Pregnancy is a wonderful time – we often think of it in rosy terms, picturing ourselves with a beautiful belly full of life. We think of shining, full hair and beautiful nails and a joyful smile. But sometimes we find that reality is not like that. Pregnancy is a blessing – but it can also be a hard time for a woman.
Postpartum brings a whole new set of issues, as suddenly the baby is gone, but the weight may not be gone. Hormones are going crazy, too, as your body adjusts from being pregnant to breastfeeding, to being not pregnant and infertile, to finally cycling again (perhaps while breastfeeding, perhaps after weaning). I'll discuss those issues in the next article in this series.
I found myself blissfully immune from most body image issues during my first four pregnancies and postpartum times. That has not been the case with my fifth pregnancy. It has been a continual struggle for me.
I gained a lot of weight during my fifth pregnancy – around 50lbs (I'm not positive what my starting weight was). The most distressing thing about it, for me, was that I gained most of this weight early on – by about 25 weeks. My weight gain leveled out to a “normal” rate for me later in pregnancy (around a pound a week).
It was really hard for me to watch the scale jump so fast, especially when I was already struggling emotionally during that pregnancy. I think that the weight gain probably had a connection to the emotional struggle. Emotions, eating, and weight seem to be pretty deeply intertwined in our culture. But I didn't feel like I was eating in an unhealthy manner. I do know I was far less physically active during this pregnancy than my others – and that was directly tied to the emotional issues.
It's really hard to struggle with your body during pregnancy. In addition to weight gain, many women find that they don't get that famous pregnancy “glow.” Their hair gets limp and their complexion may become too oily or too dry. Sometimes this only happens for a trimester, sometimes it lasts the whole pregnancy. Top with morning sickness and it's just no fun!
Your Pregnancy Diet
Different things are going to work for different women – but I know that worry about your body during pregnancy can complicate things greatly. I found that selecting a good pregnancy diet and sticking with it is a good first step. You can feel completely confident that you're nourishing your baby and getting enough food for your pregnancy – and you'll have guidance on what not to eat.
Sticking with a pregnancy diet also lets you remove guilt over eating “too much.”
I want to say something serious right now – I struggled hard with my body issues while I was pregnant with Honor. I understand how depressing it can be to look at that scale. But I do NOT agree with the modern advice for pregnant women regarding nutrition. I think that low-fat, lower-calorie diets, even for women who begin pregnancy overweight, are bad for your baby. They rob you and baby of vital nutrients and set you up for chilling complications like pre-eclampsia and prematurity.
Choose a good pregnancy diet and stick with it, trusting that you are nourishing your baby in the best possible way. See my extensive articles on pregnancy nutrition for more!
After you've started a good pregnancy diet start some sort of exercise. The goal during pregnancy is not to lose weight. The goal is to grow a healthy baby and to keep yourself healthy. So you're not exercising to lose weight. There's no need to tax yourself out.
That said, I found that a regular routine of prenatal exercise helped me to feel a lot better about myself. I chose prenatal yoga and prenatal belly dance, both in the comfort and privacy of my own home. Some women prefer a class where they can have an instructor's help and the company of other pregnant moms.
At the very least you can plan to take a daily walk. I did not do this while pregnant with Honor and I wish I had. I think it helps just to get out and get yourself moving.
Talk to Somebody
I found it was really helpful to share my thoughts with my midwife. If you don't have a supportive midwife or doctor, talk to other women who understand – either in person or on a forum.
Sometimes you won't get support for body issues from your doctor or midwife because they will be pressuring you to “stop gaining weight” or to “stop eating so much.” If you're eating a good pregnancy diet just ignore their advice! Get your support elsewhere. If you find yourself turning to foods that are not very nutritious (such as chips and candy), go ahead and find a “comfort food” that is healthy for you and baby (strawberries and cream, or a baked potato loaded with butter, sour cream, and cheese are both healthy pregnancy “treats” for instance).
Talking to somebody who understands what you're feeling and going through can be helpful. My midwife was able to listen to my concerns and reassure me that what I was feeling was normal. She was a lot of comfort and support when I really needed it. I think this outside support can be vital if you're really struggling.
Eat well during pregnancy and get moving – it's hard to worry about your body while you are pregnant, but at the same time you can know you are nourishing a new life. I think that these simple steps can help by giving you confidence you're taking care of your baby. You can also look forward to working more on your own body once your baby is born.
It's also important to remember that you are not alone – there are other moms out there struggling, too… and moms who have overcome 🙂
I'll write more about postpartum issues in the second article in the series 🙂