I am in the midst of a Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training at a local studio. Although I don't have children and don't plan to, I love the idea of supporting women who have chosen this path. As part of the training, we each did an independent study in an area that interested us. With my background of an eating disorder and body image issues, I naturally wanted to research and present dealing body image struggles as my project. And I thought I'd share it with all of you as well!
It is completely normal to deal with body image issues during your pregnancy. Your body changes so much in preparation for your baby, and it can be scary to see those changes and feel that you don't have much control over them. At the same time, your brain is growing new receptors and neurons, basically rewiring for motherhood. All of this change can be stressful, and it helps to understand why.
The moment your egg is fertilized and implanted in your uterus, your body begins to change in support of the new life it's growing. It builds a life-support system for your baby, including the placenta, umbilical cord, and amniotic sac. Your uterus enlarges and your amniotic sac fills with amniotic fluid, which works as a bumper as sorts for your baby. The placenta produces hormones that support a healthy pregnancy and baby. These hormones also prepare your breasts for lactation and cause many other changes in your body. Your metabolism begins to increase, which might cause cravings and a larger appetitie. It is okay to feel more hunger, as more nutrients are needed to feed both you and your baby.
Now that you are armed with more information relating to WHY your body is changing, you might wonder how to accept and even love your changing body. There are many ways to do this. As I explore some options, I'll share what has helped with my body image issues. However, I'd recommend that you try several options to find the combination that works best for you.
Exercise is one way to connect with your body and reduce stress. When you are pregnant, you will want to identify safer options for you and your baby and to get cleared for exercise by your healthcare provider first. Focus on getting at least thirty minutes of exercise each day, including prenatal yoga, walking, swimming, spin classes, barre, weight training with light weights, and light jogging if you have previous running experience. In my experience, yoga was the place where I started to shift from hating my body (or at least parts of it) to wanting to nourish and love this vessel that serves me so well.
You will also feel better, and nourish your baby, if you keep a healthy diet. Rough recommendations for daily servings are as follows:
2-4 servings of fruit
4+ servings of vegetables
6-11 oz of breads/grains
3 servings of protein daily (more during 2nd and 3rd trimesters)
4 servings of dairy
Vitamins as suggested by your healthcare provider
Selfcare can also help you feel better about your body during pregnancy and after you've had your baby. Take a prenatal yoga class with your favorite teacher. Volunteer for a cause you're passionate about. Revisit an old hobby or discover a new one. Get a massage. During the early days of recovery from my eating disorder, I went to a massage therapist I trusted to work on the areas that triggered my body image issues. She helped me to get used to having those places seen, touched, and nurtured.
Affirmations can also be handy, but make sure you state them in a way that is believable to you. Rather than starting with 'I love my new body', you might try 'I love how my body supports my baby'. I have a Post-It note on my computer with 'I am enough' written in my handwriting. It's just a gentle reminder every time I log in to appreciate who I am. You can revisit your mantra when meditating or when things get challenging.
Share your experience: you'll be surprised by how much support you get. I was embarassed to talk about my body image issues at first, but once I opened up about them, I realized how many people dealt with the same. Seek positive feedback from your partner and close friends. If your friends don't understand, find those who do: take a birthing or prenatal yoga class to build your community or join forums and web groups. It can also help to seek help from a mental health specialist or nutritionist.
Once your baby is born, don't expect to feel better about your body immediately, as it will take some time to heal. Your uterus will need time to shrink, and your body will need to rest after all of the hard work it has just done. At first, take the time to heal, catch up on sleep, and of course connect with your baby. As you start to feel more energized, consider joining a gym or yoga studio that offers childcare or take walks with your stroller. You may never get your 'pre-baby' body back, but the strong body you will build will serve you and your baby so well!
I'd love to hear your experiences and suggestions!