Body image during pregnancy. 'You've gained too much weight.'

Felicity Harley and Melissa Barberi, captain of the Matildas.


Hello, my name is Felicity. I’m 26 weeks pregnant with my first baby and I’m happy with my body… now.

You see, two weeks ago I went for a routine check-up with my midwife who informed me – or I should say freaked me out – that I had gained a lot of weight in a short amount of time and I needed to take stock of my diet.

“You can’t gain this amount next time you see me,” she muttered. As I sat there zoning out of her lecture on low GI vs. high GI foods, I went into a mental spin. How can a seemingly healthy woman – who preaches good nutrition to the women of Australia – be told she’s risking getting fat in pregnancy?

Sure, I’ve relaxed a little on the eating front (chocolate bullets: yum!) and my fitness levels have dropped faster than Peter Slipper’s popularity but overall my kilojoule intake has been on par. I think. Ok, maybe I have been eating more.

Felicity & Tom Harley

The following Saturday’s pre-natal yoga class was the perfect place to compare my shape. I sized-up the women around me (come on, you know you’ve done it) and concluded that I was kinda normal for this point in my pregnancy. Many thanks fellow yogis for the reassurance.

As I drove home it got me thinking about how pregnancy has challenged my usual positive body image and perhaps we don’t talk enough about this prenatal side effect. Some women relish their baby body and I admire them for that, but for others a supersized version of themselves can mess with their heads – you welcome this amazing creature growing inside you but you’re growing lumps and bumps (stomach not included) in places you never knew existed.

In fact, I know I’m not alone. In 2009, white coats at the University of Minnesota, US, studied changes in 506 women’s weight and body satisfaction from before pregnancy to one month after delivery, and found that yep, pregnancy weight can lead to negative body image or “body dissatisfaction”. Post-delivery mums were, on average, 2.5kgs heavier than before getting knocked up, and were less satisfied with their weight and shape.

Felicity Harley

Weight gain during pregnancy is confronting; stepping on the scales in the obstetrician’s office each week/ month can be terrifying (I’ve heard of women who stand backwards. True story). Knowing whether you should eat more or less or the same or a little bit more or eat for two … can be damn confusing.

So what have I learnt from this experience? Well, firstly to chill the hell out and remind myself it’s not just about “me” anymore. Yes, I’ve reassessed my food intake, pulled apart my meals and realised I can cut back on portion sizes and pack in more fruit.

Secondly, I need to respect the awesome way in which my body deals with pregnancy and highlight the positive bits each time I stand nude in front of the mirror – helllllooo boobs! My light bulb moment in all of this: you might not be able to control your weight in the way you used to with tomato-faced gym sessions but you can control every other aspect of your health and your baby’s, and no midwife will tell you off for that.

This is Felicity’s third ‘baby’ – she is the editor of Women’s Health and pregnancy magazine Bump (new issue out now!)

Did pregnancy challenge your idea of positive body image?