Although I won’t be doing regular pregnancy updates I did get loads and loads of requests for a post on pregnancy + body image and pregnancy + intuitive eating. I didn’t write about these topics much before (Cody actually wrote on these after having a baby) because I felt like I couldn’t write to the depth I wanted to without experiencing these things for myself. My hope is that these posts help you with body image and nourishing your body while pregnant. And no matter what life season you’re in, I hope these posts help you through body transitions and nourishing your body when body signals are confusing. I want to be as sensitive as possible around pregnancy posts and write more from an educational and helpful place for women. If reading about pregnancy in any form is hard for you, my hope is that you’ll skip over these occassional posts if you need to, be kind and compassionate with yourself and know that I’m thinking of you <3
While I still have a lot to learn and will always want to be improving my counseling skills, I’ve had a good bit of training on how to help women develop healthy body image. As I was thinking about writing this post, I realized there hasn’t been much (if any) talk around what body image work looks like for a pregnant or postpartum woman when I have learned how to help women with body image. What I’m sharing in this post is a combination of my body image training, my nursing/dietetics education on the body’s physiology, and what I’m learning as I walk through this season myself.
Bodies are suppose to change. Healthy body image and micromanaging your body size are mutually exclusive. They cannot co-exist. Our bodies are meant to change throughout our lives. Our teenage body will look different than our 20 something body which will change as we move into our 30s and 40s and then into menopause and beyond. Our fat storage shifts, our bodies age and they experience wear and tear – that is the reality of life. Bodies change. And they are suppose to change. For women who carry babies, pregnancy and postpartum is another season of life where body changes occur. Since I’m 29, I obviously haven’t lived all these live stages – but I’m expecting pregnancy and postpartum to be the seasons of life where I experience some of my most drastic body changes.
I’ve spent the past five years recovering from 10 years of hypothalamic amenorrhea and with that, healing my relationship with food and my body. The first two of the past six years of this blog are archived because how I view food, exercise, the body and overall health is quite different than it was in 2012. I feel really grateful to have done a lot of this work before getting pregnant. If I had not, I expect that I would be in a totally different place with my body right now. For someone that is struggling with unhealthy thoughts and behaviors around food and their body before getting pregnant, I can imagine that the body changes that come with pregnancy would be really, really hard. In full transparency, other than initially being briefly self conscious that I was “showing too soon” (whatever that even means..) I haven’t found body image to be much of an issue throughout these first 21 weeks. That might change and it could become more challenging so I want to be prepared for that.
I think there are several things that have been really helpful for me in accepting my body as it continually changes.
- From the beginning of this pregnancy, accepting that body changes were going to occur and seeing them in a positive way. I’m growing a human – that’s awesome and wonderful and such a gift!
- Buying maternity bottoms early (or what felt like early). My pants were uncomfortable around 9-10 weeks and I dealt with it because I thought it was “too early” to buy anything. But then around 11-12 weeks I realized I was uncomfortable in my body and pants that felt good on my body were well worth it to me to spend $$ on. I realize that having the financial means to purchase new clothes is a privilege and I’m thankful for that. Second hand stores and hand me downs from friends are also great ideas to save $$. Once I had a great fitting pair of maternity jeans I felt so. much. better. So then I bought a pair of maternity shorts. By week 15-16 my workout leggings felt too small and were digging into my sides so I used a gift card to buy a pair of align leggings from Lululemon and then bought two pairs of workout leggings from Gap (stuff is always on sale there, highly recommend). I live in all of these bottoms in addition to comfy dresses.
- Associating my changing body with a healthy, growing baby. When my belly grew out, I thought “baby must be growing, my body is making an entirely new organ (hi, placenta) and my uterus/pelvis/hips are expanding to grow baby.”
- Spending my time and energy on things that matter and enrich my life. This has been key for me throughout my body image journey. The more time and energy I spend on pursuing my career in eating disorders and women’s health, engaging in meaningful relationships, hobbies like traveling, being outside, volunteering, and reading – and investing in my faith and community…the less time I have to think about my body. When I’m busy doing these things, I don’t have time to think about my body. Will I have moments of negative body image thoughts? Of course, because I’m human. But those thoughts are short lived, my knee jerk reaction now is a positive affirmation or healthy reframed thought, and then I move on with my life.
