Pregnancy and Body Image

This is one of those posts that I’ve been wanting to write for a while, but have been too scared to actually go through with. It might cause controversy, but I also know that there will be other women who feel similarly to me and I’m hoping that it helps all of you in feeling less alone! What I’m talking about is the feeling of being uncomfortable in your body while pregnant. After talking to friends about it, I’ve found that almost every woman who has had a baby has felt this at some point but we rarely talk about it because we’re afraid of what other people will think.

When you get pregnant, everyone loves to comment on your body. Sometimes it’s about whether you’re carrying high or low (according to everyone, I’m carrying low), but mostly it’s about weight gain. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone tell me, “You’re all belly!” Normally if you walked up to a woman and said that, it would be a horrifying insult, but when you’re cookin’ a baby, it’s the greatest compliment of all. My problem? I never believe them. My first assumption is that they’re just saying that to be nice. I’ve gained 20 pounds since November, so the way I look at my body is a little off kilter these days.

Let’s back up though…

I’ve struggled with body image issues since I hit a super early puberty at age 10. In high school I developed a short lived eating disorder, but the long term effects of body dysmorphia have been far more damaging than that one year of obsessing over food. The issue is that I’ve never really felt comfortable in my own skin… except at my wedding when I was probably 10 pounds underweight. Then something happened last year. Maybe it was the fact that I’m in my 30’s and those insecurities from my teens and 20’s started melting away, but I was finally feeling good about the way I looked. I had been eating really well and working out regularly with my trainer as a part of my fertility plan, and it had the side effect of toning and tightening in a way that I loved.

And then I got pregnant…

And I thank God everyday that I did! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want this post to come across as me being ungrateful, because I will never be able to put into words just how lucky I feel to have come out of the darkness of miscarriages and infertility. However, it’s ok to feel excited by it and also frustrated by other aspects. During the first trimester, my body started changing. I softened up in the belly and pretty much all over because all I could stomach was bread and pasta, and working out was not an option due to the nausea.

In the second trimester, it started changing in a new way. I was growing outwards… and quickly. I’d look down and see my skin, my freckles, and my belly button. But it all looked different and distorted. But not quite pregnant. This is when I started feeling pretty bad about the way I looked. My clothes didn’t fit, and when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see what I was used to. While my friends and family kept telling me that I hardly looked pregnant, in my mind, I just kept thinking that I looked overweight or bloated.

I think it’s even worse for me because I take photos of myself every week for my job. So it’s not like I could ignore the way I was looking!

Now? Forget it. I feel like every single day I grow a little bit more. But despite that fact, I’ve learned to love this ever changing bump for the first time. Under my skin I can see my baby move, kick, glide, and even get the hiccups (which she does quite often). Whenever I start to feel like a giant whale or bad about the way I look, I repeat this mantra: My body is a cozy home for my baby. She is safe and warm and protected.

Super cheesy, I know. But it puts me back in a positive and loving headspace, something that is going to be important to me as I raise my daughter.

The best part about the way I look is my husband’s reaction. Whenever I get upset because I can’t find anything to wear or I can’t fit in a small space, he looks at me with the most genuine big eyes and tells me that I’m beautiful. And he means it too! If I start saying anything negative or say I feel fat, he’ll touch my belly and say he loves it. He sees my pregnant body the way I wish I could, so I try to look at it from his eyes.

Photos by Courtney Ann Photography.

  • Alex

    i went through a similar experience- it was so difficult for me in the beginning because i could tell i was gaining weight but everyone was telling me how good i looked and that i barely looked pregnant. I know they meant it as a compliment but all i could think was do i look fat?! then of course i also felt bad because we did not have the easiest time getting pregnant. i recite a similar mantra and love feeling baby kicks to remind me also 🙂 thanks for sharing mama!!!! it will all be worth it once we are holding our bebes!!!

    • I’m so glad that you could relate! And love the idea of mantras. They help so so much.

  • Stacey

    This is a great post Julia! My kids are 20 and 25 but I felt the exact same way as you all those years ago yet I never would have told anyone. Women definitely didn’t open up about stuff like that back then. I wish they would have though because I really struggled with body image and I felt so guilty! I think it’s lovely you are trying to help anyone else who is also struggling with this issue.

    • Thank you so much for saying that! I hope that women read this and feel less guilty about the way they feel. That’s the goal 🙂

  • Taylor Cannon

    Such a wonderful post! Thank you so much for sharing Julia!
    Taylor | http://www.livingtaylored.com

  • Steph Porter

    <3 <3 <3 The 2nd trimester was so hard, at least in the beginning. You don't feel like you look "pregnant" and feel so insecure. By the 3rd, you don't care anymore!

  • I definitely feel you. I’ve always been self conscious of my stomach since I’m an apple shape and remember during my first pregnancy realizing on my babymoon as I looked in the mirror how my hips and butt had gotten bigger! Plus you never know what your hormones will do- I had the worst acne of my life my first pregnancy. That’s helpful!

