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Embracing Your Pregnant Body

Updated: May 9

Overcoming body dissatisfaction and fears about weight gain.



It may come as a surprise when you are pregnant that instead of feeling elated, you find yourself overwhelmed by the weight gain and changes in your figure, with a sense of losing control of your own body.  It can feel disheartening especially if you've had a long journey to conception, envisioning boundless joy at the end.

Pregnancy makes your body change like never before. This can heighten an already conflictual relationship with your body, getting in the way of what you’ve always imagined you’d feel - vibrant, feminine and beautiful. Let’s look at why this can happen. 


Understanding body dissatisfaction in pregnancy.

Just like any other time in a woman’s life, many expectant mothers feel immense pressure to fit a particular body type.  This pressure can arise from within ourselves and our own internalised standards of what it means to be beautiful, or from our environment, with social media presenting images of celebrities with perfect “baby bumps”.  It can also come from comparisons with other pregnant women who fit our ideal of what the pregnant body should look like.  This pressure, together with the vast emotional and physiological changes the body goes through, can fuel body dissatisfaction and have a detrimental impact on our mental health and well-being. 


The importance of nurturing a healthy body image.

Pregnancy is a transformative experience as our body adjusts to carrying a new life, and we begin to conceive ourselves as mothers and what our baby will be like.  It’s common to feel a mixture of emotions, with layers of excitement and joy, as well as fear and insecurity, especially about our body changing.  We may feel uncomfortable as our baby grows, irritated that we can’t sleep and extremely distressed by the feeling of losing control of our weight gain.  Whilst our feelings are valid and understandable, it’s important to shift our focus away from seeing our pregnant body in terms of its appearance - towards a focus on the magical, transformative process the female body is capable of.

When we practice acceptance of the weird and wonderful changes our body is going through, we cultivate trust in this natural, biological process.  We don’t have to love how our body looks, but accepting it will result in much less suffering.  Orienting ourselves to thinking about what we are grateful for in our body, like the miracle of conception that’s happened within us or the life that’s now sharing our body and our sustenance.  Finding a quiet moment to imagine our baby either as an image of how they will look when we hold them in our arms or how they are currently nested inside our body can help evoke emotions such as love, nurture and connection towards ourselves and, importantly, towards our baby. 

Prioritising our physical and emotional well-being with regular gentle exercise or practising yoga, mindfulness, and other relaxation techniques is crucial. Maintain a regular, balanced diet with flexibility and intuition giving yourself permission to eat what feels good or desirable at the time.  Speak to your doctor or health professional about this and find out what works best for you.


Compare is to despair.

Changes in the pregnant body can result in larger, heavier breasts, enlarged or dark areolas (the area around the nipples), widened hips and shoulders, fluid retention, acne or stretch marks.  These changes are all part of our body preparing to host and take care of a new life but can feel uncomfortable and upsetting.  

We often compare our pregnant bodies with other pregnant women.  Self-comparison is a very normal and common human experience; it was designed prehistorically to help us gauge whether we fit in and are connected to our social group.  However, in modern life, when we compare images of women on social media, not just celebrities and influencers but also our friends and acquaintances, we see a curated version of their lives and experiences (ie. The selected best bits).  We see flawless, joyful, energised images which, in comparison to ourselves, can elicit envy, maybe even jealousy, can fuel self-criticism and may lead to feeling shame and disgust about our own changing body and current experience. Making active decisions to unfollow celebrities or influencers on social media or limiting the time you spend scrolling your feed is important. 


Overcoming worry and fear of weight gain.

There is a common misconception about pregnancy weight that holds that there is a right amount of weight to gain during pregnancy and a right amount (with a right timeline) to lose it postpartum.  If we accomplish this, we are “normal”, which means happy, successful, competent, and confident.  Unfortunately, in some of us, this creates a fear of weight gain, and we may see it as a threat to losing a significant part of how we value ourselves as women. 

Many of us confuse the experience of negative feelings like fear, sadness, or vulnerability as “feeling fat”.  It’s important not to equate feeling fat with being fat, as they are quite different.  Instead, we can tell ourselves, “I’m not fat, I’m pregnant,” and ask ourselves, “What am I really feeling right now, and why?”  “Am I feeling uncomfortable in my clothes because they feel tight or am I anxious that I’ll put on too much weight?”.  Making space and acknowledging difficult feelings can help us identify and meet our need for either validation or reassurance.  “It’s normal to feel anxious about how my body will change, but it’s ok my body will always be my body, and I trust it with its natural rhythm”.  Asking partners and loved ones for support with this is also useful.  Keeping your feelings to yourself can fuel your preoccupation and shame.


Celebrating the Journey.

Moving away from a focus on our physical imperfections means you can celebrate your achievements and milestones. Tuning into our baby’s movements as they shift and adjust in our body, seeing the baby and hearing the baby’s heartbeat during scans and counting the weeks as the baby grows and we progress through the pregnancy can encourage us to celebrate the miraculous journey that we and our baby are on together. 


Seeking Support.

If you find yourself continually preoccupied with negative self-talk and feelings of shame, so much so that you feel sad and anxious most of the time, and you are finding yourself restricting food, over-exercising or engaging in other unhealthy behaviours, it’s crucial to seek help from a health professional.  Psychological therapy can help you develop or build on your self-care strategies as well as unpack and understand the complicated interplay between our past, the story we tell ourselves and our emotional and psychological experience in the now. 


CONTACT ME if you have any questions.

References and useful links:

The Recovery Mama Guide to Your Eating Disorder in Pregnancy and Postpartum by Linda Shanti McCabe.

COPE: Looking after yourself in pregnancy:  https://www.cope.org.au/expecting-a-baby/staying-well/

Butterfly Foundation: Blog post on pregnancy with an eating disorder:  https://butterfly.org.au/pregnancy-and-body-image



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