Body image is a major concern for women, and during pregnancy this can become even more important. Some women embrace their new shape, seeing pregnancy weight gain as a physical sign of the miraculous process their body is undergoing. Others are horrified by the changes in their figure, and worry that they will never return to their original shape.
Celebrate your pregnant body. Feeling positive about yourself will be easier if you understand that this is a time to pamper your body, celebrate it, and enjoy it. Treat yourself to regular pedicures or massages. Taking up self-massage is also a good way to become familiar with your changing shape and be more accepting of it.
- If you find yourself dressing to conceal your bump even after the first trimester, it could be a sign of trying to deny your new curves. Instead, feel proud of your pregnancy (and pregnancy weight gain) and don’t be afraid to show it off. The days of women hiding themselves away when expecting are long gone; today it’s acceptable, expected even, that you will celebrate the changes you are going through as you bring new life into the world. Invest in some well-fitting maternity clothes that accentuate your bump and enhanced cleavage and wear them with confidence. You’ll feel more comfortable and more positive about your new image.
Accept the changes by understanding why they happen. As soon as an egg is fertilized and implanted in your uterus, your body starts to function differently. It develops a fetal life support system, consisting of the placenta, umbilical cord and amniotic sac. One of the most important functions of the placenta is to produce hormones that support the pregnancy and ensure the baby stays healthy, and it is these hormones which kick-start the visible changes in your body.
- One of the first changes you might notice is swollen breasts, as the hormones prepare them for lactation. Many women find they go up several bra sizes during pregnancy, an increase which is sustained after the birth if you choose to breastfeed.
- Your metabolism also increases during these first few weeks, so you may find you have an urge to eat more, or a craving for a particular kind of food. At the same time, your blood flow increases, creating the famed ‘pregnancy glow.’
- The uterus, where the fetus is slowly growing, will start to expand and the amniotic sac will fill with fluid, forming a protective cushion around the baby. Though many women will not start to ‘show’ until their second trimester – this is particularly true of those with well-defined abdominal muscles – the gradual expansion soon becomes obvious.
- You might also experience swollen hands or feet, varicose veins, stretch marks and pigmentation or acne outbreaks.
Maintain a positive attitude. There are a number of things you can do to ensure you handle your changing body image in the best possible way throughout your pregnancy.
- Start out the right way. Being positive about your body image before pregnancy usually makes it easier to cope with the physical and emotional changes that are about to take place. If you know you suffer from low self-esteem because of your appearance, you might find it even harder to accept your newly pregnant shape. Unfortunately, the fact that your body goes through such major changes in such a short space of time makes it even harder to adjust. But finding ways to come to terms with your new figure will help you enjoy your pregnancy much more overall.
- Focus on the purpose of the changes. Rather than worry about the fact that you’re losing your figure, think instead about the miracle of life that is taking place inside you. Remind yourself that your body is changing to help your baby grow and develop. It’s a natural process, and one that you are lucky enough to experience.
- Read as much as you can. Educating yourself about the minute processes of pregnancy will help you understand and appreciate the wonder of new life. Consider investing in a book that tracks the development of the fetus inside you, or a calendar that details each new stage through the forty weeks of pregnancy. Educating yourself about your experiences will help you embrace them in a positive light.
- Stay active. Most doctors recommend some form of light exercise during healthy, uncomplicated pregnancies, like going for regular walks. Swimming is also good exercise, and is often preferred by women in advanced stages of pregnancy because of the feeling of weightlessness produced by the water. Yoga is another popular option, for its low-intensity benefits.
- Learn to be flexible. Women sometimes feel scared by the lack of control inherent in pregnancy. Sometimes this signifies ‘letting go’ after a lifetime of controlling your diet and weighing or measuring yourself. Exercising regularly can help to alleviate those feelings of helplessness, and allow you to still feel healthy and fit even while your baby grows.
Appreciate the importance of developing a positive body image. Those with a negative attitude towards their body image are usually more prone to eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. Long-term sufferers may find that they have problems conceiving, but even if they do, an eating disorder can affect the entire reproductive process and the health of the baby. According to womenshealth.gov, the following complications are associated with eating disorders during pregnancy:
- Premature labor
- Low birth weight
- Stillbirth or fetal death
- Intrauterine growth retardation
- Likelihood of cesarean delivery
- Delayed fetal growth
- Respiratory problems
- Gestational diabetes
- Low amniotic fluid
It is important to ensure that any body image issues are dealt with before or during the early stages of pregnancy.
Ask for support. Having a good support network around you is essential during this time and immediately after the birth. Draw on your partner, family members and close friends, and be open about how you feel. Bottling up your fears or negative feelings will only make you feel worse. You might find that the encouragement and reassurance you receive from those around you is enough to make you feel better about the changes you are going through.
- If you find that you are still feeling low and depressed after sharing your concerns with friends or family, it’s advisable to seek mental health counseling. Depression in pregnancy is not as common as post-partum depression, but does still occur in many women as a result of hormonal fluctuations. Getting professional help can make the difference between a very negative pregnancy experience and a much more balanced, positive one.
- Doctors agree that if a particular form of exercise is part of your regular routine, it should be safe to continue in your pregnancy. However, always remember that your primary healthcare provider should be consulted before you take up any kind of exercise or strenuous activity.