    I’m sure you’ll get some comments but the reality is pregnancy is not this wonderful glowing time for a lot of women and that’s okay to talk about. Being thrilled and appreciative of being able to carry a child doesn’t mean you ignore the harder parts. I certainly was not counting my blessings each time I had to run to the bathroom out of my classroom of high school students!

  • Brittany Olander

    the beginning is so hard- when you just feel (the dreaded word!) fat instead of pregnant. I will say that birthing the baby and then nursing (especially nursing!) made me SO appreciative and proud of my body that it really helped with these feelings of disappointment and frustration over how it looked.

    such a good post!

    xo, brittany
    superfood brownies on my blog today!
    http://www.brittanyisablob.blogspot.com

    • Awww I’m so happy to hear that! Can’t wait for that feeling 🙂

  • leah cillo

    This is such a great post because I think every woman can relate. You honestly look amazing but it is sometimes hard to see what everyone else sees. I am only 4’11 and half way through my pregnancy and everyone comments about how I am all belly and am short so there is no where for it to go but it is hard when it is your body changing and nothing fits and some days you are just uncomfortable. I have days where I love my bump and changing body and other days I just feel yucky. I try to keep the same thing in mind that there is a baby growing inside me and if he is healthy that is all that matters!

  • Elizabeth

    Everything you say is so true for me, too. I am 38+ weeks pregnant and (don’t get me wrong) while I am beyond excited to meet my little baby and grateful that I was able to get pregnant in the first place, I have not enjoyed what this has done to my body. I don’t feel like myself at all. And the “compliments” of “it’s all in your belly!” and “oh my gosh you’re huge, in a good way!” and “from the back I wouldn’t even know you are pregnant!” are honestly more annoying than anything else. Good luck on the rest of your journey, you’re doing a great job!

  • Leah

    Thanks for writing this! I am a few weeks ahead of you and struggling mightily with this same issue. I started off gaining weight very slowly, which it turned out just primed me to explode over my last trimester. I’m very short and gaining 25 pounds in the span of a few months is extremely difficult psychologically (and extremely physically uncomfortable), even if you’re grateful to be pregnant!

  • Abby Walker

    I’m so glad to see how positive everyone’s comments are because it’s important to support and celebrate one another as women! Pregnancy is no walk in the park; we all have our own struggles. I didn’t even realize I had body image issues until I got pregnant. It got to the point that I would start to have serious anxiety at my OB appointments as I walked up to the scale. I finished my pregnancy 50lbs heavier than my first weigh-in at the doctor’s office. Now I’m back to my pre-baby weight, healthy, and have a healthy boy. My focus now is that he looks to me as an example, so it’s even more important to teach him to love and respect his body by practicing what I preach: exercising, eating healthy foods, taking care of myself, and not talking negatively about how I look (or anyone else!). Some people think that’s only important for mother’s to teach their daughters, but positive body image isn’t gender specific. You have a great message; thank you for letting people hear it!

  • kottavio

    Beautifully said lady! I’ve never read any of your work and thought of you as ungrateful or self-critical. You shared your honest feelings very eloquently! I’ve never been pregnant, but always tell my one of my best friends who shared similar feelings to you that she did the most amazing thing the human body can do – grew a human life! It sure presents its crazy moments, feelings, emotions, etc. but wow – moms and moms to be should be celebrated far and wide for this! You’re gorg 😉

  • HelenaK

    I am 28 weeks and feel all of the exact things that you have shared! I felt those exact feelings during my 2nd trimester, where I didn’t feel like I looked exactly pregnant – and was worried that people would just think I had a tummy or was very bloated. I also struggled with certain tops and dresses just not seeming flattering. I also had friends ask me after a photo shoot if I was “carrying low” which created a whole new thing for me to critique myself about in the mirror. With the beginning of my 3rd trimester this week, the latest thing to have me down is the new padding that is all around my backside and hips. (Please someone tell me that goes away right???) My weight gain has been within range, I can still fit in my size 27/4 maternity jeans, and still wear a size small non maternity shirt – but all I can do is stress and worry that I won’t be able to return to my pre-pregnancy size 4 or my favorite wardrobe items. Thanks for sharing your post today! As an IG follower, I have been paying attention to your journey since we are so close in pregnancy timeframes – and I have thought you have looked amazing this whole time and I am always envious of your great fashion choices ❤

  • I love this post because body image is such an important issue that so many of us struggle with. I’m a few weeks behind you in my pregnancy and I actually feel MORE comfortable with my new body and bump – perhaps because having a pregnant belly makes it possible and necessary to forget about your abs for a while! Plus, my husband adores the bump, which i love. However, I’ve always been active and a healthy eater, and therefore (relatively) fit, so I’m already worried about what all this growing and stretching will do to my body, postpartum. But, you’re right that having a healthy baby is the most important thing and it’s truly amazing what our bodies can do! I read that the uterus normally weighs 70g and has a capacity of 5ml before pregnancy compared to its weight of 1000g and capacity of 5000ml right after delivering a baby. So, it’s no wonder our bodies feel “off”!

