10 Ways to Improve Body Image During Pregnancy

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As I’ve navigated pregnancy, I’ve been hyper aware of the pressure that is put on pregnant people to “watch their weight gain,” avoid getting stretch marks and put plans in place to “get their body back” and the impact this has on body image.

Diet culture is alive and well in the pregnancy world! 

All of this pressure stems from the same fatphobic, racist, sexist system that creates our initial feelings of body insecurity at a young age. That is to say, if you are feeling or fearing these things, it is not your fault.

The body goes through rapid changes, both externally (hello expanding body) and internally (hello intensified emotions) during pregnancy and this can exasperate and intensify existing feelings of body shame.

For those in marginalized bodies, stress may be further exasperated when discrimination is experienced via their care providers. WOC die during pregnancy and childbirth at 3x the rate of white women. I’ve heard many stories from individuals in fat bodies who were treated poorly due to weight discrimination from their doctors. No one should have to be afraid for their well-being and safety during pregnancy. 

I’m so grateful to have healed my body image prior to becoming pregnant and my eyes have been open through this entire process to the pressure put on people to “watch their weight” during a time when the focus should be on surrendering and honoring your body’s needs.

I wanted to put together a list of things you can do to improve your body image during pregnancy and some further resources from other anti-diet and body positive experts. Dig in…

10 Ways To Improve Body Image During Pregnancy

#1. Get rid of the scale.

We want to do everything we can to take the focus away from the number and simply be “in our bodies.” Meaning, to be able to tune into what our body needs – whether it be rest or movement or ALL THE ICE CREAM.

The scale does nothing but put pressure on us to monitor our weight gain, which varies widely between individuals…. because body diversity is real and we are not golden retrievers!

Tracking your weight can trigger disordered thoughts about food and dieting, which is the LAST thing you want to be doing while preggo.

Always consult your care provider about this, but you can choose to not be weighed during your visits or you can request a blind weigh-in (meaning, they track the number and you don’t see it).

Trust me, the LEAST interesting thing about your pregnancy is the amount of weight you gain. You’re building a human FFS.

#2. Get maternity clothes before you need them.

Pregnant bodies change fast. One day something fits and the next time you put it on, it looks like Winnie the Pooh’s crop top. As my colleague Rachel Cole said in the podcast we did together, it’s important to get maternity clothes before you need them, so you don’t have to panic and feel uncomfortable.

Pro tip #1: You may want to size up or ensure it’s a little looser because even though something fits in the second trimester, things really change in the third.

Pro tip #2: Nursing bras are the greatest. Why did no one tell me this before I got pregnant? They are so comfy. Also consider sizing up here…the ones I bought in trimester 2 barely fit the melons I grew in trimester 3.

#3. Change your social media.

Pregnancy forums are full of fatphobia and THE WORST for triggering worries about weight gain or whether your bump is too big/too small/too hairy/too stretch marky. Fuck that noise.

Get rid of anything that makes you fixate on your body or feel inadequate.

The majority of pregnancy articles and pages feature thin, young, white, women with zero cellulite, stretchmarks, skin tags or swollen feet, which I’m guessing represents about 5% of the population of pregnant people.

Fill your feed with accounts that show the realities of postpartum and pregnancy and check out podcasts and books that speak to this. Some of my favorites are:

Social Media:
@4thtribodies

@empoweredbirthproject

@takebackpostpartum

@birthunited

@stopcensoringmotherhood

@thehonestbodyproject

@mid.drift.movement

@birthofamama

@maternal_goddess

@Jadebeallphotography

Podcasts:

The Plus Mommy Podcast (h/t to Lindley Ashline for this)

The Nurtured Mama Podcast

Websites:

Plus Size Birth

The Honest Body Project (h/t to Linda Shanti McCabe for this)

Midrift Movement (h/t to Linda Shanti McCabe for this)

Books:

The Recovery Mama Guide to Maintaining Your Eating Disorder Recovery in Pregnancy and Postpartum

The Bodies of Mothers: A Beautiful Body Project

Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat?: The Essential Guide to Loving Your Body Before and After Baby

#4. Understand the influence of fatphobia, sexism, racism etc on how you feel about your pre and postnatal body – the culture is what makes us carry this shame, not you!

We are all familiar with the social pressure to “get your body back” after pregnancy, but what is not talked about as much is the pressure to look a certain way during pregnancy.

I’ll never forget the cover of In Touch magazine when it had Kim Kardashian with her first pregnancy and it was a picture of her eating ice cream and a close-up of her swollen feet and the caption read, “I can’t stop eating!”

This is fatphobia and sexism at work and it’s rampant in pregnancy spaces. Articles advising you to “watch your weight,” “avoid indulging too much” and how to dress to “flatter your pregnant body” are all laced in it.

At the same time, we’re expected to feel grateful for what our body is doing and this can create further feelings of inadequacy if you’re not feeling good in your body.

It’s not your fault that you feel body image stress during pregnancy and postpartum. You are not defective if you’re not loving the way your body is changing. Go easy on yourself. It’s our culture that makes you feel this way.  

#5. Take lots of pictures – to normalize the changes and use as a tool for healing.

We may feel great and then see a picture of ourselves and think, “whoa, who is that person?” opening up old body image wounds of the past or flipping us back into comparison mode with the body we had before.

