Having spent a considerable amount of time on maternity chat forums and social media groups during my pregnancy, I have identified a number of concerns that many of us women seem to share. The top 3 body-image related worries appear to be:
- Putting on weight;
- Losing your figure and not knowing how your figure will change;
- Losing all the fitness gains you have made before becoming pregnant.
I am not ashamed to admit that I have always had these concerns, too. In fact, for a long time, I was horrified at the idea of getting pregnant, until it actually happened. Seeing those so-called ‘post-pregnancy body positivity’ images floating around on Bored Panda and Facebook with women flaunting their prominent stretch marks and saggy postpartum bellies and enlarged boobs did not exactly help to put my mind at rest about what pregnancy would do to my body. With an athletic background, I can’t help it, but fitness and looking good is super important to me!
Thankfully, I have found lots of support and wisdom in the Girls Gone Strong Facebook support group called ‘Strong Mums Sisterhood’. In this group you can find real-life mums and mum to be’s who value fitness and who share how they have tackled some of these challenges head-on during and after their pregnancies. Having read these women’s stories firstly made me realise that my concerns are perfectly valid, because they are concerning to ME; and secondly, being so self-aware is a healthy attitude (and vanity at worst).
The purpose of this article is to share some encouragement and tips that I have found to be most helpful in this Facebook group during my own pregnancy journey so far, having successfully made it through the first two trimesters. I have used some pictures from Crossfitter Lauren Ferris’ maternity photo shoot (taken by Photographer JoAnn Marrero) that was featured in the Huffington Post online magazine in February 2017 to illustrate this blog post. I kind of like her attitude whereby she wanted to show through these pictures that even though a woman is pregnant, she is still strong and capable! People like her really inspire me to look after my body and stay fit during pregnancy (whilst making modifications to fit the growing needs of my body, of course!)
So here are the top 10 lessons I have learnt from these GGS ladies:-
Address your concerns about body changes before having children
Pre-pregnancy is the time to work on your mindset about how your body changes, because it WILL change and you might not always like it. Here is a word of wisdom that one of the ladies shared in the Facebook group and which really resonated with me:-
“I found it helpful to reframe coming to terms with my body changes as something that would provide me a valuable learning experience. I think that getting to the root of my feelings about it, the way that motherhood was going to change me and my way of seeing myself, the sacrifice that it might require, ultimately served me well in adjusting to all the other ways that children change our lives. If you step back and see that coming through this challenge will help you face future ones it may give you motivation to work through it and come to a more comfortable relationship with the weight gain. There is a lot of letting go that needs to happen. Flexing that muscle now, with this issue will help you as you go along!”
Also, never be afraid to reach out for help if you need to:
“If your concerns impede you from fully enjoying the process of pregnancy and birth, then I’d really suggest you consider seeking the guidance of a counselor experienced in body image issues. What better way to step into pregnancy than tackling those things we know right off the bat may be challenging for us.“
Weight gain is inevitable – but not as bad as it sounds!
The truth is that you simply can’t avoid putting on weight during pregnancy even though you could be doing everything perfectly, sticking to a strict and nutritious eating plan and exercising regularly. Your body will 100% shift and change in ways that are different and sometimes disconcerting – that’s just what pregnant bodies do!
However, the extra weight does not have to be body fat! Having done some research on what factors contribute to unavoidable weight gain in pregnancy did put my mind at rest, as I came to realise that all these factors are simply outside my control. Most of the ‘unavoidable’ extra weight comes from the baby’s own weight, the weight of the uterus and placenta, amniotic fluid, extra blood circulating in your system, water retention, your boobs getting bigger and weighing more as a result. (I just call it a free ‘boob upgrade’!)
I have so far only expanded around my belly and boobs; the rest of my body looks as it did before pregnancy – most likely down to carrying on with exercise and maintaining a relatively healthy diet.
You can be pregnant AND still look hot
I always thought the two are an oxymoron like ‘sunny Britain’, until I started receiving compliments during my second trimester from people telling me that I am blossoming and I look beautiful. Others commented that I look ‘so happy’ and that I have a ‘cute little baby bump’. So at last, the so-called ‘pregnancy glow’ kicked in after feeling so sickly during the first trimester.