    • Thanks Brittany! Congrats on your pregnancy too 🙂 I know what you mean about sometimes feeling more comfortable… like you never have to suck in anymore!

  • Julia, this is so beautifully written. As always, I adore your honesty. And from an outsiders point of view, you look beautiful! I love the mantra you repeat to yourself. You’re going to be an amazing mom!

    • Thanks Kelly! That means so much, you have no idea 🙂 xo

  • vnssa906

    I appreciate you for sharing this post! I’m 25 weeks pregnant and have gained 25 pounds so far – I have 3 more months to go, so I know I’ll be gaining at least another 15. I’ve always been self conscious of my body, struggling with weight since I was a child. I even tried to lose some pounds while we were trying to conceive. I”m even working out now, found a pregnancy fit course to do at home (lots of squats and arm exercises)

    People can be rather mean to a pregnant woman – I’ve even had a coworker try to nickname me Chubby as a “term of endearment” (she felt the wrath of one of my mood swings that day lol). Others can be sweet, stating that “you’re all belly” or “you don’t look pregnant from behind”. Even my husband has stated he’s fallen more in love with me, enjoying my more “plump shape.” Gaining this weight has been a little hard on me, but I have to remind myself it’s all for this beautiful baby girl growing in my belly. I know it will be tough to lose it come August, but I got this! Thanks for your motivation 🙂 and Happy Mother’s Day!!

    • Congratulations!! I can’t believe someone nicknamed you Chubby. That is awful and SO rude! I’ll be posting lots of post baby fitness content (my husband is a trainer) so we’ll be all set when the time is right 🙂

      • vnssa906

        Thanks! … I nipped that nickname in the bud quickly (worker now avoids me lol)

        I look forward to reading that content! You’re lucky to have a trainer right at home. My husband motivates me now by working out alongside me, or gears me up for our daily walks.

  • Chelsea

    I think you look great, but I totally understand how strange it must be to see how your body grows. Keep reminding yourself that you are growing a human and doing a great job.

  • I can 100% relate to this! Im 23 weeks pregnant with my third child (first boy) and everything is so different this time around. I know Im older but Im carrying differently and its putting me in a strange headspace. I keep reminding myself its such a fleeting and special time in my life and I wont let random negative emotions take that away. Best of luck with your pregnancy! You are not alone 🙂

  • Kim

    Your husband sounds so sweet. I’m glad he’s very supportive and loving during this time! I never thought about how pregnancy would affect me yet since I’m only 22 years old but it’ll happen someday and I hope to be ready for it mentally and physically by then! Who knows though!

    Kim
    Simply Lovebirds

  • Whitney

    I read this when you posted and I wasn’t showing yet, but totally felt the pressure from friends and family to enjoy and welcome a pregnat body. Now at a little over 17 weeks with a bump starting to form (which really looks more like I over indulged on burritos), I am having a super hard time with this new body. It took us over 3.5 years to conceive and after 4 rounds of IVF we finally got pregnant. Now after all that work (mentally, physically and financially) I feel awful and ungrateful that I am not enjoying this new body. No one seems to understand my feelings and thinks I should enjoy it, but when you don’t feel cute or comfortable it is really hard. My husband loves it and I wish I could join him in his joy. I’ve been taking prenatal yoga and barre classes along with trying to get out and walk more, but I’m not sure how much all that is really going to help my body image. Thank you so much for posting this and letting me know I’m not the only one that is struggling with this. I wish more people were open about their true feelings.

    • Don’t let the guilt takeover. It’s ok to be excited for your baby yet stressed out about the changes happening to your body. So many women struggle with this. Just focus on being healthy… the weight will come off later! Now that I’m at 33 weeks, I’ve pretty much just given into it and I’m SO much happier. xo

  • I’m super late to respond to this, but it was so beautifully expressed. As always, your openness (in a world of people “putting on a face”) is refreshing and inspiring. It is so strange the way that people interpret pregnancy as an opportunity to completely ignore social norms and boundaries-comments, touching, questions…and I commend you for finding ways to handle it and sharing that with us.

  • Jess

    I have to admit that when I first read this (and was barely pregnant) I really thought to myself “Please, you’re pregnant. You’re supposed to be bigger and it’s not a big deal.” Oh silly me. Now that I’m 14 weeks and in the stage where I’m not obviously pregnant (and a lot of people don’t know yet), but it looks like I gained a good 15 pounds in the middle (even though it’s really only 3-4 pounds), I completely understand this! I’ve never really had any issues with weight and I wasn’t expecting how awkward a totally natural process can feel. It doesn’t help that I honestly thought I wouldn’t show at all for like 5-6 months. Obviously I was stupid. I’m hoping I’ll start feeling more comfortable once I can feel the baby move.