How to Love Your Pregnant Body

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Making peace with your baby bump.

I never had a baby bump. My body takes more of a “fat all over” approach to pregnancy. No matter how happy I was about my growing baby, I struggled to feel good about my pregnant body. Maybe you know what I mean.

Pregnancy shines a spotlight on your shape. Even perfect strangers may comment on your size and status. “You must be due any day now!” is hard to hear when you have two more months to go. Eating well (and not too much) can be challenging if you turn to food for comfort.

You’re Not Alone

It’s normal to be concerned about your weight and shape during pregnancy, says Michelle Collins, a certified nurse midwife and assistant professor of nursing at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. Each woman interprets the changes in her body in a unique and emotional way.

“Some women feel liberated by pregnancy,” says Collins. “They think it is OK to eat treats, gain weight and do easier workouts.” The idea of eating for two can be license to overdo it. Gaining 50 or 60 pounds may be the unhappy consequence, Collins warns. Excessive weight gain can be a blow to your self-image, and it also increases your risk of gestational diabetes and high blood pressure, especially if you pack on too many pounds in the first trimester.

Other women see pregnancy as a reason for restrictions. Even though they may be excited about motherhood, these women try to maintain their pre-pregnant physiques through strict calorie counting and exercise. But gaining too little weight puts babies at risk of premature birth and low birth weight.

Poor body image in pregnancy can lead to the recurrence of an eating disorder, and to anxiety and depression, says Collins. How you feel about yourself may also affect your life postpartum. Moms with body dissatisfaction are less likely to breastfeed, says Collins, either because they feel insecure about milk production or because they want to regain their pre-baby bodies as soon as possible.

Make Peace with Pregnancy

If you’re unhappy with your body, it’s time for an attitude adjustment. Here’s how to love yourself, even when your fat pants don’t fit.

Get perspective. Read books or ask your doctor about common physical changes during pregnancy so you aren’t alarmed by every bump, lump or symptom, says Collins. It’s normal to feel a lack of control about labor and childbirth, and strong emotions can cause you to obsess about changes to your appearance.

Focus on function. Boost your spirits by thinking about what your body can do, not how it looks. You can never live up to social standards, and – even if you could – doing so might not be the healthiest thing for you or your baby. You’re building a person with tiny fingers, toes, eyes and nose. That is beautiful.

Tune in to food. In the context of body image, the old adage “you are what you eat” rings true, according to nutrition and wellness coach Jackie Keller, author of “Body After Baby.” “How and what we eat impacts our hormones, mood and energy,” says Keller. “It’s physiological as well as emotional.” Drink plenty of water and eat a variety of whole grains, healthy fats, fruits and veggies. Good nutrition nurtures your baby and your self-image, and healthy habits will help you shed post-baby pounds.

Manage your energy. Fatigue makes it hard to handle emotional ups and downs. Schedule your most demanding activities at the times when you have the most energy. Pregnancy can be exhausting. You won’t be kind to anyone (including yourself) if you’re tired and cranky. Get lots of sleep.

Move it. Carrying extra weight can be uncomfortable, and you may be frustrated if you can’t keep up a rigorous fitness routine, says Collins. Challenge yourself to stay active. Walk as much as possible and do a regular stretching routine. Swim laps. You’ll feel stronger, longer and leaner if you maintain flexibility and range of motion. Exercise decreases bloating and increases your energy.

Leverage assets. Surely there is something to love about your pregnant body. Bigger bust? Lustrous hair? Long finger nails? Wear a V-neck blouse, get a great blow-out or give your nails a manicure. Playing up positive changes in your appearance can take your focus off less-desirable ones.

Dress Up. If you have been skimping on your own wardrobe so you can buy only-the-best for baby, it’s time to invest in yourself. Buy a few pieces of clothing that feel fabulous. Choose options that look casual but put-together. And don’t go too big. Oversized outfits will make you feel frumpy.

Get busy in the bedroom. Intimacy may be the last thing on your mind when you’re feeling not-so-attractive. Hear this: Your partner probably loves the way you look. Experts say men are more accepting of the changes in our bodies than women. Let him show you that you’ve still got it.

Take your time. Remember, pregnancy only lasts 40 weeks. “Embrace it, and make whatever adjustments you need to make to get through it,” says Keller. At the end, you receive the most wonderful gift – a child – for the rest of your life.