For starters, I have found that it makes a HUGE difference when you know you look great and feel good in your clothes while pregnant. I am not shy to admit that I have taken my pregnancy as an opportunity to refresh my wardrobe and have enjoyed experimenting with ways to ‘style’ my bump. Having a petit and athletic figure, I settled on wearing dresses most of the time as they suit me best. Zara has been a real life saver as a lot of their non-maternity dresses fit me during pregnancy, they all have an excellent cut and tailoring, and come at very affordable prices. Wearing these dresses I feel attractive, comfortable and I’m able to accomodate my growing bump. I am sure these loose fitting dresses will definitely come in handy straight after having the baby, too, before I shrink back to (or close to) my normal size.
Some ladies commented in the Facebook group about looking at these body changes as a positive, transformative process:-
“When you think about motherhood as a transformative process, it opens up a greater sense of opportunity for changing how you see yourself, how you move in your body and move that body through the world. (…) Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t look amazing after kids – YOU get to control the narrative around what ‘amazing’ means to you.”
Appreciate the miracle that is happening in your body
Inevitably, there will be times when you are going to feel big, heavy and sluggish. These will be good opportunities to reflect on the amazing work your body is doing and what it is capable of. I have always thought of women being physically superior to men (in the nicest possible way…) – men may be stronger, faster and bigger, and yet, God designed us women to bear and give life. (A blessing and a burden at the same time, if you ask me!)
Some ladies have commented in the group:-
“Your body will do what it wants during pregnancy. It will make a safe and amazing environment to grow your amazing mini human. It’s hard up until your bump comes through but when it does it’s AMAZING. I wore tight clothes to show it off all the time!”
“There is nothing, NOTHING in my life as empowering as giving birth to my son. My greatest athletic feat I would argue. (…) I’m 2 weeks post partum now and stunned by how quickly my body has snapped back.“
Eliminate triggers for negative body image
Of course, you may not always find yourself in awe of the little miracle that is growing in your body, for example, when Baby decides to have a party in your belly just as you are about to go to sleep after an exhausting day; or when your favourite (and only) shorts no longer fit you. I find that simply eliminating the triggers that are likely to cause me to feel negatively (such as weighing myself, looking at chiselled bodies online, trying to wear my tighter clothes) can be a real game changer.
Some ladies shared their tips in the group:-
“I honestly stopped weighing myself. Took the battery out of my scale at home and I stepped on the scale backwards at the doctor’s office. Once I stopped knowing, I stopped thinking about it.”
“Clear out clothes that are not serving a purpose for now, while you grow your more meaningful purpose in your belly.”
Focus on enjoying keeping fit and taking a break from strict dieting and training
Thankfully, I have got through the first two trimesters smoothly and touch wood, the third trimester will go similarly well. I firmly believe that leading a fit lifestyle and eating a healthy diet before and during my pregnancy have played a major role. I am still doing lots of walking, hiking, and strength training in the gym (and also running until the 5th month) during my pregnancy. Whilst some women complain about pelvic or back pain, needing to take time off work due to exhaustion, or even find themselves on crutches at this stage in their pregnancy, I feel truly blessed that I am not one of them.
A lot of women in the GGS Facebook group acknowledged the importance and benefits of staying fit throughout pregnancy:-
“My doctor said that because of my health and fitness level, I was way ahead of other women getting pregnant and I was setting myself up to have a great and healthy pregnancy (…) I would theoretically be getting pregnant at this higher fitness level, the chances of me maintaining and keeping a higher fitness level (compared to other pregnant ladies) during pregnancy was higher as well.”
“Working out makes all the difference in the world for my mood and how my body feels. With my first child I lifted all the way through (…). I found getting back in shape after and the birth process itself to be easier because I stuck with it”
“I find that getting to the gym, even if I can only manage a 30 minute walk on the treadmill some days, helps me to stay positive and makes me appreciate all the changes going on in my body”
“As long as you have a normal, healthy pregnancy there’s really no reason you have to completely stop. You can easily maintain your muscles while pregnant. I’m not a heavy lifter but I like to stay slim and toned. Nothing wrong with wanting to maintain your body but the gift of having children will make all the difference”
Most importantly, if you let go of expectations from yourself to perform and just focus on what you can do, you are more likely to enjoy the transformative process, as one mum said:-
“Is it hard some days to look at the change and extra fat and thicker thighs? Yes. But I’m also happy that my healthy lifestyle has helped me have a healthy pregnancy in which I still lift and workout this far into my pregnancy. I lift less weight and I’ve lost muscle, but I’m still moving.
