Pregnancy and Body Image

February 23, 2015

photo (69)I’ve spent a lot of time over the years writing about body image on this site. It’s been such a blessing to hear stories from so many other women who have struggled with body confidence and self-acceptance and are now loving and embracing their bodies and all that they can do. Although I’ve made huge strides over the years in loving and appreciating my own body, I have to admit that I was very, very worried about my body and the way it would change and transition while pregnant. Having finally found a happy place with eating and exercising, I felt more at peace in my own skin prior to getting pregnant this time around than I had ever felt before. And that led to a lot of fears and questions.

How would my body adjust to being pregnant? Would I swell up like a balloon? Would my body change in ways that I would never be able to recover from? Were the days of feeling fit and pretty over for good?

Of course, I didn’t feel like I could really express these fears and concerns because we had prayed so diligently for our little miracle baby. I was truly thrilled to be pregnant and didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea by me complaining or expressing concerns about my body. How silly to worry about my body image when God gave me this amazing, miraculous life growing inside me!

But the truth is, those fears are normal and valid. It doesn’t diminish the excitement of your pregnancy and baby and it certainly doesn’t make you a bad momma, either. There are a few things that I’ve learned about body image along this pregnancy journey that I wanted to share in case there are others out there who are pregnant, newly pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant sometime soon.

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The photo above? That’s me right after finding out we were pregnant with Baby H. Someone should have slapped me for ever having a “fat day” because at 39 weeks pregnant, I would kill to look like that again! Which brings me to my first point…

1. Pregnancy will make you appreciate your pre-pregnancy body in ways you never thought possible. 
I’ve looked back at the photos on my phone from my pre-pregnancy days and been ashamed at the thoughts that I remember having about my body at the time the photos were taken. I remember thinking that I looked chubby or out of shape, picking apart my thighs or stomach. But the truth is, pregnancy has given me an entirely new appreciation for my pre-pregnancy body. Was it perfect? Absolutely not! But my body was fit, healthy and I think I looked pretty darn good. So if you’re not currently pregnant, appreciate your pre-pregnancy body. It’s more beautiful than you can imagine!

2. There are great things about your pregnant body, too! 
I’m sure everyone is quick to tell you about the horrible things that come with pregnancy, like the swollen feet, achy back and stretch marks, but the changes that your body undergoes are just plain miraculous. The more I read about pregnancy, the more amazed I was by my body’s ability to grown and change to accommodate a new little life.

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3. Don’t listen to discouraging stories!
You know what drives me crazy? When people are quick to tell you that you’ll never “get your body back” after baby or that it’s all downhill from here on out. I’m not going into the post-pregnancy period thinking it’s going to be easy, but I’m also not setting myself up to fail by believing that I’ll never feel or look like myself again. I’m fully expecting my body to be changed after baby, but I’m also expecting that with a serious dose of hard work I’ll be able to feel like myself in due time.

If you’re looking for a serious dose of encouragement, read my friend Robin’s amazing story of body after baby. We need more of those amazing stories!

4. It’s not all doom and gloom. In fact, your body may surprise you!
Everyone experiences pregnancy differently. Just because your sister-in-law’s feet grew two sizes or your best friend had horrible stretch marks that never went away doesn’t mean anything for your own experience. Personally I was terrified of stretch marks and gaining 65 pounds, but my body blew me away with how it handled pregnancy. I’ve gained a reasonable amount of weight, my wedding rings are still on and I’m still wearing my favorite pairs of shoes. After two miscarriages I went into this pregnancy with a lot of fear and distrust of my body, but this experience has helped rebuild the trust I have in my body and renewed my appreciation.

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5. Give yourself some grace, but not a free pass.
Hollywood totally glamorizes the crazy pregnancy cravings and eating entire pints of ice cream in one sitting while you’re growing a baby. While I certainly haven’t restricted my food intake while pregnant, I’ve also tried to be reasonable about the indulgences along the way. Knowing that my body only needed about 300 extra calories in the second trimester and 500 extra calories in the third trimester put my eating into perspective. I became more interested in making my calories count in the form of nutrient-dense foods rather than wasting my calories in the form of empty nutritional sources.

That said, there were plenty of times when I indulged in dessert or an extra slice of pizza and did so without any regret. There is no sense in beating yourself up along the way! There should be a few fun perks during pregnancy, right?!

