Most women in the US are too aware of their bodies. And most women, when asked, will report that they aren’t happy with how they look. Their breasts are too small. Or too big. They are too fat. Or too thin. Their hair is too straight. Or too curly. They are too tall or too short, their derriere is too small or too big, their eyes are too close together or too far apart, their nose is too short or too long. Over the years, I have heard it all from all sorts of women, including professional models and actresses. We all look in the mirror and sigh.
Pregnancy can add another dimension to an already painful problem. On any given day, I will have one patient tell me that her bump is too small, and another tell me that hers is too big. A patient will complain that she is gaining too much weight, while another isn’t gaining enough. My answer to them is always the same; if your obstetrician or nurse midwife is content with how you look and weigh, listen to them. They aren’t shy about voicing concerns!
But actual body image is another issue entirely. It can be acutely uncomfortable for many pregnant women to so visibly gain weight. They don’t feel in control of their body and they might feel panic when they look in the mirror or put on previously loose clothes. And of course other people can’t keep their mouths shut—they just have to offer an opinion as to how big you are, they ask how much weight you have gained, they warn you how hard it will be to lose the weight after the baby arrives.
There are a few things you need to keep in mind about your body while building your baby:
- Most women don’t just have a bump. They get rounder in the hips, their breasts grow, their faces can get wider, even hands and feet can get bigger. My sister swears that her rib cage grew. So if you are growing in all sorts of non-bump places, don’t panic. It is normal, and that weight will come off after the baby is born.
- Remember that it isn’t comfortable for most women to gain weight. Keep in mind the weight gain ranges your health care team has given you. As long as you are in their range, it means that your eating and exercise habits are in the ballpark.
- Every body and each pregnancy are different. Just because your sister looked like a stick until the day before she delivered, it doesn’t mean that is the way your body is going to look. And if you were a butterball during your first pregnancy, you might well carry in a different way for subsequent ones.
- Even if you are distressed by how your body looks as your pregnancy progresses, please don’t consider restricting how much you eat. Your baby and your body need calories from all sorts of different sources, so make sure to eat the amounts that your health care team advises.
- Being pregnant is not an excuse to indulge in daily hot fudge sundaes or bags of chips. The old saying of eating for two is simply a myth. Especially at the beginning of the pregnancy, the baby is tiny and doesn’t need much to grow and thrive. But this is an ideal time to loosen up on any eating rituals or habits that you suspect aren’t healthy. If in doubt, ask your doctor or nurse.
- Every fertility statue is round. Being pregnant can be the most feminine time in your life. Accept it as a temporary experience, knowing that once your baby is born, you can change your eating and exercise habits to regain the body before baby.