By:  Lauren Hill, MS, LPCA, LCAS-A

Dealing with body image during pregnancy and during the postpartum period is difficult for any woman. But when you are in recovery from an eating disorder, adjusting to and dealing with all the bodily changes during and after pregnancy can be completely overwhelming. As a new mother, this is something I have experienced personally, and something I hear from my clients on a regular basis.

In our society, we are so often bombarded with images and news stories of celebrities “bouncing back” from childbirth and debuting their seemingly perfect bikini bodies on the beach or on the red carpet just weeks after giving birth. It seems that they were never even pregnant at all. We feel the pressure to give birth to our babies and then jump on the bandwagon of diets and exercise plans to lose the baby weight and “get our bodies back”. I am here to tell you that what we see in the media is a lie, and the last thing we need to be focusing on in the early days of motherhood is dieting and punishing our bodies for giving us the most precious gift we will ever receive.

If you are pregnant, are a new mother, or plan to become pregnant in the future, here are a few ideas to think about and ways to navigate the pregnancy/postpartum body image challenges:

1. Focus on Body-Acceptance and Body-Appreciation
When our bodies are changing, whether it is due to pregnancy or not, it can seem impossible to imagine getting to a place where we can say, “Wow, I LOVE my body”. Instead of focusing on getting to a place of body-love, it can help to rather focus on getting to a place of body-acceptance and body-appreciation. During pregnancy, it can be very helpful to shift the focus from your body’s appearance to the amazing things your body is doing to grow and nourish your baby. During my pregnancy, when I would start to feel uneasy about how my body looked, I would start thanking it for taking such good care of the little baby inside me. After my daughter was born, I began to focus on appreciating my body for being able to produce milk to nourish her, and also just focusing on my caring for my daughter rather than focusing on my body’s perceived flaws.

Here are some examples of things you might think or say to yourself:

During pregnancy:

“I accept that my body is doing what it needs to do to grow a healthy baby.”

“I know that my body needs to grow and change to accommodate this little human inside of me.”

“I appreciate my body for allowing me to grow and nourish this baby.”

Postpartum:

“My body just went through growing and birthing a baby and needs time to recover.”

“It took my body nine months to expand to accommodate my growing child, and it is going to take even longer for it to get used to its new normal.”

“I accept my body just as it is, even though it is different.”

“I am so grateful to my body for giving me this precious gift and I won’t punish it by trying to make it look like it used to.”

2. Clean Out the Closet and Go Shopping EARLY!
Another thing that is very important is to make sure that you pack up, put away, or get rid of clothes that are already fitted or will become too small BEFORE THEY BECOME TOO SMALL! Even though you know your clothes are going to get too tight and no longer fit during pregnancy, it can still be distressing when you put them on and notice that they are tighter or have become too small. Go ahead and shop for looser fitting clothes for the earlier days of pregnancy and get some maternity clothes in your closet early so you have options when you need them! (**If finances are a concern, there are a lot of consignment stores that sell maternity clothing, as well as folks on platforms like Facebook Marketplace looking to get rid of their maternity clothing for free or at a low price!)

After giving birth, our bodies need time to recover. I was still wearing some maternity clothes six months after giving birth! I also knew that my pre-pregnancy pants would be tight, so I went shopping for new ones and did not even try on the old ones! Make sure that you don’t rush to get back into pre-pregnancy clothes and focus on wearing clothes that fit your body right where it is. That may mean wearing looser fitting clothes or buying a larger size in pants in order to feel comfortable!

3. Focus on your values!
Throughout my pregnancy and postpartum journey, I had many moments where I would start thinking about how unhappy I was with my body. In those moments, turning my attention to my values was SO helpful. What is important to me? My daughter, my family, my recovery, my job, my spirituality, joy, and peace. If I continued to focus on my body and wanting to change it, my energy and attention would be taken away from everything I value. Instead of spending energy trying to change your body, focus on what matters to you and make decisions that bring you closer to THOSE things.

4. Get support!!
I cannot stress this one enough. Finding a counselor during this time is imperative, especially if you have a history of disordered eating, depression, or body image issues. Whether your support team includes professionals or not, find your “tribe”. These people could be friends, family members, partners, a local mom’s group, church members, or anyone else that you can think of to include. The early days of motherhood are TOUGH and it is so important to have people around who can be a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, or just someone to hold the baby while you shower and take a nap!

5. Book Recommendation:
If you are pregnant, a new mother, or are planning to become pregnant in the future, I HIGHLY recommend the book Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat?: The Essential Guide to Loving Your Body Before and After Baby by Claire Mysko and Magali Amadeï. It is a fabulous resource that helps with navigating the challenge of body image during pregnancy and postpartum!

You see, you don’t need to get your body “back”. Your body never left! This body is STILL my body. It is strong. It is capable. My body’s imperfections tell the story of the amazing things it has done for me, and so do yours. In fact, I am learning to love and appreciate my body more now than I EVER did before because it gave me the greatest gift I could ever have hoped for, my sweet baby girl.