6. Stay as active as possible for your mental sanity.
I had grand visions of running through my entire pregnancy and maintaining a fairly intense workout routine. However, I experienced horrible groin pain from about 17 weeks on, making exercise, especially running, difficult. I quickly adjusted my expectations for workouts while pregnant. Running was off the table but I found that pregnancy DVDs, long walks and hand and body weight exercises were enough to keep me feeling good physically and mentally. Plus, I have to imagine that staying active while pregnant will help when I’m trying to get back in shape after baby.

7. Invest in a pregnancy wardrobe. 
This may be a debatable suggestion, but I would strongly suggest investing in some great pieces of clothing during your pregnancy. Doing so really helped me feel like myself even as my body was changing and helped me maintain a sense of personal style. Although pregnancy is “only 9 months” as many will tell you, that’s a long 9 months to wear clothing that doesn’t make you feel good about your body. There are plenty of reasonably-priced options for maternity wear. My favorites? Gap Maternity and ASOS Maternity!

Other mommas out there, what would you add to this list? 

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  • Reply DessertForTwo February 23, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    This is so sweet and honest, Madison. I loved reading it 🙂 I don’t come from a place where I give any attention/thought to my body, besides feeding it well. I don’t know why I’m made that way, and others are made differently, but that’s just the way it is for me. So, reading others’ experiences is incredibly eye-opening for me. I think you are the most adorable pregnant lady ever! You are glowing and beautiful! I remember after the first time my husband met you, he said ‘Wow, she is knock-out gorgeous!’ And I whole-heartedly agree!
    I’m so with you on not listening to everyone else’s horror stories! Why do pregnant women do this to each other? I have not had a single ‘pregnancy symptom’ yet I read and hear about all the bad ones. It’s entirely possible to have a normal pregnancy, in my opinion. I’m still waiting for my swollen feet, varicose veins, and back pain. Ugh, let’s all just rub each other’s bellies and be happy 🙂

    • Reply ali grace February 24, 2015 at 11:53 pm

      You are so great, Christina, and I completely agree. There is no “normal” anything and if we women would all encourage each other more the world would be a better place!

  • Reply Lindsey February 23, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    This is a great post! I agree that your body may surprise you with how well it handles pregnancy but also post-partum! Taking care of yourself during pregnancy goes a long way in the post-partum period as well. Staying active is very key for your mental well being after for sure! It made a huge difference once I was able to get up and move a bit more.

  • Reply Emily @ Perfection Isn't Happy February 23, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    Thank you so much for writing this! I’m about 14 weeks pregnant now, and although my body hasn’t changed much physically yet, the anticipation is making me nervous for some reason. People are so quick to tell me “You’ll never look like that again!,” and “Don’t gain too much weight, you won’t be able to lose it afterwards!,” but I don’t believe them, and I know that I can look like my pre-pregnant self again! So far, I’ve liked being pregnant (minus the first trimester sickness, but that’s to be expected), and I wish that more people were positive about it!

  • Reply Aileen February 23, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    I love this post! There is so much truth in it. I have looked back at pre-pregnancy photos and thought wow, I look so great in those why was I judging myself so harshly. I also have been too judgmental about how I look now (especially before the bump really started showing) and worry about getting back into shape post baby. But, you’re completely right it’s possible. Everyone just seems to make such a huge deal about never having a great body again after a baby. Thanks for your encouragement! Also, we must be due days apart because I’m 39 weeks too!

  • Reply Caitlyn Hendrickson February 23, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    Madison, I really appreciate this post. I am 34 weeks pregnant, so I feel like I’ve been one step behind you my entire pregnancy! I discovered a slightly different kind of guilt upon finding out that I was pregnant. It was a surprise pregnancy, and while my husband and I are elated now (SO excited!), I wasn’t in the beginning. I wasn’t ready to be a mom (even at 29!), and selfishly, I didn’t want my body to change. But how could I not see this as a blessing when so many of our friends struggled with infertility?

    In August, I found myself in a dark space, crazily working out as I assumed that I would like you said, gain 65 pounds, and balloon into a giant baby factory 🙂 Throughout the fall and winter months, my body has really eased into this pregnancy, and I’ve seen the incredible and divine creation of our bodies. As well as the joy and excitement of having a little one grow inside you.

    What an incredible journey!

    • Reply MadisonMayberry February 24, 2015 at 10:41 pm

      Isn’t it fun to walk with others who are in similar stages of this pregnancy/parenthood journey? I love reading blogs of others who are pregnant or new mommas. Love hearing that your body has really settled into pregnancy well. Sending lots of good thoughts for the remainder of your pregnancy. I’m finding these last few weeks to be SO trying on me mentally knowing that our baby could come any day or two weeks from now! I think the anticipation may kill me!

