How motherhood affects our body image
24th May 2019
This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week was themed around body image. Wherever you are on your road to motherhood, every stage comes laced with complexities surrounding our relationship with our bodies, but you aren’t alone.
Infertility and fertility treatments
When we think about body image and mental health, we often immediately think about our relationship with our external physicality. However, sometimes it is the parts of us we can’t see that can cause us the most distress.
Even though 1 in 7 couples will have difficulties conceiving, women who are experiencing fertility issues often feel that their body is letting them down. Despite modern changes in attitude, there seems to still be a deep societal pressure on women to be able to reproduce and growing up with these expectations weighing down on you, means that infertility can feel akin to a failure. For women who yearn to be a mother, the emotional pain of not having a child can be compounded by a frustration with your body for not doing what you naturally hoped it would, and this can lead to feeling disconnected from yourself. Adia’s own Lina Chan experienced feelings just like these when she was struggling to conceive. ‘I didn’t trust my body or my instincts. Here was something that I was built to do, I was supposed to know how to do, but I didn’t.”
Fertility treatments can also play havoc with our body image. Not only is the emotional strain of trying to conceive a toll on your self esteem but the hormones involved in treatments can cause water retention, bloating and dermatological issues such as dry skin and acne. Whilst these side effects are common, they are not often talked about, which can make women experiencing them feel isolated and insecure.
Adia’s Body Positive Message: Infertility is not a failure, and needing help to conceive is not indicative of your femininity. Try to be kind to yourself and your body – we are in this together.
Whether you conceived naturally, or had some help, there is no doubt that the joy of being pregnant can momentarily mask any insecurities that your changing body may bring with it. But 9 months is a long time to share your body with someone else, and it is totally understandable if at times you feel overwhelmed by the loss of control you are experiencing. Pregnancy is often depicted as a woman being ‘in her prime’ – the pregnancy glow, the luscious hair, the neat and perfectly formed bump – but this is simply not the experience of all expectant mothers. Comparison is the root of all esteem related evil, so remember, this is your personal journey (and most people are feeling equally as insecure, even if they don’t show it!) so be kind to yourself.
Morning sickness, stretch marks and swollen ankles are all a totally normal part of pregnancy, but they can fuel feelings of insecurity and a lack of control when you are already at your most emotionally vulnerable. Whilst light exercise during pregnancy is encouraged, if you are usually extremely active, being pregnant can sometimes feel debilitating, especially in the third trimester. As your body grows and changes it’s important to be open about your feelings and concerns. Many women, especially those who have struggled to conceive, will feel like they shouldn’t be complaining about their changing body, but internalising these emotions will only escalate any negative feelings you are having.
Adia’s Body Positive Message: Try to embrace the changes your body is going through and be grateful for the purpose it’s been given. Your growing body means your baby is being nourished with everything it needs, all thanks to you.
The mounting pressure for new Mums to immediately regain their pre-baby body after giving birth has been well documented over recent years, especially with the advent of social media. From Kate Middleton on the steps of the Lindo wing to Kate Hudson with her flat stomach and prominent abs only 6 months after giving birth, we are constantly bombarded with unobtainable examples of post-partum perfection. The concept of ‘snapping back into shape’ is a dangerous one, and just because you are no longer pregnant doesn’t mean that motherhood isn’t still affecting your body.
In some cases, the side effects of birth – especially a traumatic one – can be difficult and long lasting. Vaginal tearing, pelvic floor issues and haemorrhoids are all totally normal, but they are a sign that your body needs to recover – and recovery takes time. Be kind to yourself and enjoy this time with your family, try not to cave in to pressure to diet or return to exercise too soon, as it could cause further issues down the line. Yoga is a great way to ease yourself back into exercise after birth and is also great for your mental health. Emotionally, you have also been through the ringer, and the hormones cruising around your body could also contribute to poor self esteem. Progesterone can be low after birth, and that can in turn lead to low mood. Even Oxytocin – the hormone most known for creating feelings of love and bonding – has been shown to heighten anxiety in some women. Whilst understanding the impact your hormones can have on your emotions – and in turn, your body image – can help give you some helpful perspective, it’s important to ask for help if you feel you could be experiencing post-natal depression or extreme anxiety.
As a new mum, try and focus on the positives your body has achieved and surround yourself with people and images that celebrate the beauty and diversity of motherhood. Communities such as the 4th Trimester Body Project are working hard to normalise postpartum bodies and to paint a more inclusive picture of what women look like after giving birth, and are definitely worth a follow if you need some support.
Adia Body Positive Message: You are a mother now and this new body may be different, but it is both beautiful and amazing. Every stretch mark and scar is a reminder of the incredible thing your body did and the person you brought in to the world