With the many changes our bodies experience while pregnant, it's easy to sometimes fall into the self-deprecating psyche that brings about a negative body image. Trust me, we've all been there. I, too, fell into this trap during both of my pregnancies, but (thankfully) during some of my most self-loathing moments, I learned a few lessons on how to stay body positive during pregnancy.
I've never been one to lose sleep at night over my appearance. I was lucky enough to grow up with a dad that helped to foster a positive body image and shift my focus on more important things; like kindness, intelligence, respect (both for myself and others), and hard work. I never felt unfortunate looking, but I also never really put much thought into what others had to say about my looks because, well, I was raised to be body positive and I really didn't care what others thought about my body. I know, the thought of a teenage girl growing up and not worrying about what she looked like or how much she weighed is about as rare as a unicorn, but for the most part, I was that unicorn (thanks to my dad's constant positive reinforcement). For this reason, I thought that I would be immune to potential feelings of negativity towards my body during pregnancy, even though pregnancy is one of the hardest times for body image. But I was wrong. So so wrong.
My once oh-so active body became confined and restricted; my belly grew beyond the size of a basketball; my boobs were, well, out of control; I swelled and waddled and ached. In short, I hated being pregnant and I loathed my changing physique and I felt like I was going to be trapped inside of a body I didn't know, like, or recognized, for the rest of my life. When my weight gain started to exceed what my doctor considered healthy, he informed me that I needed to pay closer attention to the number of pounds I was gaining (like any respectable medical professional would). Of course, I took this personally and threw myself one gigantic pity party and invited Ben & Jerry's only.
As I was elbows deep in a bottomless pit of cookie dough ice cream, I realized that something had to change. I was neither physically or mentally in a healthy place, and for the sake of my baby, I needed to be. So, with a little work and a lot of patience, I was able to adopt a healthier attitude towards my body and carry out the rest of my pregnancy in a more body positive manner. Here are just a few ways I was able to bring myself back to my teenage days, and remain body positive while was pregnant:
Our bodies do amazing things while we're pregnant. When I was struggling with my negative body image, I had to constantly remind myself of the life growing inside me and about all of the truly incredible things my body was doing to help that life alive. I did a lot of reading about the different phases of pregnancy and realized that a lot of the feelings I was struggling with, were completely normal. Being pregnant can feel like having your body hijacked, and it sometimes feels like it's not even your own body anymore, but the reason behind all of the weirdness and discomfort is a seriously amazing one.
It's hard to always stay in the state of mind that values all that your pregnant body is doing (especially if that means constantly throwing up or feeling constipated or suffering from insomnia) but once you can, I promise you, you'll feel better about your body and everything it's capable of doing.
It goes without saying that exercise is physically beneficial, but that's not the only reason it's on my list of ways to be more body positive. Though I couldn't do much in the form of exercise while I was pregnant, I could still do some. I started walking a (very slow) mile every day about halfway through my second pregnancy (the peak of my negative body image). At first, it was hard and annoying and so frustrating to just get out of the house and walk, but once it became a habit, it became so much easier. About a week into my walking, I noticed that my mood had improved. I wasn't as irritable or short tempered, and I even felt like walking beyond the mile goal that I had set for myself. My attitude changed drastically once I just put my body in motion. Before I started exercising, I didn't want to get out from under the covers of my bed because I didn't want anyone to see my big, pregnant body, but not too long after I made walking a routine, I actually wanted to get out of the house and interact with other humans.
Exercising while pregnant didn't necessarily change the way my body looked, but it changed how it felt and, in turn, changed how I felt about it. And, of course, it's important to consult with your doctor/midwife/doula, before taking on any strenuous activity or exercise. You know, better safe than sorry and all that jazz.
The thing about being pregnant, is that virtually everything you do affects your baby. While I was burying my face in tacos and cookies, so was my baby. Not that tacos and cookies should be completely avoided (they shouldn't), but the rate at which I was consuming them wasn't good for me or my baby. When the results of my glucose intolerance test came back as borderline and required further testing, I was forced to evaluate the things I was putting into my body, which was mostly junk.
Before I had the additional gestational diabetes tests done, I researched the topic quite a bit. What I found was that I was taking "eating for two" way too far. This was obviously not good for me, but what was worse is that is was bad for my baby, too. My baby didn't have a choice in the matter, yet his health was almost to the point of being at risk because I was only thinking about myself (not a good trait for a soon-to-be parent, obviously). When I changed my eating habits, I almost immediately felt better.
Putting good food into my body made me feel...wait for it...good. Shocking, I know. Fortunately, I learned my lesson before it was too late and was able to carry out the rest of my pregnancy with better eating habits that made both my body and my attitude towards it better.
Though it can be difficult (trust me, I know) to pick out the positives in your ever-changing body, there are positive aspects of pregnancy. It's important to try to focus on what you love about your body, rather than putting a spot light on the things you don't.
Hormones like to play tricks on us throughout our entire pregnancies, but not all of the tricks up their sleeves are bad ones. With the weight gain and discomfort also comes some benefits. A pregnancy glow will have your skin looking flawless, and your hair will have a bounce to it that rivals the locks of the most well-to-do celebrity. Also, baby bumps are the best accessory and look good in literally everything. Seriously, you could throw on a burlap sack while pregnant and still look amazing.
A growing belly means you've got a growing baby, which is obviously the goal of the whole pregnancy gig. I'm one of those people that gets huuuuge during my pregnancies, whether I gain weight or not. During my first pregnancy, I cringed every time my doctor would measure my belly. "It's just so gigantic!" I thought to myself, annoyed that women have to be the ones burdened with pregnancy. "That's what I like to see!" was always my doctor's response, and he was right.
My baby was growing at the perfect pace, exactly like he was supposed to. So what if I was gaining weight and my belly was growing every day? That's the point! I had to learn to be mindful of all that my body was doing. I was growing another person inside me, something that was obvious when I would feel my baby kick or flip or hiccup. There was a person growing and developing and thriving every single day inside my body. If you don't think that that's absolutely the most amazing thing you've ever heard of, you need to check your pulse.
I mean, our babies start off looking like peanuts or tadpoles, but in a matter of months they grow arms and legs and organs and hair; they breathe air and their hearts beat, all because of the work our body does to support them. You guys, that is so freaking cool!
Pregnancy can be weird and awkward and uncomfortable, sure, but when you think about all that your body is doing to take care of the life inside you, it's a seriously incredible feeling and it's something that you should be proud.