Dealing with body image during pregnancy and during the postpartum period is difficult for any woman. But when you are in recovery from an eating disorder, adjusting to and dealing with all the physical changes during and after pregnancy can be completely overwhelming.
As a new mother, and someone who struggled with an eating disorder for many years, I know the struggle of dealing with body image during pregnancy and postpartum very well.
At the time I became pregnant, I had four solid years of full recovery under my belt, and thought that my pregnancy would be a breeze body-image wise. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
I still struggled with seeing my clothes get too tight, watching my body change, and feeling all of the physical effects of pregnancy. Postpartum, it was difficult to look at my body when it still appeared to be pregnant for a long time, even though it wasn’t.
Hear more about Lauren’s story on our podcast Mental Note: Episode 9: Baby Body? Pregnancy and Body Image.
In our society, we are so often bombarded with images and news stories of celebrities “bouncing back” from childbirth and debuting their seemingly perfect bikini bodies on the beach or on the red carpet just weeks after giving birth. It seems that they were never even pregnant at all.
Many of us feel the pressure to give birth to our babies and then jump on the bandwagon of dieting and exercising, with plans to lose the baby weight and “get our bodies back.”
I am here to tell you that what we see in the media is a lie, and the last thing we need to be focusing on in the early days of motherhood is dieting and punishing our bodies for giving us the most precious gift we will ever receive.
If you are pregnant, are a new mother, or plan to become pregnant in the future, here are a few ideas to consider and ways to navigate the pregnancy/postpartum body image challenges:
1. Focus on body acceptance and body appreciation
When our bodies are changing, whether it is due to pregnancy or not, it can seem impossible to imagine getting to a place where we can say, “Wow, I LOVE my body”. Instead of focusing on getting to a place of body-love, it can help to focus instead on getting to a place of body-acceptance and body-appreciation. During my pregnancy, it was very helpful to shift my focus from my body’s appearance to the amazing things my body was doing to grow and nourish my baby girl. When I would start to feel uneasy about how my body looked, I would start thanking my body for taking such good care of the little baby inside me. After my daughter was born, I began to focus on appreciating my body for being able to produce milk to nourish her, and also just focusing on my caring for my daughter rather than focusing on my body’s perceived flaws.
Here are some things that I found helpful to say to myself either silently or out loud when I was feeling down:
- “I accept that my body is doing what it needs to do to grow a healthy baby.”
- “I know that my body needs to grow and change to accommodate this little human inside of me.”
- “I appreciate my body for allowing me to grow and nourish this baby.”
- “My body just went through growing and birthing a baby and needs time to recover.”
- “It took my body nine months to expand to accommodate my growing child, and it is going to take even longer for me to get used to this new normal.”
- “I accept my body just as it is, even though it is different now.”
- “I am so grateful to my body for giving me this precious gift and I won’t punish it by trying to make it look like it used to.”
2. Clean out your closet and, if you can, go shopping EARLY!
Another thing that is very important is to make sure that you pack up, put away, or get rid of clothes that are already snug or will become too small for you — BEFORE THEY BECOME TOO SMALL! Even though I knew my clothes were going to get too tight and no longer fit my pregnant body, it was still distressing when I would put them on and notice that they were tighter or had become too small. Go ahead and shop for looser fitting clothes for the earlier days of pregnancy and get some maternity clothes in your closet early so you have options when you need them! (**If finances are a concern, there are a lot of consignment stores that sell maternity clothing, as well as folks on platforms like Facebook Marketplace looking to get rid of their maternity clothing for free or at a low price!)
After giving birth, our bodies need time to recover. I was still wearing some maternity clothes six months after giving birth! I also knew that my pre-pregnancy pants would be tight, so I went shopping for new ones and did not even try on the old ones! Make sure that you don’t rush to get back into pre-pregnancy clothes and focus on wearing clothes that fit your body right where it is. That may mean wearing looser fitting clothes or buying a larger size in pants in order to feel comfortable!
3. Focus on your values!
Throughout my pregnancy and postpartum journey, I had many moments where I would start thinking about how unhappy I was with my body. In those moments, turning my attention to my values was SO helpful. What is important to me? My daughter, my family, my recovery, my job, my spirituality, joy, and peace. If I continued to focus on my body and wanting to change it, my energy and attention would be taken away from everything I value. Instead of spending energy trying to change your body, focus on what matters to you and make decisions that bring you closer to THOSE things.
4. Get support!!
I cannot stress this one enough. After taking a break from therapy for several years, I decided during my pregnancy to go back. Not because things were terrible, but because I knew that I wanted to do everything I could to keep myself in the best shape mentally and emotionally that I could. Whether your support team includes professionals or not, find your “tribe”. These people could be friends, family members, partners, a local mom’s group, church members, or anyone else that you can think of to include. The early days of motherhood are TOUGH and it is so important to have people around who can be a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, or just someone to hold the baby while you shower and take a nap!
You see, you don’t need to get your body “back.” Your body never left! My body is STILL my body. It is strong. It is capable. My body’s imperfections tell the story of the amazing things it has done for me, and so do yours. In fact, I am learning to love and appreciate my body more now than I EVER did before because it gave me the greatest gift I could ever have hoped for, my sweet baby girl.
Lauren Hill is a counselor in Wilmington, NC who specializes in working with clients struggling with eating disorders, addiction, depression, and anxiety. She is also in long-term recovery from an eating disorder and volunteers as a member of Eating Recovery Center’s Recovery Ambassador Council and as a Walk Coordinator for the National Eating Disorders Association. (Follow her for recovery inspiration on Instagram @lauren_hill_lpca).