- Remembering that pregnancy is a miracle I have been gifted with and there are women with hearts aching to experience this. In the first trimester, when fear about miscarriage would overtake me, I would thank God that I got to see two pink lines. Some women will never get to experience a positive pregnancy test. And in the following weeks and days I would thank God that I got to experience ___ more days or weeks of pregnancy. Some women will never get to, and I may not get to experience this many days/weeks again. As the second trimester came and I was experiencing more and more body changes, practicing gratitude not only helped ease my anxieties around something going wrong, but allowed me to invite in body changes. I don’t want to minimize any woman’s struggle with body changes in pregnancy because we are all human and our feelings are valid. But for me, thinking about those friends, family and clients waiting to experience a pregnancy was really powerful in accepting and appreciating my body changing. I think (and hope) it will continue to be powerful as I experience postpartum.
Something that was really helpful for me when I began my body image work years ago, was choosing to do the work (because it’s hard and long and tiring) and let go of my thinner body. I remember just feeling so sick and tired of thinking about my body that there was no other option. If you’re someone who has hasn’t done a lot of (or any) body image work before getting pregnant, that’s okay. You can start now or when it feels right for you. We are all living in diet culture so it makes sense that tolerating and accepting your changing body in pregnancy would be hard.
I haven’t read much of any pregnancy books up until this point. The pregnancy and obstetrics world can be pretty engrained in diet culture, which sucks, but it’s reality. I did read bits and pieces of Expecting Better which I found really empowering as I navigated caffeine, foods I actually needed to avoid, the ins and outs of genetic testing and other stuff. The author digs into a bunch of science which I enjoyed. A book that I’ve heard often recommended for helping with body image in pregnancy is Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat? so I’m sure that would be a good read that I would recommend and I know Kylie has recommended.
Accepting that my body was going to change unless I spent my life obsessed with food and my body was helpful for me in the beginning of my body image journey. My body will never be the same as it was in my teen years. And my body will never be the same again after being pregnant. Accepting that reality was, and is, really freeing. Did I want to spend my days (or insert pregnancy) thinking about food and my body or did I want to enjoy and embrace my life (or insert pregnancy)? Life truly is short and nothing is guaranteed. When you look back in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 10 years do you want to remember how many calories you ate or how fixated you were with getting a workout in or do you want to remember the people you were with, conversations you had, and laughs that take your breath away? Caring for your health and body is a good thing. Obsession over health and your body is not. We hope to have more babies, but I am not guaranteed another pregnancy. I don’t want to miss out on experiencing my body grow and birth new life because I was preoccupied micromanaging the fat on my hips.
What I’ve learned so far, is that pregnancy is a rollercoaster of emotions and transitions. I don’t exercise in the same way as I use to, I don’t have the same capacity to work long hours like I use to, my appetite feels wonky more often than not and there are many other things that are different. These are reminders to me that life will never be the same. It makes sense that when life feels out of control, we cling to what we think we can control to make us feel like things are okay – food and exercise and our bodies being some of the first things. It’s a way to cope with the situation. But what that also does is numb us out to life. We all have coping mechanisms. We need coping mechanisms. But body image struggles aren’t actually about our bodies. You and me, we can feel hard things. We can sit in discomfort. And we can choose to develop more helpful and appropriate coping mechanisms. It’s a lot of hard work, but I’ve never felt more certain that it is absolutely worth it.
Oh my goodness I needed to read this post so much. I’m entering my 35 week of pregnancy and body image hasn’t been the toughest thing I’ve had to work on. This is my second pregnancy and I’m truly trying to embrace the changes and enjoy my pregnancy this go around. Thank you so much!
Thank you so much for this post. I am 28 weeks pregnant and I’ve so far felt good in my changing body, mostly due to the fact that it took us a long time to conceive and for a while I would have given anything to be pregnant. It is also helpful to have a husband who continuously tells me I look great and who cheers every time I come home from the doctor with a weight a few lbs heavier 🙂 I have also enjoyed reading daily/weekly updates of what is happening with the baby and my body on various pregnancy apps (Ovia, What to Expect) because it serves as a great reminder of all of the miraculous changes that are happening and why your boy needs to adapt in the way it does! Wishing you a happy, healthy pregnancy!!
THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOUFOR THIS POST. I am currently 20 weeks pregnant with my first child. I t, too, have struggled with body image and micromanaging my weight for the last ten years or so. Yesterday I had a hard day b/c I realized I had gained 5lbs in 1 week- which I viewed as wrong or unhealthy. I spent the rest of the day worrying about what if I keep gaining so rapidly? How can I get it back on track? What could I have done differently last week? I ate too much sugar, I didn’t work out enough, etc… This post was just what I needed right now.
