Overcoming Your Pregnancy Body-Image Fears

If you have hang-ups about what pregnancy will do to your body, you're not alone. Beyond your expanding belly, all kinds of changes -- good and bad -- occur from head to toe. Here, we uncover your most common fears about gaining the pounds necessary for a healthy baby, along with advice on how to deal.

  • Photolibrary/Matton

    Fear #1: Gaining, and Not Losing, Weight

    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."

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    Fear #2: Pregorexia

    The growing phenomenon of pregorexia refers to anorexia in pregnant women or those who recently gave birth. Most pregorexia sufferers have a history of anorexia or bulimia, and the weight gain required for pregnancy can cause past eating disorders to resurface. Excessive dieting and exercising is dangerous outside of pregnancy, but dealing with an eating disorder when you're pregnant or trying to conceive can be even more detrimental.

    "I felt very foreign in my body and I was not connected to it at all. I felt disgust with my body," says Maggie Bauman, who suffered pregorexia when she was pregnant with her second child. Bauman, now a therapist in Newport Beach, California, gained 33 pounds during her first pregnancy. In an effort to gain less with her second, she exercised excessively -- so much so that she almost miscarried at 11 weeks.

    Because of her dangerously over-the-top fitness regimen and an insufficient diet, she was diagnosed with inter-uterine growth retardation, which meant her baby wasn't getting enough nutrients. As a result, Bauman's newborn had a very low birth weight and suffered seizures due to poor neurological development.

    Overcome It: Don't be ashamed to seek help. Remember -- you have a baby growing inside of you, and you have to take care of your body so your baby can be healthy during fetal development and once it's born. Focus on the baby's needs instead of your own. The baby is helpless; you are not.

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    Fear #3: Losing Control

    When you're pregnant, you're no longer living for yourself -- you're responsible for a growing baby. And that growing baby results in all kinds of physical, emotional and lifestyle changes, many of which are far beyond your control. The fear of losing control can be especially troubling for women with eating disorders because they typically focus on perfection and maintaining control. Getting pregnant may be the ultimate way of losing control.

    Overcome It: It may be easier said than done, but you simply need to learn to let go over control. "Women need to realize there's a physical process happening inside them and be amazed at it," says Debi Demare, a professor at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta.

    Try to focus on the baby's needs rather than your own. If you're not getting enough calories and nutrients, you won't be providing what your baby must have for proper development and your body may not produce enough milk to feed your baby once he is born, Demare says. Plus, relinquishing control now is good practice for when the baby comes along. Then, you'll likely have even less control: You can't control when the baby cries, how much sleep you're going to get, and so on.

  • Pregnancy Month by Month: Month 4
    Pregnancy Month by Month: Month 4
  • Alexandra Grablewski

    Fear #4: Body Dysmorphic Disorder

    Body dysmorphic disorder is a distorted image of oneself. Women who suffer from this problem view pregnancy as scary body transformation, particularly if they are recovering from or were diagnosed with an eating disorder, says Jessica Foley, a licensed mental health counselor, in Brookline, Massachusetts.

    Overcome It: Face your fears (weight gain, stretch marks, breast changes, and so on), knowing that these are changes that may occur, but that they're all a part of a healthy pregnancy. "Women need to accept some truths about their pregnancy and their body, and in doing so, gain some self-acceptance and self-love," Foley says.

  • Fear #5: Losing Weight

    Gaining weight isn't the issue for all women. Ayshwarya Sridharan's fear of pregnancy, for example, is the opposite of the norm: She fears losing too much weight, which happened during her first pregnancy.

    "I lost 14 pounds during my pregnancy due to excessive morning sickness. Sometimes I'd throw up 20 times a day, and my nurse would advise me to rush to the ER immediately. My overall weight gain was just 15 pounds when I delivered. But I delivered a healthy girl. She weighed 4 lbs. 11 oz. at birth -- too tiny."

    Overcome It: "I recommend that women get into the habit of eating something even before getting out of bed -- preferably dry, fiber-rich cereal or whole-grain crackers," says Yvonne Syto, a private practice dietitian in Stanhope, New Jersey, and author of Nutrition Map. "Thereafter, eat every one to three hours to prevent further nausea throughout the day. The longer you go without eating, the worse the nausea can become."

    Something is always better than nothing, says Syto. Try vegetable, mushroom, or chicken broth simmered with a few pieces of fresh ginger, 1 to 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and a couple of star anise. "Sip on this throughout the day, especially if you're unable to hold down food. If you're able to tolerate it, add some firm tofu or boiled chicken breast strips for protein."

  • Sarah Kehoe

    Fear #6: Losing Your Stylish Self

    Pregnancy will inevitably change your fashion choices, thanks to a growing bump, but some women fear that it can change how others perceive their personalities as well. "There's such an emphasis on beauty and weight in our culture that during pregnancy women are often afraid they won't be who they were to everyone who judges them," says Susan Shapiro Barash, who teaches gender studies at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. "It makes people think twice about getting pregnant."

    Overcome It: Start thinking of pregnancy as a means to an end and something that's completely revolutionary, Barash advises. To feel that you still have a part of your old self, celebrate your pregnancy, she suggests. Pregnancy used to be all about flat shoes and Laura Ashley prints but it's no longer that way. "Make your pregnancy as glamorous and hip as you want. Buy some nice clothes, get some accessories, wear makeup, and try to look as good as you can, so you feel good," she says.

    You may also benefit from joining a pregnancy group, either in your hometown or online, so you can talk about your concerns. And if you usually exercise, see your doctor about a safe fitness regimen so you can keep it up -- sticking to a workout routine can help you feel good about yourself.

    Copyright © 2011 Meredith Corporation.

    All content, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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