These tips will prepare you to trust your instincts during labor.
Whether you love being pregnant or hate it, pregnancy and birth can be a profound opportunity to re-investigate your relationship with your body. While managing pregnancy can feel like an endless list of restrictions and to-do’s, it’s also a chance to experience your body in an entirely new way. Here are 7 steps to a body positive birth experience.
- Know your history, know your triggers. Take an inventory of your body history. Identifying what has been a trigger in the past can be useful as you navigate the changes to come. Do weight checks at doctor appointments set off a critical voice? How about comments about your body (i.e.“you are carrying so small” or “you must be due any day now”)? Identifying your triggers can enable you to anticipate what might arise and put a plan in place for additional support where it is needed. For example, if you have a history of disordered eating or negative body image, connecting with a therapist or support group early on in your pregnancy can help you navigate the transformations that your body with go through during pregnancy in a balanced way.
- Find a body positive provider and birth team. Taking an active role in your prenatal care is a wonderful way to participate in your and your baby’s health. Talk with your care provider about your history with disordered eating and/or body image and ways they can support you in your pregnancy. If going on the scale is triggering, ask for weight checks to occur on alternate visits or without showing you the number on the scale. If your OBGYN or midwife is insensitive to your body history or shames you around weight, it is important to know that care occurs on a spectrum; a different provider may be more sensitive and body positive. If you don’t like your care provider’s approach, seek out a better fit.
- Call the doula! A labor doula can be an important addition to your birth team in your pursuit of a body positive birth. As a member of your team, your doula can help you navigate conversations with your care provider, access evidence-based information and be mindful of your body history during the birth.
- Surround yourself with a positive community. Stay connected with the people in your life who make you feel good about the body you are in right now. If you have a friend who frequently engages in fat-talk or a co-worker who is always talking about a new diet they are on, set your boundaries and ask for what you need. If you can’t seem to avoid body negativity, develop a mantra that you can use when the people around you engage in body bashing. For example, “their body hatred is not mine. I am strong, and my body is just right for me and my baby.”
- Practice intuitive eating & movement. Staying active and eating diverse, nutritionally dense foods during pregnancy is important. Check in regularly with yourself and ask what your body is needing. Are you hungry? What are you hungry for? Or, do you need to be active right now or put your feet up and rest? Tuning in to your instincts around food and activities is a great way to practice honing your intuitive wisdom for labor and for when baby arrives. Remember, the key word is “practice.” Intuitive eating and exercise is a process of trial and error as you relearn how to honor your body’s innate cues and signals.
- Contextualize your negative body thoughts. If you find yourself spiraling into the realm of negative body thoughts, don’t panic. It happens! You don’t live in a vacuum. Negative body thoughts do not come out of the abyss, and they are certainly not personal failures on the part of your body or mind. We live in a culture that breeds body insecurity with unrealistic beauty ideals, and being pregnant, sadly, doesn’t give you any break from these messages. Curated and posed photographs of celebrities and models with their “perfect” baby bump and their speedy weight-loss postpartum abound. Surround yourself with images that are positive to you! Check out some of the body reclamation projects documenting prenatal and postpartum bodies such as the 4th Trimester Body Project. Or snap a picture of yourself feeling and looking great and share it with your friends and community.
- Become a scientist. Try to explore the changes in your body from an objective, curious perspective. If a negative body thought pops up, investigate what its purpose might be. What happened right before that thought? If it were not a negative body thought, what other thoughts or feelings might have come up? Give yourself permission to not love all the changes in your body. Body positivity does not mean you can’t have days where you feel bad in your body. But challenge yourself to be non-judgmental and curious about negative thoughts; there may be all kinds of interesting feelings around parenthood and this enormous life transition hidden underneath.
Photography by Sofia Lynn for Well Rounded NY.