Khushbu Patel, 31, a Mumbai-based school teacher, can still remember the first thought that crossed her mind when she realised she was pregnant: that she was going to put on weight. “I immediately started texting my friends and asking for contacts of dieticians, diet plans, tips and tricks to ensure that I don’t gain too much weight,” she shares. Patel, who faced a few complications during the course of her pregnancy, says that she was obsessed with her weight all through it. So anxious was she about the weight that she began exercising almost immediately after delivery to ensure that she went back to her pre-pregnancy weight. “I didn’t want to look extremely fat, and I didn’t want my family members to think I am fat either,” she says.
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While certainly, it is good to be aware of your weight, obsessing over it for health reasons, especially when dealing with a life-altering change like pregnancy, is not good for your body or mind. A lot of women are aware that in any normal healthy pregnancy, there will be some amount of weight gain and that gaining about 10 to 14 kilos is normal. she adds. Culture could also play a role in post-pregnancy weight gain and a mother's acceptance of it. Dr Swathi Reddy (PT), a consultant physiotherapist and certified diet counsellor at Motherhood Hospitals, Bengaluru, says that families can markedly influence a woman’s pregnancy and childbirth experiences and may shape her mothering behaviour and even her physical appearance. “Many families believe that feeding the mother double her usual diet will eventually feed her baby inside the womb," she says, adding that it could mean that an expecting mother may end up overeating milk, rice or ghee to keep her family happy. And yes, hormonal changes can also impact a pregnant woman, increasing her appetite, which may lead to weight gain.
The typical physical changes that occur during pregnancy, however, can raise the likelihood of body dissatisfaction in some pregnant and postpartum women. Defined as a negative subjective view of one’s body size or shape, body dissatisfaction can increase the risk of postpartum depression and eating disorders, both of which can have long-term health consequences for mother and child.
Dr Prathima Reddy, Director and Lead Consultant, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, SPARSH Hospital for Women and Children, Bengaluru, says that they talk to their patients about diet, exercise and weight gain right from the get-go. She observes that between pregnancy and delivery, there is a difference in the attitude of women towards weight gain. “Women are aware that they’re carrying a baby during pregnancy and that the weight gain is natural. I have noticed that the concern about weight loss doesn’t happen straight away because, in the first few weeks, the mother is occupied with the new baby, feeding issues, etc.," she says. They start thinking about losing weight only six to eight weeks after delivery when they realise that they have not lost weight, says Dr Reddy. She adds that if women have not lost some weight in the months following delivery, it could lead to anxiety, even depression.
Again, this is not true of everyone. Dr Ketoki Mazumdar, a Mumbai-based consultant psychotherapist, says that some women, especially those more concerned about societal standards of appearance, are likely to experience increased body dissatisfaction. “Compared to other times in women’s lives when body shape remains relatively stable, pregnancy may allow for a more powerful test of the factors leading to body image dissatisfaction.”
However, learning self-love and self-acceptance is essential since it can help new mothers feel more confident, which can come in handy while tackling the entire motherhood experience. Taking care of a newborn, lack of sleep, and even career changes can take a physical and emotional toll on a new mother, points out Dr Mazumdar.“We are constantly getting bombarded with set beauty and body standards where women in their natural sizes are made to feel uncomfortable. Accepting one's body and its capabilities of carrying a child and giving birth does lead a mother to have a newer appreciation of her body and helps them focus on their experience of being a mother, helping them in their role transitions and being present for her child(ren),” she says.
Dr Meghana Singhal, a clinical psychologist at NIMHANS, Bengaluru, agrees that learning to be comfortable in your postpartum body is essential; when a mother has a positive body image, she can be a good body image role model to her child, she says. “She can talk about her body positively, accept it, and take good care of it (such as by eating a healthy diet and exercising). Research has shown that this impacts her child- both girls and boys-positively. Children pick this up from their mothers and do the same for themselves," she says.
She lists some ways friends and family can help make expecting mothers more comfortable in their bodies.
Divya Naik is a Mumbai-based therapist