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If you’re not loving your voluptuous new self, you’re not alone: Pregnancy, although usually a joyful time, can still negatively affect the way you feel about your body. Take Mary Kay Mangiarelli, a mother of two in Aurora, Ill. “I was overweight when I got pregnant,” she recalls. “So I had the weight I started with, plus the bad feelings about that, plus the new pregnancy weight—and it all compounded.” While she was thrilled to be expecting, pregnancy didn’t erase her poor self-image—in fact, she actually began to feel worse about her body.
It’s not all in your head
It makes sense that pregnancy’s drastic physical changes can produce shifts in self-esteem and body image. “All women undergo enormous physiological changes during pregnancy and childbirth,” explains Rebecca Anne Turner, Ph.D., professor of clinical psychology at the California School of Professional Psychology in San Francisco. “Nevertheless, two people may react very differently to the same set of hormonal changes.” Glass-half-empty types may not embrace physical shifts as readily as their more optimistic friends. The self-image you held going into pregnancy, particularly in regard to weight, also may complicate your feelings. Women with a history of eating disorders or obesity face particular challenges, although the prospect of gaining 30 or so pounds in less than a year can be daunting for anyone.
Medical and mental-health experts concur that when it comes to body image and pregnancy, we’re all influenced by common factors. First, there’s the undeniable fact that pregnancy changes everything—literally. “Changes occur not only in the body but also in the brain,” Turner notes. “There’s a proliferation of new receptors, such as those for estrogen, oxytocin and prolactin, which prepare the woman and her body for childbirth, breastfeeding and nurturing. In addition, neuron growth essentially ‘rewires’ the brain for motherhood.” These dramatic chemical shifts can take you on an emotional roller coaster. Body image also hinges to some degree on messages, direct or indirect, you receive from people around you. Heather Maynard, a former teacher living in West Hartford, Conn., is 4 feet 11 inches tall. When she was nine months pregnant, a tactless co-worker commented in the faculty room, “Heather’s as wide as she is tall—just like a Weeble!” As Maynard recalls, “Up until then, I hadn’t thought I looked that bad. Suddenly, I felt very conspicuous.” Larger societal views of pregnancy can color your body image, too. For instance, the media were quick to praise the pregnant actress Sarah Jessica Parker, who maintained her shapely legs and touted a fashionable “bump,” but mocked actress Kate Hudson who gained a less-stylish 60 pounds during her pregnancy.