Do you struggle with your body image during pregnancy? Read Ashley’s great perspective and let us know what tips you have as well.
Ashley Shanti is a yoga teacher, holistic health coach, wife and momma-to-be living by the ocean and redwoods in California. She is the creator of YoginiMomma, a holistic lifestyle blog for moms and moms-to-be. She is passionate about creating community, functional fitness, plant based nutrition, natural mothering and everything yoga. You can find her on instagram @AshleyShanti, or on her blog at YoginiMomma.
When I found out I was pregnant, my first emotion was shock, then a mixture of laughing and crying, then fear, then just a general state of blissful happiness. The fear came from not worrying about what kind of mother I would be, or what labor and birth would be like– but what pregnancy would do to my body. As a yogini, a dancer, newlywed! and a sensual being~ I thoroughly lived in and enjoyed my body and had grown familiar (and admittedly, attached) to the firm, toned, lean shape it had taken on after years of power yoga, weight training and living a clean, green, plant-powered lifestyle.
Of course, since pregnancy is a natural process and if you let it take its course your body will do exactly what it needs to to grow a healthy baby, you won’t gain any additional weight than what your baby needs. This is what my midwife told me OVER and OVER. Yet it took me until 28 weeks or so to finally get it into my head that because I do x, y and z, there is just no possible way I’m going to get “fat” while pregnant. If you live a sedentary lifestyle and don’t eat well, then it’s very plausible that you will let the factor of pregnancy with its uncomfortable symptoms and hormones lead you to gaining more than a healthy amount of weight and leave you with stretch marks and no muscle tone.
The most difficult time for me was between weeks 18 and 28, because I stayed at the awkward phase of just looking pudgy for a full SEVEN months before I started to appear pregnant to the outside world. I also retained a lot of water, and I felt like I had PMS for 7 months because of this. Somehow, miraculously in the third trimester this excess water retention has gone away!
My primary concerns with how pregnancy would change my body were:
1. Stretch marks. I was afraid of getting stretch marks because everything I read said they were hereditary and no amount of lotions or oils could prevent them. These sources were mainstream, and fear-based, and I should not have been reading them. Stretch marks are lifestyle-dependent. I have proven over and over that genetics does not wholly determine what your reality is. Lifestyle is everything!!! Stretch marks are caused by lack of hydration and skin elasticity. Nutrients that support skin elasticity are essential fatty acids, zinc, vitamin C, E, A, copper, B vitamins, and for non-plant based eaters- collagen. You can easily promote collagen with a plant based lifestyle by getting enough of the nutrients I listed (it’s easy- eat a rainbow of colorful foods and nuts and seeds), along with dry skin brushing. Another way to increase skin elasticity is exercise- which increases circulation and encourages healthy tissue. Hydration is huge- pretty much, if you’re not peeing every hour in your third trimester, you’re not hydrated enough! Keep a glass (or a bottle if you’re on the go) of water next to you at all times. There are also stretch mark products that you can use to help with skin dryness, itchiness and to just keep your baby belly looking nice and shiny. Healthy skin does start from the inside out, and we also absorb 80% of what we put on our skin- so if you choose healthy, nutrient filled products like this belly butter, you will have smooth, supple, beautiful skin.
2. Gaining a ton of weight (and not being able to get it off). I think this is also a cultural thing. There is pressure to debut your postpartum body mere weeks after delivery like magic, as well as a plethora of fear-laden sob stories about women whose bodies were never the same after having a baby, and they just couldn’t get the extra 30 pounds off. My mother gained 50 pounds when she was pregnant with me, but she was also sedentary working a desk job and not eating kale salads and lean proteins like I do. My midwife assured me that even though the “american standard” of gaining 25-35 pounds was what the guideline was, she, her daughter, and many of her clients had gained what I thought was a reasonable amount for pregnancy and had had extremely healthy babies and quick postpartum recoveries. When you add up how much the baby, placenta, blood volume and stored fluids, amniotic fluid, breasts and uterus weigh MINUS the number that is written in the guidelines for “maternal fat stores”– 20 pounds suddenly starts to look like a reasonable number. My maternal fat stores have been preparing for having a baby since I was 16… on my thighs and hips and booty, so there is no biological reason to gain more! I’m confident now, that with only 2 weeks to go, and holding steady at 19-22 pounds gained depending on the day(lots of women lose a couple pounds in the end due to the exertion of carrying around more weight and not being able to eat as much!), I will be able to get all the weight off, and probably more, with breastfeeding.
I have a feeling these two fears are pretty common, but as I have learned over and over (because it’s a practice of reminding yourself), the only way to to dispel fear is with love. So while I have had a rough ride with this pregnancy and dealing with my changing body, my love for my baby and wanting to nourish her and keep her as healthy as possible while I have the most control over her I will ever have, outweighs the fear of my body not looking the same. I believe in mind over matter anyway, and I really believe that my body will be more beautiful, strong and feminine than ever after baby. Yours can too!
It all comes down to self-love. Love yourself by allowing your body, which is an animal, to move when it needs to, to rest when it needs to, and feed it nutrient-rich fuel based on need. Do those things, and you will have a beautiful, thriving baby and blissful, FIT pregnancy.”
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