  • Reply Sarah February 23, 2015 at 7:58 pm

    This is a great post! I had my first in April after several miscarriages. I, too, was just thrilled to be pregnant and tried so hard not to complain about allllllllll of the crazy things that happen to our bodies! I honestly did not enjoy being pregnant, but felt too guilty to admit it. Like I had wanted this so bad, how dare I not love every single minute of it? I do believe that I lost a bit of the innocence and naivety with the miscarriages, which significantly impacted my attitude.

    As soon as I had my baby, my perspective on everything totally shifted. My health and body image weren’t just about me, but was setting an example for my son and how he views himself and women. I want to be healthy, not just for me, but to instill these traits in him as well. Eating healthy food became less about losing weight and more about valuing what we put into our body. Running a half marathon became less about getting leaner legs and more about achieving a goal and elevating my heart rate every day. Something inside of me shifted, and for the first time in probably my life, I’m more at peace with my body and my health.

    • Reply MadisonMayberry February 24, 2015 at 10:39 pm

      Sarah, I am with you on the whole not complaining after experiencing pregnancy loss. I swore to myself when I miscarried the second time that I would be ever-grateful and never complain about my pregnant body. Easier said than done though, as I’m sure you found! And I agree 100% that it was hard to really settle into pregnancy mentally and accept that this baby was really going to make it and be different than our other pregnancies/miscarriages.

      Thanks for sharing your perspective. It’s so encouraging to hear from others who have walked a similar road and are a few steps ahead of me!

  • Reply NSU February 23, 2015 at 9:02 pm

    Since you asked for more stories like your friend’s, I can chime in that I’m 10 lbs lighter than I was pre-pregnancy (I went from a size 4 to a size 2) and have been since 4 months post-partum. I lost pretty much all my baby weight in the first month largely from breast feeding and the fact I didn’t gain that much to begin with. Part of it is that I’m busier (I work full time), we eat at home more (we rarely eat out, get takeout which says something in NYC), but also I’m even more in my “happy place” with diet and exercise now that I have a family to think about and care for. I also started strength training (crossfit to be specific) when I was 8 months pregnant (!), and I’m actually a faster runner now than I was before (I ran a half marathon 4 mo post partum and a full 9 mo and PR’d!). I’m just SO MUCH more efficient with my workouts (time is at a premium these days!). And it carries extra meaning to show my little guy how STRONG mommy is.
    I will say the limiting factor in the early days is sleep– it’s SO hard to muster the energy to work out, specifically to do so when your spouse can care for baby if he’s working (i.e. first thing in the morning) but the best thing you can do is get back in your routine (or create new sustainable routines) as soon as baby is sleeping through.
    I would also add to your friend’s post: breastfeeding was harder for me to continue when I went back to work and (since we’re being honest here) I was worried about weight gain when I stopped- In fact I was able to shed those last 5 lbs once my body no longer “needed the reserves” AND my workout capacity increased without the drain of feeding a human, so I can work out harder in the same amount of time (hence my speed gains).
    Hope this helps allay some fears– I know I had them too. Best wishes.

    • Reply MadisonMayberry February 24, 2015 at 10:37 pm

      I can only imagine that when you’re sleep-deprived during those early days that it’s difficult to get the energy or motivation to workout! I am not the best when I’m going on very little sleep, but I’ve heard some rumor that your body adjusts over time? Praying that’s the truth for me, too!

      Thanks for sharing your story. I’m hoping to run a half marathon with my husband this fall, not so much for the weight loss but just to regain a sense of my old self and general health/wellbeing!

      • Reply Rebecca February 26, 2015 at 11:39 pm

        Similar story here – I’m also 10 lbs lighter than my pre-pregnancy weight and my son turns 1 next week! I was back to pre-pregnancy weight 4 weeks postpartum and breastfeeding definitely helped pounds keep coming off. Funny enough, my stretch marks didn’t appear until 4 weeks postpartum! (Maybe from the sudden weight loss since the weight gain was so gradual?) I’ve been slightly overweight for several years so it was awesome that pregnancy/breastfeeding actually helped me lose weight without much effort! Praying that you have a smooth delivery and can’t wait to see photos of your beautiful new baby!