Sarah @ Bucket List Tummy says
Beautifully said, Robyn. I gained weight pretty quickly and had an extreme appetite during pregnancy! I found that it was important not to compare myself with others (and try not to let certain comments from others get to me), and like you said, focus on other enriching things/people and what the body is capable of. I wrote about it too, if it may help anyone (https://bucketlisttummy.com/weight-gain-body-image-and-pregnancy-a-dietitians-take/) but feel free to delete if inappropriate.
Beautiful post! <3 As a mom of two I think that buying maternity clothes is key to feeling comfortable! I "popped" very early on with my second and sizing up in clothes was so helpful for my mindset!
I have a 10 month old and my biggest piece of advice related to this is to also be conscious of ALL the ways your body may be different postpartum (not just appearance). I really wish someone had talked more wth me about how the healing process would be and how sex might be different (and that it might still be different for a long time, or maybe forever) after a vaginal delivery. . It’s something I encourage pregnant friends to start thinking about and working through because having unrealistic expectations about “bouncing back” (not in appearance but in all the other ways the body has changed) can really make it a lot harder to accept when you are months or years postpartum!
Very well said 🙂 I struggled with hypothalamic amenorrhea and infertility after battling anorexia for most of my life. After three years of trying to get pregnant, my husband and I tried ivf and were so fortunate to get pregnant after the first round. But, I had a truly craptastic pregnancy riddled with complications that resulted in my son being born at 24 weeks and spendings 4 months in the NICU. Thankfully he survived and is now a happy, energetic 2.5 year old. Truly the ONLY thing that matters during pregnancy is a healthy mama and baby. I wish you a healthy and happy pregnancy 🙂
Katie G. says
Robyn this post is SO helpful! Thank you for personally sharing your experience and what is helpful!
This is great, thank you! I’m 7 weeks pregnant with our second, and I’m showing SO much sooner this time around, so I’ve had some moments of body criticism because it’s hard not to compare to how I looked at this stage with my first. On that note, with my first I was nauseous here and there and was able to keep moving my body normally without modifications. But this time my morning sickness has turned into all-day sickness and it’s been debilitating at times. I’d love a post about intuitive movement during pregnancy! Thank you 😊
Thank you thank you. Had my sweet little girl 2 days ago and reading this from my hospital bed. Near the end of my pregnancy I really regretted how much time/ energy I wasted throughout pregnancy worrying about my appearance. Now, I so badly want to focus on being my healthiest self for my little one, and not obsess about my changing body. So thank you! Perfect timing, and I imagine I’ll come back and read it periodically.
Thank you for this post, Robyn! Even though I’m not pregnant (and have never been) this gives me so many helpful thoughts to prepare my mindset for when (if) I ever am.
So not related to the post (although I thought it was great and I’m not pregnant!) how do you like your align leggings? I had thought of getting some but all the recent reviews say they start pilling after a couple of months! So now I’m torn on spending the money.
Love this! Just curious, personally and as a practitioner how do you feel about clients seeing their weight at the doctors office? I have heard two arguments for this. 1) The numbers mean nothing if you are nourishing your body and eating and moving intuitively, the numbers could only trigger you or 2) Avoiding the scale gives it power and by seeing the numbers you are taking back that power.
I think obviously it depends on where the client is in their journey, but I just wanted to hear your thoughts, especially when it comes to pregnancy.
I too had the same struggle briefly with feeling like I was “showing too early” (due in December as well!). I personally was excited to see physical change that reminded me that I had a baby growing inside of me, but people’s weird reactions to the fact that I was “showing early for it being my first pregnancy” made me feel like I couldn’t be excited and show it off. Definitely had to fight off diet culture in a way I hadn’t before. Diet culture is sooooo wrapped up in pregnancy/postpartum and I think it’s a load of crap. Thank you for this post!
emily vardy says
It makes me so hopeful when I see people with disordered eating in their past become healthy and eventually pregnant! My biggest fear is that my years of sickness will leave me infertile, but there’s still hope! I’m looking forward to reading along as you go through this huge life change. So happy for you, and I wish you all the best. <3
Grammar Nerd says
I think this may help you https://www.grammarly.com/blog/supposed-to/