Pregnancy is a time to let go of your hang-ups about weight. Here's how.
Erika Stehl stood in front of her full-length mirror, fighting back tears. Barely nine weeks pregnant, her favorite jeans were already way too snug. “After a lifetime of trying to stay slim, I’m in a panic just thinking about piling on 25 to 35 pounds—or maybe even much more,” says Stehl, a freelance social worker in Port Washington, N.Y.
Even though they know better, some women think of the first weight gains of pregnancy as fat, with all of the accompanying distress. “Pregnancy pushes your body beyond its boundaries, so you can’t help but feel a loss of control,” says Adrienne Ressler, M.A., C.S.W., a body-image specialist at the Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders in Coconut Creek, Fla. “Your clothes don’t fit, your bra’s too tight and, on top of that, you’re facing the unknown: motherhood.” Hormonal shifts add an emotional whammy, which might leave you feeling depressed and frustrated and wondering if you’ll ever look the same again.
But gaining weight is critical for your baby’s sake, and learning to accept that weight is important for both of you. “If you’re very self-critical or if you’ve struggled with weight all your life, pregnancy changes can hit you hard,” says Ann Kearney-Cooke, Ph.D., director of the Cincinnati Psychotherapy Institute. “But this is the time to let go of any self-loathing and put your efforts into recognizing your special qualities, appreciating the miracle your body is working and not worrying about being perfect.”
It’s all in the attitude Just when you think you can’t stand another day of fatigue and nausea, you begin your second trimester, the queasiness goes away and your energy returns. By now there’s no squeezing into your old jeans, so you finally must buy some maternity clothes. Get ready for a happy surprise.
“The image of pregnancy has undergone a dramatic change,” says Ressler. “Just recently, a very pregnant-looking woman might have been viewed as vulnerable and matronly, but now it’s totally hip, trendy and beautiful to look pregnant.” A pregnant profile is now so stylish that women proudly bare their bellies in gym clothes and bikinis. “What was once taboo now looks sexy, smart and confident,” Ressler says.
Stacey Lonergan of Port Washington says she couldn’t wait until her tummy “popped out” and she could put on maternity clothes. “For once in my life, I actually feel good about showing off my stomach” she says.
For some women, including those with eating disorders, pregnancy can provide a welcome vacation from body-image problems. “These mothers-to-be set aside their body-image issues for the duration of pregnancy, often becoming proud of their expanding bellies and enjoying the attention they receive as they nurture the life inside them,” says Jean Rubel, Th.D., founder of ANRED (Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders) in Eugene, Ore.
Trust your body Some women fear that once the weight is on, it won’t come off after the baby is born. But moderate exercise during pregnancy (with your doctor’s approval) can prevent this. “Studies show that most women who gain the amount of weight outlined in the Institute of Medicine guidelines have little reason to worry about not returning to their previous body weight,” says Jennifer Lovejoy, Ph.D., chief of women’s nutrition research at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La. (The IOM recommends that women of normal weight gain 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy; underweight women gain 28 to 40 pounds; and overweight women gain 15 to 25 pounds.)
Just as your body miraculously changes to accommodate a baby, it has the same ability to bounce back afterward. “Trust your body,” says psychologist Kearney-Cooke. “It knows what to do and won’t betray you. Just look around you at all the new mothers who look downright fabulous.”