Body Image: Pregnancy
So many changes!
Pregnancy causes many changes in your body. Some of these changes can be difficult to deal with or feel very uncomfortable. Also, after giving birth, your body may take a while to get back to the way it was before, or it may never completely return to the way it looked before pregnancy. Although these changes are natural, some women may struggle with keeping a positive body image during and after pregnancy.
For some women, pregnancy can cause body image problems they did not have before or make body image problems worse. During pregnancy, your body goes through several changes, including weight gain. Hormonal changes will cause your stomach and breasts to get larger as the baby grows and your body prepares for breastfeeding. You might develop stretch marks where your body gets larger. Sometimes your skin will break out with acne. You may also be much more tired than usual and have mood swings more often. A negative mood may make you more likely to have unhealthy or negative thoughts about your body.
Even though gaining weight is a natural and necessary part of pregnancy, some women can’t get past the numbers that will start to creep up on the scale. They’re worried about gaining too much weight during pregnancy and that their bodies may never look the same post-pregnancy. Some women reportedly put off having children because of this fear.
Overcome It: Before pregnancy, start working toward the acceptance that your body will go through a lot of changes, and though it may never be exactly the same after you have a baby, you will never be the same either. That being said, plenty of women do bounce back to their pre-pregnancy weight or a number close to it. Instead of focusing on your weight, concentrate on health and fitness, which will be good for both you and your baby-to-be.
“Women need to develop a willingness to view bodily changes as part of the journey of motherhood, instead of something to be feared,” says Julie Hanks, a psychotherapist, and owner and director of Wasatch Family Therapy in Cottonwood Heights, Utah. “It’s crucial to have a healthy view of your body during and after pregnancy.”
Women’s bodies are amazing for the ability to nourish and deliver a baby. Some of the body changes that come with pregnancy are uncomfortable, but they all support your growing child.
Mental health and pregnancy
It’s common for women to experience mental ill health for the first time in pregnancy. Women may feel more vulnerable and anxious, and some may develop depression.
If you have had severe mental ill health in the past, or have it now, you’re more likely to become ill during pregnancy or in the year after giving birth than at other times in your life. Severe mental ill health includes bipolar affective disorder, severe depression and psychosis.
Some women with a history of severe mental illness remain well during pregnancy – everyone is different, with triggers for becoming unwell. It’s useful to plan for all situations.
See NHS website for more information on perinatal and postnatal depression, psychosis, medicines and who to talk to.
- Focus on the positive work your body is doing. Your body is changing to help your baby grow and develop. This is normal. AND AMAZING!
- Express your feelings. Talk with your partner, family, or friends about how you are feeling. Keeping your feelings bottled up will only make you feel worse.
- Get regular physical activity. A light swim or walk can help you clear your mind and get the focus off your body image.
- Try pregnancy yoga (if your doctor, nurse, or midwife is OK with it). Yoga helps you focus less on how your body looks and more on the link between your body and your mind.
- Try a massage (if your doctor, nurse, or midwife is OK with it). Massage can relieve stress and anxiety and help you feel more comfortable in your own skin.
- Learn as much as you can about pregnancy. By educating yourself, you will know what to expect and feel more in control. Have you looked into ante-natal classes, hypno-birthing?
- Seek mental health support if you need it. There is no shame in reaching out for help. Do it for yourself and your baby. Talk to your doctor or nurse about where to find support.
After the birth
Pregnancy changes your body in many ways. After your baby is born, your body has to adjust to being in a non-pregnant state. This will take time. Some women find that their bodies never completely return to the way they were before getting pregnant. That’s OK too. All women, whether they have children or not, experience changes in their bodies as they get older.
Breastfeeding as much as possible after childbirth will help produce the hormone oxytocin. One of the effects of oxytocin is that it helps shrink your uterus back to a smaller size. Choosing healthy foods and getting regular physical activity are the best ways to lose weight you put on during pregnancy. Join a gym that offers child care, or take your baby for a walk round the block. If you are breastfeeding, you will also burn more calories than usual.
Now, we’ve all heard that “breast is best.” But breastfeeding doesn’t always work for everyone. And that’s OK! Mums who bottle feed shouldn’t feel ashamed or have to explain why they aren’t breastfeeding. Do not feel bad if it doesn’t work. Remember, you are doing a great job, you are a great mum, and all that matters is that your baby is fed. Your baby will benefit more from a happy and healthy mum, than from breast over bottle.
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