Preparing for Body Changes During Pregnancy
Women who are uncomfortable with their bodies before pregnancy, may have a more difficult time managing their body’s physical changes during and after pregnancy.
Although there may be a strong desire for motherhood, the bigger hips, breasts, and rounded abdomen characteristic of pregnancy make some women feel large and unattractive, and maybe less in control.
It can be difficult when a woman realizes that while pregnant, she receives attention less for being attractive, and more because of the life she carries in her belly. No matter how much the baby is wanted, a perceived loss of physical appeal can trigger feelings of emptiness or sadness.
Mixed Emotions Are Normal
When negotiating the physical and psychological changes of a pregnancy, it helps to know that mixed or uncomfortable feelings about body changes are normal, and have several causes.
- As the abdomen swells, it changes a woman’s relationship to her environment. Movements may become slower and feel heavier, and there might be run-ins with tables and doorways as the stomach begins to swell. Some pregnant women feel more vulnerable and ill-at-ease in public places.
- Even if a pregnancy is planned, once life begins to grow in the womb it is a process largely outside the mother’s control. Setting such a remarkable process in motion can cause anxiety or joy, or both. An expectant mom also has to make concessions for the health of the baby such as limiting caffeine and alcohol, eating a healthy diet, and allowing the body to put on weight. These concessions may create a sense of loss or anxiety (e.g., wanting that cup of morning coffee), and adjusting to weight gain can also be a mental stretch for someone who has always made an effort to stay thin.
- Pregnant women tend to receive unsolicited public attention. Strangers may feel free to touch a pregnant woman’s stomach or to share personal stories and advice. While some expectant mothers thrive on this type of attention, others feel intruded upon—and anxious or angry. Either reaction is okay; each woman has to deal with her own natural responses.
- After giving birth, a new mom may have to contend with the body issues related to breastfeeding, and most women have to exercise patience as they gradually lose pregnancy weight over weeks or months.
Get the Support You Need
If you are pregnant, or planning a pregnancy, and know that issues related to body changes are likely to be difficult for you, there are a couple things you might consider.
The first is to choose, if you have the option, a doctor or midwife that views their self as a collaborator in your birth experience. They are there to educate, encourage, and help you have the most positive and healthy pregnancy possible. A health care provider who treats you like an object to be poked and measured will not help you navigate your joys or fears.
The second is to consider seeing a compassionate mental health professional during your pregnancy, and for a while after giving birth. It can make a world of difference to share your pregnancy anxieties and joys in confidence, plus receive support and validation for your changing shape and feelings.
Photo credit: Daniel Lobo / flickr