Our bodies, and our relationships with our bodies, are complicated. We bring our whole body history to birth—our stories of pleasure, pain, strength, weakness, successes, failures, belonging, and outsiderness. These histories are also shaped by lifelong and shifting relationships with food, weight, culture, and identity. As labor doulas, we support pregnant people navigate their pregnancy, birth, and postpartum period, and see firsthand that with the right support and a bit of planning, pregnancy and birth can be a profound opportunity to live in your body in a new way.
Being body positive in pregnancy is a process and not about perfection or doing it “right.” Rather, it’s about treating your body kindly, being generous with yourself, and avoiding critical or comparative thoughts. Working towards a body positive pregnancy means seeking out affirming support, honoring your body history, nourishing yourself and your baby, protecting yourself from other people’s body politics and critical voices, and recognizing your critical body thoughts as something you can work to reframe.
Here is a checklist to help you move through your pregnancy and birth in a body-positive way:
1. Get to know your body history.
Think, write, or talk about how your relationship with your body has been formed. Questioning old narratives, challenging negative thinking, and expanding positive experiences of yourself is a powerful tool for being body positive. Identifying what triggers might come up throughout this journey will help you prepare for them.
2. Get body-positive support.
As you explore your body history, you might want additional support. Find a therapist, join an in-person or online support group dedicated to body positivity, or identify friends/family who can help encourage and support you. It might even include all of these!
3. Build a great team.
Your birth team can include your OBGYN or midwife, a doula, your partner if you have one, and other birth support people like friends and family. As you interview care providers and pick the people to support you, remember this team will be instrumental in affirming your self-care. Discuss your body history and triggers with your team. Additionally, working with a body-positive doula can be an incredible source of emotional and physical support during your pregnancy, birth, and postpartum.
4. Practice intuitive self-care.
Many of us care for ourselves in prescribed ways. Intuitive eating and movement can be a valuable experience as your body changes during pregnancy. Prioritize taking care of yourself as you would for a dear friend. Be present with the feelings in your body and what makes you feel the best. Part of intuitive self-care is trial and error—listen to your body closely during and after activities or meals to see how it felt.
5. Ditch the scale.
Everyone gains weight differently during pregnancy. Ask your birth team to focus on better indexes of health, such as how you are feeling, blood pressure and blood sugar, and the growth and health of your fetus. We’ve seen so many people feel devastated by a scale despite having an incredibly healthy pregnancy.
6. Understand the changes.
Understanding what weight gain in pregnancy is and why it’s happening can help you be more curious—and less judgmental—about the changes. Weight gain includes the growth of the baby, increased blood volume, your placenta, breast tissue growth, and amniotic fluid. Supporting a healthy pregnancy requires weight gain and these changes in your body are a sign of your health.
7. Contextualize negative body thoughts.
You’re going to have negative thoughts and feelings about your body sometimes so forget trying to be positive all the time. These thoughts are not a personal failure—we live in a culture that breeds body insecurity and bombards us with unrealistic beauty ideals daily. Sadly, being pregnant does not give you any break from these messages. 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.
Sarah Lewin, LMSW is a labor doula, lactation counselor, childbirth educator, and social worker. She is the author of A Doula For the Mother and the Self: Exploring the Intersection of Birth and Body Culture and is passionate about creating body positive community. Megan Davidson, PhD is a labor and postpartum doula, a breastfeeding counselor, and a childbirth educator who has worked with over 1,100 new parents in NYC. She is the author of Experts in Birth about doula care in the US and is currently writing a how-to guide for having a positive birth. Together they have authored two forthcoming essays, “Eating for Two: The Threat and Fear of Fatness in Pregnancy” and “Dangerous Bodies: Imagining, Monitoring, & Managing Fatness During Pregnancy.” They are guest bloggers for the National Eating Disorders Association and offer body positivity trainings and mentoring for birth workers.