If, like many women, you have struggled with poor body image, the chances are this will not magically disappear once you conceive.
And if you experienced an eating disorder in the past it’s possible the changes of pregnancy can trigger a return of such behaviours. A large-scale Norwegian study found that almost 40% of women who previously had binge eating disorder relapsed during pregnancy.
The real impact of poor body image during pregnancy and birth
Binge eating during pregnancy, according to expert Dr, Cynthia Bulik, means that “babies are getting really erratic exposure to large quantities of food. That can potentially negatively affect their growth and health trajectory.”
Eating disorder or not, if your body image issues continue post birth, the negative consequences on your child’s psychological makeup can be serious and long-term.
A 2014 report written by Susie Orbach and Holli Robin for the Government Equalities Office in the UK found that mothers who are consumed with poor body image may “inadvertently behave in ways that shape bonding and attachment patterns in damaging ways.”
A mother who is distracted and preoccupied with her own image might inadvertently not be giving the child the attention it needs, and her discomfort in her own skin will, at some level, provide a model of dissatisfaction to her offspring.
According to attachment theory, a child who does not receive proper attention, bonding, and unconditional love from a parent will grow up into an adult with often lifelong insecurities and relating issues.
In extreme cases, the mother may develop post-natal depression which further gravely affects the attachment between herself and her infant.
So how can you deal with your body image during this critical time?
10 Ways to Improve Body Image During Pregnancy
1. Get honest about how you really feel.
It’s not uncommon to secretly be very uncomfortable with your expanding body, but feel shame over admitting it. After all, what sort of mother would be so ‘vain’, and it makes you ‘selfish’, right?
Not at all. Body issues are deeply ingrained and serious issues that derive from experiences women have as children and adolescents. It does not make you a bad person to have them. What is a shame, though, is not to admit to them so you can start to move forward and find solutions.
2. Keep your eye on the prize.
Although it may feel uncomfortable as your body grows in the beginning, it’s helpful to think of it as a means to an end. Your body is busy manufacturing not only another human being, but also storing energy to feed it after delivery. Instead of focussing on your body changes, focus on the growth of the child. While you might try to control and berate yourself for weight gain, you would you really do that to your child?
3. Try gratitude.
Gratitude might be something you are sick of hearing about.
But gratitude’s positive effects have actually been proven by research to not just raise your moods, but also your energy levels– and what new mother couldn’t use that? Rather than lamenting a change in dress size, focus on what your body can do, and the gift that fertility is. Try starting a gratitude diary, where you take five minutes a day to write about what is going right for you.
4. Change perspective.
Being pregnant can seem like a long haul, but in the grand scheme of a lifetime 38-40 weeks is not so long. Try a change of perspective – 5 years from now, when you are taking your adorable child to their first day of school, are you really going to care about whether you ‘looked big’ or ‘felt disgusting’?
Or imagine that it isn’t you that is pregnant, but your best friend. Would you say half the things you tell yourself about your body to her? So how can you show yourself the same level of respect and self-compassion?
5. Keep moving.
For many pregnant women, it can be a novelty to exercise for the sheer joy of movement and not as a means to burn calories or control their size. Consider trying prenatal yoga, which has a wide range of benefits including helping you to breathe deeply and slowly, a great asset during delivery.
If yoga isn’t your thing, find a sport which you enjoy and that makes you feel good. Dance, walking and swimming are great for relaxation as well as overall fitness. Plus, exercise improves your mood.
6. See this as an opportunity.
For many women who have struggled with their body image for years, pregnancy can be a way to finally fully confront their insecurities. Why not use this opportunity to honestly look at what these are? To finally seek support for your body issues? And to learn new ways to respect yourself?
It’s also a great time to try new things you wouldn’t dare before, like sticking up for yourself, saying no to others, and improving your self-care – if others are shocked by your new show of strength, they will likely blame it on pregnancy hormones!
7. Don’t take comments to heart.
People can say the most ridiculous things to pregnant women. Keep in mind the idea of psychological projection – most people who say off-putting things are speaking more about themselves than you. For example, a woman who is experiencing menopause could, subconsciously, be lamenting the loss of her fertility by saying critical things about your body.
8. Set boundaries.
While it is great to have the support of female friends during pregnancy, most women who already have children will love to tell you how much weight they gained during their gestation, no matter how big or small the amount.
If you are not comfortable with the comparison then set boundaries. You have the right to make talks about your weight strictly off balance – it is your body.
9. Educate yourself.
Bizarre cravings and intense hunger may make you feel as though pregnancy is your body rebelling against you, and can be both isolating and disquieting. If this is your first pregnancy and you have little idea what to expect, use the many resources available. For example, you can join a “Due Date Club” such as those on on Netmums and BabyCentre, or download an app for your phone, like BabyBump. Check out your local community centre or with your council or further resources and antenatal classes.
10. Seek Support.
If you find that your concerns about food, exercise and body image are dominating your daily life, don’t be ashamed to ask for help.
Ask your doctor for a referral to a relevant specialist, seek the assistance of a private eating disorder counsellor or counsellor who specialises in self-esteem issues, or contact B-eat, the national charity for eating disorders.
Do you have an experience about body image during pregnancy you’d like to share? Do so below. We love hearing from you.