(…) If you learn to let go and enjoy the process of the amazing transformation your body will go through to carry a beautiful baby, you will enjoy every moment of it”
Trust the process – it’s only a temporary state and you WILL bounce back
Pregnancy won’t last forever and your recovery may take a while (how long is very much dependent on how the delivery went and what support system you have in place after birth). It is very tempting to feel impatient about the process of ‘getting through’ pregnancy and ‘resuming normal life’ after delivery. However, as the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. There is so much pressure on women these days to ‘bounce back’ into their ‘pre-baby bodies’ straight away, so it is not surprising that many women feel depressed when things do not happen overnight.
I have been reassured by the ladies in this Facebook group that learning to trust your body, trying to enjoy the new baby and continuing with your healthy choices as much as possible during and after pregnancy can support the recovery process and your ‘come back’ massively.
They have said:-
“Your mindset plays a big part. If you go into it with confidence, your body will follow your lead. (…) I was amazed at how well my body served me through my pregnancy, labor, and recovery. I’ve been active my entire life, continued as much as I could during pregnancy (even if it was just long treadmill walks and weights for maintenance only of course), had an uneventful labor, and afterward my body seemed to return to itself quickly. Everyone’s body will react differently but I think you’ll be impressed if you continue with the healthy choices you’ve been making.”
“Relax. Let your body guide you. It has a wisdom beyond comprehension. Because you have been healthy and fit, do not worry about the weight gain because it will burn off very fast when you start breastfeeding. Just trust your body and relax to enjoy the experience. Our bodies are incredibly flexible and as women just simply incredible to bear and give life.”
“Pregnancy changes your body, and it helped me to just try to be the healthiest, strongest version of that body. For all that 40 weeks feels like forever, it’s just a season. Fat can be lost, muscle can be rebuilt. Very few things are set in stone”
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
A lot of people say that the real challenges will start after having the baby, both emotionally and physically speaking. During these times of being our most vulnerable selves, it is even more important to reach out for professional support if we need to (e.g. pelvic floor therapist, breast feeding clinic, counsellor, self-help books etc.)
Some ladies commented in the group:-
“After giving birth, I did pelvic floor PT and was working at about my pre-pregnancy intensity level around 5 months postpartum. I tried to build up slowly and not put too much pressure on myself too look a certain way or ‘get my body back’ because there is no going back, only forward.”
“It takes treating your body with a lot of kindness and patience to be pregnant and to heal postpartum. It was hard for me to find that kind of love for myself on my own and I really found time with a therapist very valuable.”
Reframe pregnancy and the post-partum period in a positive way
I’m looking at ‘staying fit’ and ‘getting my pre-baby body back as much as possible’ as an exciting challenge, rather than something that I should fear and stress much about.
Even though I had to give up running after 5 months into my pregnancy (things got too uncomfortable from that stage), I did grow to enjoy designing my gym workouts for each trimester to suit my changing body and my needs. I don’t often have the opportunity to indulge the creative part of my brain, so being my own personal trainer during my pregnancy has really helped with that.
As always, I don’t like to think about limitations, but instead, I want to look at the opportunities that challenging times present me with!
Find positive role models who inspire YOU
Finally, going back to those ‘post-pregnancy body positivity’ images on Bored Panda and Facebook that absolutely horrified me when I was looking for information on how to ‘get through’ and ‘bounce back’ from pregnancy…
Whilst I acknowledge that these images were meant to be empowering and may be helpful for some women trying to come into terms with their pregnant or post-partum bodies, I have personally found it more productive to seek out a few role model mums who inspire ME. Tina Muir (elite British runner), Reka Turoczi aka. I Run Mom (amateur Hungarian triathlete), Nicole Moneer (IBFF bikini pro and Olympian, fitness model) and Emily Skye (online fitness star and influencer) are just a few of the ladies I look up to for inspiration and reassurance that everything is possible if you put all the hard work in (and have enough support around you, I might add!). Their examples reassure me that continuing to invest into my body and health throughout pregnancy, I can stay fit and can get back into decent shape after delivery.
Have you been or are you pregnant? How are you dealing with the changes in your body? What have you been struggling with the most?