Thứ Ba, 23 tháng 10, 2012

Pregnancy, Babies, and Birth: Body Image During Pregnancy

Your body goes through a myriad of changes during pregnancy, so it's important to understand how your body is changing, why it's changing, and how to cope with the feelings that may accompany these changes.  Most of us have struggled with body image at one time or another, so these extreme bodily changes can trigger some unpleasant feelings, memories, or thoughts, especially if you have struggled with body image, eating disorders, or self-esteem issues in the past.


Common Physical Changes

Increase in breast size:  As early as 4 or 5 weeks, you may notice some tenderness or soreness in your chest as your pregnancy hormones stimulate additional growth of breast tissue.  By the end of pregnancy and delivery of a baby, some women experience as much as 2 full cup sizes in breast growth.

Hips widening:  A necessary change will happen in your pelvis throughout your pregnancy.  The muscles and ligaments in your hips and pelvic region will stretch and expand over the course of your pregnancy in order to prepare your body for birth.  This widening will allow your child to pass through the vaginal canal more easily.  Your body may not "return to normal" after birth, so don't be surprised if your pre-pregnancy jeans don't fit the same way that they did before you had your baby even if you get back to your pre-pregnancy weight.

Your growing belly:  Some women can't wait to start showing off their baby bump while others are terrified at the prospect of walking around with a protruding belly.  If it is your first pregnancy, you will most likely start to show around 12-16 weeks, depending on several factors including your natural build and position of the uterus.  Women who are more petite may begin to show earlier while women with a uterus that tilts more towards their backs may start showing a little later.

Weight gain in other areas:  Women are typically expected to gain between anywhere between 15-40 lbs. during their pregnancy, depending on their pre-pregnancy weight.  If you were underweight before pregnancy, your doctor will probably expect you to gain 28-40 lbs.  If you were overweight before pregnancy, your doctor will probably expect you to gain 11-35 lbs.  If your pre-pregnancy weight was in the normal healthy range, your doctor will probably expect you to gain 25-35 lbs. during pregnancy.  Sometimes weight gain and fluid retention will add size to other parts of your body like your face, thighs, and rear end.

One caveat here is to avoid overeating.  A common myth of pregnancy is that it gives you an excuse to "eat for two" and, unfortunately, that can set many women up to overeat or eat unhealthily while they are pregnant.  Realistically, you only need about an extra 300 calories a day in order to support your growing baby.  If you break that down, that might only be a large banana and a glass of milk in addition to your regular diet.  Make sure you are focusing more on quality than quantity in terms of calories; in other words, make your calories really work for you by eating things with lots of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that both you and baby need to be healthy.

How to Cope

The most important thing to remember about pregnancy is that it is normal and healthy to gain weight during this time.  It may be really difficult to see weight gain, but you have to continually remind yourself that your baby needs you to gain weight in order for him/her to grow and develop.  As I have watched my body change and grow over the past 6 months, I have experienced mixed feelings.  As both my baby and I have been going through a healthy growth spurt, I noticed some reservations developing in my mind because of my increasing size.  It can be hard to deal with on a cognitive and emotional level sometimes, especially living in a culture that socializes us to be more afraid of getting fat than losing a loved one, getting cancer, or nuclear war (http://www.eatingdisorderfoundation.org/EatingDisorders.htm).  Luckily, I have a wonderful husband, years of experience working with women to improve body image, and an active little baby to give me some necessary reality checks (It's hard to be sad about my growing belly when I get to watch my sweet baby wiggle across it or throw a right hook that makes a part of my tummy poke out).


If you find yourself obsessing about the increasing numbers on the scale, why not hide your scale for the duration of your pregnancy?  Or, better yet, have your partner hide your scale and make a pact that he won't tell you where it is, no matter how much you beg?  Or, even better, just get rid of the scale altogether (donate it to the DI, sell it at a yardsale, or just throw it in the dumpster).  Your doctor will be tracking your weight gain throughout your pregnancy, so trust that they will track healthy gain and warn you if you aren't gaining enough or are gaining too much.  Then, make adjustments to your diet and exercise according to their recommendations.  You can even close your eyes when they weigh you at the doctor's office and ask them not to tell you any numbers.  If it stresses you out unnecessarily, then cut out the hassle!


Additionally, keep in mind that your weight gain is not the same kind of weight gain that you have experienced in the past. You are not necessarily gaining "fat," which may be your biggest fear.  By the end of your pregnancy, your weight gain breaks down approximately as follows:
      -7 1/2 lbs. is your baby
      -1 1/2 lbs. is the placenta
      -4 lbs. is the increased fluid volume in your body
      -2 lbs. is your uterus
      -2 lbs. is your breasts
      -2 lbs. is your amniotic fluid

Many women who fear gaining weight during pregnancy aren't taking into account how that weight is distributed throughout the body.  Also, lots of women are afraid of losing "the baby weight" after they give birth.  Remember, your body will need to gradually readjust postpartum and it isn't healthy or realistic to expect yourself to be back in your pre-pregnancy clothes immediately after birth.  It took 9-10 months for your body to get to this point, so don't be surprised if it takes a while to get back to a healthy size and weight.  Don't be disappointed if your body weight doesn't distribute the same way it did before you brought a life into this world.  It is common for women's body shapes to change after pregnancy as well.  So, embrace your new body.  Buy clothing that flatters your body and makes you feel comfortable and fabulous regardless of the number on the tag.


Something that has really worked for me is educating myself on the changes that are happening to my body week by week.  So, when I read in my book that I'm probably going to be experiencing a growth spurt in the next couple of weeks, I can mentally prepare myself for this change.  Also, I can better understand the necessity of these changes in order for my body to support the growing life inside me.  Through this week-by-week information, I'm better able to see these changes in my body for exactly what they are: a miracle.  Being pregnant has strengthened my testimony of my Heavenly Father in ways that I never knew possible.  Reading about everything my body and my baby's body are going through has truly opened my eyes to the beautiful intricacy, the exquisite detailing our Father in Heaven has developed to create our physical bodies.  I have a hard time dwelling negatively on my size when I'm wrapped up in awe and gratitude for my mini-miracle and my body's ability to accommodate, nurture, and protect the precious life inside me.





Disclaimer: The "Pregnancy, Babies, and Birth" blog series is meant as a source of general information only.  It's intended use is to encourage women to further consider and discuss reproductive and birthing decisions themselves with their partners and with their medical care providers.  Information included in this series is not intended to be professional medical advice or a substitution for a relationship with a licensed physician or practitioner.  Any serious questions or concerns about reproductive, prenatal, and/or perinatal health should be directed to your primary care physician or other licensed specialist.  Women's Services and Resources does not promote any particular brand, medical provider, birthing location, or any other specific birthing decisions.  We strongly encourage women to become as educated about their choices as possible so they are empowered to make educated decisions for themselves and their babies.

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