  • Reply Lauren @ Sassy Molassy February 23, 2015 at 11:56 pm

    These are great points. There is so much about pregnancy and the body that can be really great. Currently 26 weeks along and things are expanding to the point where I’m thinking “hm, maybe I WILL need to purchase a few more items that make me feel and look good.” For me, having the grace with my body to understand that it might not be the same afterward, but that’s perfectly fine has really helped me. After all, we’re growing little munchkins and that in itself is HUGE. The body goes through so many changes in those 9-10 months, so why do we expect it to bounce right back to the way it used to be? 🙂 Also, you’re looking great!

    • Reply MadisonMayberry February 24, 2015 at 10:32 pm

      Congrats on your pregnancy, Lauren! You’re totally right, our bodies will probably never be the same. In fact, I like to think we may love our post-baby bodies even more than our pre-pregnancy bodies. 🙂

  • Reply M February 24, 2015 at 2:02 am

    I used to be so hard on myself and my body image before pregnancy and during my pregnancy. Critiquing my abs, legs, etc. EVEN having a good cry (full disclosure) when my underwear stopped fitting during pregnancy. 🙂

    But guess what? I can say with 1000000% certainty that my self image is so much healthier after having 2 children. I don’t look exactly the same as I once did – I look better because I FEEL better. I am proud of my body. I am proud of my strength. The negative self image is replaced by a person who is secure in who I am as a mom, a wife and a woman. I don’t compare myself to others any longer. Jesus has showed me who I am through HIM. I pray that you (and all women post pregnancy) will have this same freedom! Such a weight lifted. (Pun intended) 🙂

    • Reply MadisonMayberry February 24, 2015 at 10:31 pm

      Oh girl, I totally feel you about the underwear thing. Why didn’t anyone tell us that it’s not just your stomach that gets bigger but everything that gets bigger?! I remember the day I went shopping for even larger underwear and how down I felt about my body. Thanks for the encouragement about the post-pregnancy body. It’s great you’ve found such a place of peace and contentment with yours!

  • Reply Krista February 24, 2015 at 3:00 am

    Don’t mean to be rude, but your comments about weight gain and stretch marks seem kind of insensitive. It seems obvious you don’t have any stretch marks and I sure hope you consider yourself lucky. I have talked to many mommas you have them and HATE them. It’s hard to deal with during and after pregnancy. They may be our “tiger stripes” we’ve earned by growing our babies, but they can go away now.

    • Reply MadisonMayberry February 24, 2015 at 10:30 pm

      Not rude at all, Krista! You’re right, I don’t have stretch marks (which I’m convinced is strictly a genetic thing rather than a how big you get thing) and I’ve gained a reasonable amount of weight, but I do have other things that have bothered me and plagued me this pregnancy. I’m pretty sure everyone has something, right?!

  • Reply Cheri Elisabeth February 24, 2015 at 3:07 am

    YES YES YES and especially YES to #4. Everyone will tell you the horror stories but very few times will you hear how wonderful it is. My wedding rings fit my entire pregnancy including while I delivered. The day after my fingers swelled but after drinking about a gallon of water, the went right back on the next. No stretch marks, no crazy weight gain, no bigger feet. Having a baby isn’t a pass to eat badly. I made healthy choices both while pregnant and post parrdium and lost the baby weight with the help of exercise. You got this!!!

  • Reply jillian February 24, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    I love this! I am almost 37 weeks pregnant and I have tried really hard to stay active throughout my pregnancy and eat healthy foods (with a few burgers + fries thrown in). I am starting to miss my pre-pregnancy body but I am SO grateful what our bodies are capable of and it’ll all be worth it when I meet my daughter 🙂 xo jillian – cornflake dreams

  • Reply AJ February 24, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    I had two little girls back to back (14 months apart) and the stretch marks to prove it. I still struggle with them, but try to remind myself that they are a constant reminder of every breath they took inside of me. A reminder that when days seem tough, I once carried a child inside of me. It takes time and a lot of energy to refocus the negative thoughts and turn them into positives. It is really hard when I see my friends who have the perfect stomachs with not a single stretch mark, but we all of our own stories. And as a mom of 2 girls, I am the role model to show them how to love their bodies! God created us each in his own imagine. I have to show myself grace and love me. If I am always picking on myself, that is what my girls will see and I would never want them to do that to themselves. I have the utmost respect for the people I meet who respect their bodies and love themselves for who they are! Not because they are super fit, skinny, etc. But because they are who they are!

