When Michelle Anthony discovered she was pregnant, she experienced the usual whirlwind of mother-to-be emotions -- awe, joy, and excitement. But lurking behind these was another, darker feeling. "I'd struggled with body image my whole life," says the Englewood, Colorado, resident. "So learning to accept my new shape -- and all those extra pounds -- was a bit of a challenge."
Naturally thin, Michelle gained ten pounds during her first trimester and more than 40 by the time her daughter was born. Far from molding itself into a cute little tummy, the weight went everywhere -- thighs, hips, and chest. "I didn't feel like an adorable pregnant woman," she says. "I felt oversize for my own body -- and even outgrew my maternity clothes."
Such confessions can be difficult -- and no wonder. Pregnancy is supposed to be a happy time. Fretting over dimpling thighs seems unnatural -- or worse, unmaternal. But the fact is, such concerns are normal. "No matter how much they hate to admit it, most mothers-to-be struggle with their changing figure," says Ann Kearney-Cooke, Ph.D., director of the Cincinnati Psychotherapy Institute and a specialist in women's issues.
So how, exactly, should you deal with these negative emotions? For starters, give yourself permission to feel both the joy and the frustration of having your body change in so many ways. Next, use strategies like these to embrace your new curves.
We all know the numbers: A typical pregnancy means a zero- to five-pound weight gain in the first trimester, then another 20 to 30 pounds through the ninth month. Sounds manageable enough -- until the doctor's scale registers a ten-pound gain during your first seven weeks. Or you go in the wrong direction altogether. "For six weeks, I was vomiting every fifteen minutes," recalls Jen Zweig, of Seattle, who lost fifteen pounds in her first trimester.
The fact is, few women's bodies follow the guidelines exactly. That's because the way you gain weight depends on an assortment of factors, including your height, genetics, and where you were on the scale prepregnancy. The bottom line? "If your doctor isn't alarmed by your weight gain, you shouldn't be," says Shari Brasner, M.D., author of Advice from a Pregnant Obstetrician (Hyperion).
In addition to making you feel better, exercise helps alleviate fatigue and can even speed recovery after childbirth. A few rules to keep in mind: Consult your doctor before starting a program, drink plenty of fluids, and never exercise to the point of exhaustion. And if something feels wrong, stop -- or switch to a lower-impact workout, such as walking briskly, swimming, or doing water aerobics. "Even if you've never thought about getting into a pool to exercise before, now's the time to try," says Kathy Kaehler, a fitness expert and the mother of three boys.
Throughout her pregnancy, some of Michelle Anthony's strongest encouragement came from her husband. "He kept telling me how sexy my body was," she recalls. Most women find that sideline cheering can make all the difference. Let family and friends know that you'd appreciate their kind words. And if someone slips up occasionally -- say, with an ill-timed joke about your waistline -- let her know it bothers you. Chances are she was only trying to make you smile.
"For my first pregnancy, I got absolutely enormous -- and I dressed enormous," recalls Kaehler, who gained 80 pounds with twins Cooper and Payton. In retrospect, she says, the tentlike clothing she wore only emphasized her girth. The next time around, she chose form-fitting pieces that showed off her new figure. The result? "I felt a lot more comfortable with the transformation."
Not all pregnant women opt for abs-accentuating clothing. But adding to your wardrobe can make a big difference in how you feel. "Women who shop for maternity clothes early in their pregnancy tend to have an easier time adjusting to their body," says Stephen Chasen, M.D., a maternal-fetal-medicine specialist at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, in New York City.
Though some may relish the idea of eating for two, others find their new nutritional demands disorienting. "I get e-mail from pregnant women who feel tempted to restrict themselves, instead of concentrating on their growing child," Kaehler says. Fretting over food won't help your body or your baby -- and in extreme situations, could harm both. A better approach is to rethink mealtime in general. Instead of counting calories, concentrate on how each bite is helping build a new life. And enjoy your food -- you've got a great excuse!
"Do things that make you feel good about yourself," Dr. Kearney-Cooke suggests. "Slather on lotion and put on lipstick when you're hanging around the house." Or head to the salon, where most beauty treatments -- such as facials and pedicures -- are fine for expecting women. You do need to be cautious with hot tubs and high-potency skin creams, though, so check with your doctor before splurging.
The next time you fret about swollen ankles, remember what your new shape means. Sign up for our Parents pregnancy newsletter, and read about the changes your baby is undergoing. Imagine the moment you finally see your child. After all, there will be plenty of time to reclaim your body later.