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Pregnant Body Image -- Love It or Hate It?

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Maggie Baumann, MA: My pregnancies may have been 20 years ago, but I do remember vividly now how I felt about my body then.

pregorexia maggie baumann

At that time, I was in the throes of an eating disorder, so my perception of pregnancy and the body changes that came along with it -- weight gain and an increase in body size -- were skewed at best.

I wasn't one of those pregnant moms who couldn't wait to wear maternity clothes. In fact, I refused to buy maternity clothes. And I essentially tried to hide my pregnancies from neighbors the whole nine months.

I was not comfortable in my body during my pregnancies. I was petrified by gaining weight, and felt a loss of control over my growing body. I restricted calories and overexercised to fight the natural growing-body changes that accompany pregnancy. All of my unhealthy thoughts and behaviors were consistent with someone who is struggling with pregorexia, a term that describes a woman who has an eating disorder during pregnancy.

Pregorexia is NOT an excuse for unhealthy behaviors during a pregnancy, but it can play a role in how you look at your growing body during a pregnancy. Even if they haven't struggled with an eating disorder during pregnancy, many women have very distinct memories of their body image at this transitional and miraculous time.

That's why I wanted to write this post. I wanted to ask other moms how they felt about their bodies during pregnancy.

Tallied Results from an Informal Questionnaire
I sent out an informal questionnaire asking a handful of questions of moms of all ages (from 19 to 37 years old at time of first pregnancy) and backgrounds who have given birth recently and in years past.

I wondered if these moms were comfortable in their bodies before they became pregnant. What did they like best about their bodies during pregnancy? What did they like least? I was curious if thin, pregnant celebrities influenced how they felt about their bodies during pregnancy or afterwards.

I have left the moms' names out for confidentiality purposes. However, here is a profile on each mom, aside from her name:

Mom 1
• 3 kids
• Profession: before kids, accountant. After kids, stay-at-home mom

Mom 2
• 5 kids
• Profession: stay-at-home mom
• Prior history of eating disorder before children

Mom 3
• 1 kid
• Profession: agent for professional speakers

Mom 4
• 2 kids
• Profession: therapist

Mom 5
• 1 kid, so far
• Profession: eating disorder dietitian

Mom 6
• 1 kid
• Profession: mortgage loan agent

Mom 7
• 2 kids
• Profession: therapist
• History of eating disorder

Mom 8
• 1 kid, so far
• Profession: marketing and public relations

Mom 9
• 3 kids (set of twins, plus one)
• Profession: therapist
• Prior history of eating disorder

Mom 10
• 2 kids
• Profession: attorney

Mom 11
• 1 kid
• Profession: graphic designer

Mom 12
• 1 kid, so far
• Profession: therapist

Personal Responses
Here are some of the responses I received:

Personal Responses

Question 1: How much weight did you gain with your pregnancy?

Nearly all the moms surveyed gained anywhere between 25 to 40 pounds -- a pregnancy weight gain range that is healthy for most women.

Mom 4 did say she gained very little with both her pregnancies, but did not share the exact amounts. She stated, "I barely showed for both of my pregnancies. I remember leaving the hospital on both occasions and fitting into pre-pregnancy clothes." Mom 8 stated, "I gained 39 pounds with my son, mostly in my thighs!"

Question 2: How did you feel about your body image BEFORE you became pregnant for the first time?

Received a variety of responses, from feeling comfortable with body image to struggling with it. Here are a few comments to note:

Mom 5: "Felt pretty good about body. I felt very fit. I was in good shape."
Mom 10: "Usually good. Always something I was working on."
Mom 9: "Lots of eating disorder thoughts, but not worried about how pregnancy would affect my body."
Mom 7: "Was just starting to feel okay about my body, but the pregnancy really challenged it."
Mom 1: "No problem with body image ... knew I wasn't, nor would ever, be thin, but that is OK."
Mom 2: "I struggled with my body image for many years prior to my first pregnancy and thought I would have a difficult time with weight gain during pregnancy, but I didn't. I felt so blessed to be able to get pregnant that I was not concerned."

Question 3: How did you feel about your pregnancy DURING pregnancy?

Again, received a variety of responses, including these:

Mom 8: "I didn't care about my body image during pregnancy. I was just so happy. But I did make a point to avoid sodium because I didn't want to put too much weight on."
Mom 5: "I felt pretty good but did struggle from time to time with the weight gain. I gained a lot of weight in the beginning (about 10 pounds in the first 3 months), and I found the rapid weight gain to be a little difficult. I was also worried I would never lose the weight."
Mom 3: "Felt that I looked good until the last month, when I was a tank. I'm short, and carried all my weight in my belly and upper body."
Mom 12: "I felt wonderful. Loved seeing the belly grow. I did notice more weight gain in my bottom as well, but that's because I did not deprive myself of anything I craved. I was also hungry most of the time, and wanted to be sure that the baby was getting what he needed."
Mom 11: "Loved it -- finally a 'legit' reason to be fat!"
Mom 7: "Neurotic. I walked every day for 1 hour, did aerobics 3 times a week, and was neurotic about what I ate. With my 2nd pregnancy, I felt more depressed with my body."