  • Reply Julie February 24, 2015 at 9:30 pm

    I was smaller after I had my baby than before I got pregnant. (Breast feeding is your friend!) 😉 And I wasn’t obsessive about getting back into exercising either. Just enjoy your baby & take care of yourself. I have no doubt you’ll get your figure back; you’ve made wise choices during your pregnancy. Best of luck!

  • Reply ali grace February 24, 2015 at 11:51 pm

    Let me just say that you look so great pregnant! I just want to encourage you. If I can look as good as you when I’m about to pop out a tiny human, I hope I consider myself lucky. Thanks for your honesty! As someone who has struggled with body image for a long time and would love to get pregnant in the next couple of years, this is really good for me to read and think about. But again – you look awesome, lady!!

  • Reply Urban Wife February 25, 2015 at 2:59 am

    Loving all the positive comments on here! Pregnancy definitely has done a number for me as well, in terms of body image. I think my main struggle has been with feeling like I cannot let myself gain weight during pregnancy and then compensating for that by running & working out harder than I should. Anyhow. It truly is amazing how God has designed our bodies, to be able to nourish and sustain life and likewise, the capability He gives us to “bounce back” post-baby. A post-baby body will be different, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.
    p.s. You are gorgeous, inside and out. 🙂

  • Reply Tessa February 25, 2015 at 2:57 pm

    Pregnancy and motherhood create a “new” body that you have to grow to accept, nourish, and appreciate. You will never be back to “body before baby” because that person you were is forever changed by this amazing thing called motherhood! I was very small, fit, athletic, etc before baby, I gained 40 lbs during my pregnancy and promised myself that I wouldn’t be fixated on any fitness or weight loss goals until at least 10 months post-baby. It was so important to have that mindset. It took me 10 months to put the weight on for baby and I was content with the fact that it would take at least 10 months to get back to my NEW normal, and I love my new normal. Just try your best to concentrate on your baby’s milestones and remember the amazing things your body has done in the past 10 months and will continue to do following the birth of your baby. Also, I would suggest staying away from the gym post-baby, it is better to just take walks with baby, get some fresh air, eat healthy meals or attend some BYOB yoga classes (the support of other women in these classes is amazing AND you get to see cute babies!) Wishing you the best with everything!

  • Reply Jourdan February 25, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    Loved this post. I am currently pregnant with our second, 17 weeks and this time around has been harder for me in this area. We had two miscarriages and tried for quite some time for this one (after having no difficulties getting pregnant with our first) so my doctor suggested I take it slow on workouts. This just didn’t make me feel like myself for a long while before we successfully got pregnant this time, along with the beginning period of pregnancy (a second pregnancy at that) where your body changes so much but you don’t have the obvious baby bump to prove it. It all just left me feeling sort of unhappy with my body and just not myself. All this to say, thankfully this baby has stuck and the bump is definitely growing. And also to encourage you and remind myself that my body knew what it was doing after having my daughter. The weight seemed to drop easily (with some work of course), but its all about finding your new routine and focusing on being healthy. I felt more in shape than I ever had before, probably 8 months after having her. You look beautiful and I can’t wait to see you as a mama!

  • Reply Melissa @ Freeing Imperfection February 27, 2015 at 1:59 pm

    This is such a wonderful and insightful post! I am 33 weeks right now and have had a lot of mixed feelings about being pregnant. I am an avid runner but quickly had to stop running because my body just couldn’t handle it, which was something I wasn’t expecting at all. I am still working out, but wow, my workouts have changed!

    I really agree with getting a good maternity wardrobe. I was in the camp of “it’s only 9 months” and refused to buy clothes for quite a while, but once I finally did, I was like why did I wait so long!? Destination Maternity has been a godsend!

  • Reply Elissa February 28, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    Thoroughly enjoyed and related to this post! I had my first child right after my 19th birthday. I was so young and in shock I never thought about any of this. Luckily I did bounce back with no problem or effort. Now, I’m expecting my second and I’m 36. Almost every time I get dressed or pass a mirror I worry about how I look. I was fit before becoming pregnant and I’ve been working out 3-5 times per week. I’m 19 weeks along and have gained 8-9 pounds. Would be nice not to worry but I guess it’s natural…and possibly just means you care!

  • Reply Lindsay F March 24, 2015 at 4:42 pm

    Love this post! Can you share your pregnancy workouts? Looking for inspiration other than the eliptical for 30 minutes.

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