” babycenter.com kindly “prepares” you for) is, in fact, a scary proposition for many women.
The day I got pregnant, I immediately lost 86.3% of my fear to the joy of growing a tiny human. I embraced the changes happening in my body. Most days, at least.
Not the day I had to try on bathing suits for a Thanksgiving trip to Florida. Not the day I realized I could neither button nor zip my Gap skinny jeans. And certainly not the day I saw Marisa Miller come through my Twitter feed.
So today, we’re going to talk about pregnancy and body image, and what you can do to embrace your new curves, and put to sleep the body-image demons lurking in the background of your brain. Pregnant mamas, I hope it helps you to know you are not alone, and to have some coping strategies. Future pregnant ladies, read this, prepare, and go into this time of joy with a positive, healthy attitude.
And partners… study, learn, and above all, be supportive of your future baby mama.
If your body image issues are distracting you from the joy of what’s to come…
Here are some things to help you maintain perspective, and get back to feeling healthy and confident during your pregnancy.
Eat good food
We all know the sugar-shame-spiral. We feel bad about ourselves, so we say, “Screw it, I might as well comfort myself.” And we fall face-first into a box of jelly donuts. We hate ourselves even more. You know how you can look in the mirror and feel really good about yourself, then eat a candy bar and all of a sudden, you’re a big fat pig?
Don’t do that while you’re pregnant.
First, falling into unhealthy food habits is not healthy for you or the baby. Second, it’s not going to help you feel better about yourself. I’m not recommending that you Whole30 for nine months straight, but eating a whole-foods based diet will keep your energy levels consistent and high, help you can achieve a positive mental attitude, and just generally make you feel like a better person.
Move your body
The same mirror scenario from above can apply before and after an exercise or movement session, too. Feeling bad about your body? Go for a walk, preferably outside—even better if you bring a friend. Take a prenatal yoga class. Work on your shoulder flexibility, posture, and thoracic mobility (because you’ll need it as your body continues to change). Do some fun (and safe) exercise movements in the gym.
You don’t have to kick your own butt to kingdom come—in fact, I highly discourage that kind of type-A “I’m going to be the best exerciser at all costs” attitude while pregnant. Simply moving your body is enough to give you that feel-good attitude, and tell your brain to shut up about your weight gain, already—you are, in fact, still making an effort to stay fit and active.
Get clothes that fit
You may hate the idea of buying maternity clothes, spending money on things you’ll only be wearing for a few months. And you can probably keep wearing all your old clothes for a while… until the day you realize you perpetually feel like a stuffed sausage. (Even if your jeans still fit everywhere but the waist, walking around with your pants unbuttoned will invariably make you feel like Al Bundy.)
Bite the bullet and buy some clothes that actually fit you. The Gap, Target, and Old Navy have affordable maternity lines. (So does H&M, but unless you’re 22 years old and started off as a size 0, don’t bother.) Borrow some clothes from a recently pregnant friend. Shop the resale stores. Either way, get yourself in some clothes that feel comfortable and make you feel good about yourself.
And don’t try to “hold out” to shop for new clothes because you’re still in your first trimester. We all develop at different times, so you may need new clothes pretty early on….and that’s okay.
Avoid fashion magazines
And entertainment gossip magazines. And maybe even pregnancy fitness magazines, too. Anything that only serves to make you feel even worse about yourself than you already do.
It’s not the media’s fault—they just give us what we want: perfection, idealism, the promise of love and adoration if only we looked a certain way. But that’s not what you need right now—and those super-stick thin models (yes, even the pregnant ones) may lead you down a truly unhealthy “I’m not good enough/thin enough/glowing enough” path.
Just avoid—trust me, you’re not missing anything.
Go ahead and vent
It’s okay to feel selfish during pregnancy. Yeah, I know, it’s the miracle of life, and you’re supposed to be selflessly devoted the tiny creature growing inside you. But you’re still a woman, and you still want to feel attractive, and it’s okay to feel frustrated or upset about the changes your body is going through.
Find someone who will listen and respond in the way you need them to. For me, I don’t need people to pander to me and say, “Oh, but Melissa, you look amazing! You can barely tell you’re pregnant!” I need my sister, who takes stealth pictures of me from behind and says, “This is what you actually look like. Also, as far as I can remember, you’re STILL PREGNANT, so stop it with the ‘I’m getting fat’ thing.”
You may just need someone to listen, or someone to help you with your diet and exercise program, or you may need some tough love to snap you out of your self-indulgent whining. Regardless, it’s okay to vent, as long as you get it out and then move the heck on with growing your tiny human.
Keep things in perspective
This is a healthy dose of tough-love too, but honestly, at some point, you may really need this. Yes, your butt is bigger. Yes, your skin may be breaking out. Yes, you may have swollen feet and limp hair and heartburn and you can’t even eat sushi.
But let’s keep this in perspective. You are growing a tiny human. It’s, like, nine months out of your whole life. There are women all over the world who grieve every single day for the lack of experiencing what you are experiencing.
Get over yourself.
The changes in your body are a normal part of baby-growing. They’re not all fun, and they’re not all desirable, but your body is performing a miracle right now. Literally, you are a miracle. So vent if you must, but always, always return to the fact that you are grateful beyond measure to be giving life to this precious child.
If your body image issues are putting the health of your baby in danger…
Get help immediately. Deliberate caloric restriction, purging, or over-exercising to avoid weight gain are all behaviors that have no place in a healthy pregnancy.
Your first step is tell someone who will support you (like a family member, close friend, or, ideally, your baby’s father) what you are feeling. Use this script: “I’m having a really hard time with the changes my body is going through with this pregnancy. I need to talk to someone about this, because I’m worried these thoughts will keep me from doing what’s right for the baby.”
Then get professional help—a counselor, psychologist, or specialist in women’s issues. Do this now, and understand that you are not a bad person for feeling like this. Your brain isn’t balanced right now, and you need to aggressively work through it before your actions have permanent consequences.
Love the skin you’re in
Our hope is that by addressing your concerns head-on and implementing these tips above, you’ll be in a much happier, healthier pregnant place—and better able to enjoy the beauty of the coming months.
Do you need more credible, actionable advice on how to nourish and take care of yourself during pregnancy? Join our Whole Mamas community! No judgment, no fear-mongering, just the facts for you and your baby.