Question 4: What did you like best about your body during pregnancy?

Answers included:

Mom 6: "Increased energy."
Mom 7: "I was finally well endowed and my cup size increased to a C."
Mom 12: "Belly, for sure."
Mom 10: "I honestly didn't like anything better or worse. I expected to gain weight."
Mom 4: "I loved my tummy and would stroke it a lot. My husband loved my breasts."

Question 5: What did you like least about your body during your pregnancy?

Answers included:

Mom 2: "I did not like my thighs or my breasts becoming larger and larger."
Mom 9: "Nothing I can recall."
Mom 8: "My thighs."
Mom 11: "My ankles."
Mom 7: "Overall, I felt hostage to my body -- everything I ate or drank impacted this child. I wasn't fascinated by the whole growth process like many other women."

Question 6: What kinds of comments did you get from others about your body during pregnancy? Did you get positive, negative, or both kinds of comments?

Answers included:

Mom 5: "I got all positive comments. Several people came up to me and said I was the cutest pregnant person ... I was all belly."
Mom 11: "No negatives ... except the doctor told me to watch the weight gain. Other than that, everyone said I looked great -- and I felt it."
Mom 4: "I remember going on vacation and wearing a black swimsuit with see-through netting in the middle. I received so many compliments."
Mom 2: "Everyone thought I 'glowed' and that I looked great when I was pregnant."
Mom 10: "My husband loved my size-F boobs. Some people at work commented on how frumpy I looked -- especially during the first couple of months, when I looked like I was snacking too much and didn't know I was pregnant. Honestly, I didn't glow -- I was too sick and miserable. I didn't care what people thought, though."
Mom 6: "Mostly positive. The only negative was from an elderly man who saw me with my 3-month-old baby and said, 'Wow, last time I saw you, you were a lot heavier.' My answer was, 'Yes, you saw me the night before I gave birth.'"

Question 7: Did you find thin pregnant celebrities a positive influence, negative influence, or no influence on your body image during pregnancy?

Answers included:

Mom 2: "They made me question my weight gain. However, because I had so many friends that miscarried or could not get pregnant, it did not bother me for too long. I chose not to obsess over my weight and how much thinner the stars were when they were pregnant."
Mom 8: "I found them to be a positive influence."
Mom 10: "I thought the focus with celebrities was so misguided and fictional. I only paid attention to the pictures after they had the baby, and even then, I discounted their incredible return to their pre-baby bodies. We would all look terrific with a chef, trainer, nanny, and tons of money and time."
Mom 12: "The celebrities had no influence on how I saw my pregnant body."

Question 8: If you were going to give a newly pregnant woman some advice on how to deal with her changing body during pregnancy, what advice would that be?

Answers included:

Mom 1: "Enjoy being pregnant! Unless your doctor has concerns, don't worry about the weight gain. It's natural to look pregnant when you are pregnant."
Mom 4: "Firstly to be grateful for the miracle of the growing baby inside, and to embrace this time for connection -- with self, partner, and baby."
Mom 6: "Eating for two does not mean double. Your body after pregnancy can be just as good or better if you work out."
Mom 7: "If you are having body image issues, it's normal to have concerns. If you are struggling so much that it can affect your health or your baby's, then seek support from your doctor or a therapist."
Mom 8: "To just relax, eat healthily, and enjoy this time. It's not the time to diet or worry about your physique so much. Too much is going on with your mind, body, and spirit, and you should just go with the flow and have fun. Don't compare yourself to others or feel you should look a certain way."
Mom 2: "Don't focus so much on your weight gain, instead focus on what a wonderful life you are going to have with your child."
Mom 5: "Find things you love about your changing body and focus on that."
Mom 10: "Pregnancy is the most profound and humbling experience. It changes you forever -- physically and emotionally. Your body is a vehicle to grow this new life. Remember, your baby is going to change the lens through which you see the world. It will give you respect for all the mothers who came before you, including your own."

next: Follow Your Intuition -- Save a Child
2 comments so far | Post a comment now
m August 31, 2009, 11:26 AM

This woman really disgusts me, I can’t believe she thinks she can blame how selfish and vain she is on an eating disorder. “Pregorexia” is child abuse and I think her children should have been taken away. If someone was starving a newborn the baby would be taken away. “Pregorexia” is either a serious mental illness in which the mother is UNABLE to care for her child, or a pathetic excuse for someone so selfish, she cares more about her own appearance than the life of her own unborn child. If you are that selfish you shouldn’t be having children in the first place. Women who abuse drugs during pregnancy because of addiction get their babies taken away, yet the author of this article thinks that it’s ok to abuse her child in utero because her husband is a pathetic tool and let her abuse/starve his child.

taylor November 18, 2009, 3:36 PM

m- totally right, but if I had that beak for a nose I’d probably want to have some feeling of control over some aspect of my body. Of course, when healthy weight gain is ESSENTIAL to the normal development of a fetus I think I would probably let it go, at least for 9 months!

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