We can use pictures as a way to normalize our body size, which is rapidly changing during pregnancy.

By seeing it in images on a more regular basis, we can work through any inner critic thoughts that come up and be less alarmed when we see how much we’ve changed over the course of a few weeks.

I also think it’s an awesome way to celebrate this wild ride you are on.  

Pictures can be a great way to heal body image (see this interview with Vivienne McMaster and check out her programs for more on this).

#6. Plan to engage in more self-care than normal.

You are building a human – a spine, lungs, fingers and a spleen, among other things. This requires an immense amount of energy and thus, we need more time to recharge.

Whatever self-care you were doing before will likely need to be doubled or tripled – this includes physical, spiritual and emotional self-care.

This also includes not-so-fun self-care like setting boundaries, crying for no reason, asking for help and listening to your body over your Type-A brain (speaking for myself here).

#7. Know that body shame is often a coping mechanism and a way that we try to “problem solve” complex anxieties and stresses in our life.

Fixating on our bodies is often a way to make us feel like we’re in control during uncertain times. If we can just look a certain way, we’ll be happy, feel confident and be OK.

I can see this being a bigger issue during postpartum when everything has been turned up-side-down and our identity has been shaken apart like a snowglobe, but it can also pop up during pregnancy.

The days that I have felt body stress have been days when I’ve been feeling overwhelmed or uncertain about the future. It’s always been my go-to coping mechanism.

Instead of thinking your body is the issue, check in to what emotions you’re actually experiencing that day – are you feeling stressed? Tired? Overwhelmed?

What else is on your mind that might need some attention and nurturing?

#8. Have a support network that isn’t immersed in diet culture or body talk.

Something I’ve noticed is that your body suddenly becomes fair-game as the topic of conversation when you get pregnant. Most people have “good” intentions, but often they are reinforcing fatphobia (i.e. “you look great for 5 months!” or “you’re only carrying in your belly!”). This can cause us to fixate on our bodies more and be critical of changes happening to it.

It’s important to set boundaries with your network to limit body talk or talk about food. Surround yourself with people who you make you feel comfortable and supported.

As an aside to this, I’ve found it really helpful to chat regularly with friends who have recently given birth. I would be so lost without their advice.

# 9. Don’t feel like you have to enjoy or feel grateful for every moment.

Outside of the physical discomfort of being pregnant, which differs for every individual, there is a lot of shit going on emotionally. This is a life-altering experience and it’s OK to feel however you feel.

I feel a lot of pressure to be grateful – and I am grateful, but I’m also scared, anxious and processing emotions around mourning the loss of my carefree, independent life.

You can be grateful and fearful. You can be excited and terrified.

There is no shame in feeling the way that you do and the more that you own and process those feelings, the less shame you will carry around for feeling that way.

#10. Plan for postpartum.

Rachel Cole recommended the book, “The Fourth Trimester” by Kimberly Anne Johnson to me and I’m so glad she did. It’s about what happens to our body post-birth, hormonally, physically and spiritually and what we can do to set ourselves up to heal in the best way possible.

Kimberly writes, “The turbulence caused by the transition into motherhood is real, and yet, we are left totally without any guidance as to how we are to restore ourselves after such a tremendous body and life altering experience.”

Having this information has helped me to recruit a ton of support and have resources gathered for postpartum, which has eased some of the anxiety I was having about this transition. So much attention is given to pregnancy and birth, but we need just as much information and guidance about the postpartum period.

As a final note, don’t struggle alone. Prenatal anxiety and depression are real. Eating disorders can be triggered and developed in pregnancy. There is no shame in getting a mental tune-up – find a therapist or someone who can support you during this time. 

Other blog posts/resources you may find helpful are:

Fearless Rebelle Radio #121: Pre and Postnatal Body Image with Carla Korn

Fearless Rebelle Radio #130: Pregnancy, Body Image and Postpartum – Rachel Cole & Summer Innanen

My interview with Victoria Welsby on pregnancy and body image

The Nurtured Mama Podcast – Episode 008: Pregnancy Weight Gain – The conversation you’re not having with your OB

The Nurtured Mama Podcast – Episode 017: Impact of Diet Culture on Our Wellness Before, During & After Baby with Lindsay Stenovec, MS, RD, CEDRD

3 Lessons I Learned On Having A Healthy Body Image After Babies, Courtney Kopec

I Couldn’t Find Any Disability Maternity Photos, So I Made My Own by Christa Couture

Does Being A Mom Make Me Look Fat? Dr. Linda Shanti

Scales Are For Fish: 4 Reasons For Moms To Let Go Of The Scale. Dr. Linda Shanti

Tips for Navigating Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period In Eating Disorder Recovery. Lauren Hill

Drop the Expectations and be Attuned to the life you have! Tracy Brown, RD

How to Have a Healthy Body Image During Pregnancy. Crystal Karges RD

7 Things to Say to a Pregnant Mama That Have Nothing to Do With Her Body. Crystal Karges RD

How To Love Your Body Podcast #12: Body Acceptance, Pregnancy and Post Baby Bodies

Thanks to Lindsay Stenovec, Krystal Thomspon, Lindley Ashline, Courtney Kopec, Dr. Linda Shanti, Tracy Brown, Lauren Hill, Crystal Karges, and The Body Love Society for their contributions!

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