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Body image and restrictive eating

Changes to body shape and size are a natural part of pregnancy and many women enjoy the physical aspect of carrying a baby in utero. For some people, this is a challenging time and can trigger or increase negative feelings or thoughts about body image. 

Weight gain, fluid retention, varicose veins and stretch marks are common concerns that may trigger negative thoughts and feelings. Hormonal fluctuations, tiredness and mood swings can make it difficult to stay in a positive frame of mind. For some people, the impact is mild and manageable. You may have a down day here and there where you wish your body looked different. For a smaller group of women, body image concerns in pregnancy can feel overwhelming and have a significant impact on daily life.

Disordered eating is also a concern for some people during pregnancy. The factors that contribute to an eating disorder are complex.  Pregnancy and post pregnancy are known times where body dissatisfaction can increase. Eating disorders and body image issues affect people from all walks of life and do not discriminate. Family and friends play a crucial role in the care and support of those affected.

People with diagnosed eating disorders should seek medical advice before getting pregnant to get as much support as they can. GPs can provide initial advice, and, after that, psychiatrists, dieticians, and counsellors may be involved to provide the best care and support. Recovery is possible and it is a treatable condition.

If issues emerge for the first-time during pregnancy, people should seek support from their pregnancy care professional as early as possible. Referral to other professionals may be necessary.

A parent may feel some guilt or shame about asking for help – they may be scared that people will judge them or think they won’t make a good parent. However, body image issues and disordered eating are common and health professionals frequently speak with people about them during pregnancy. Asking for help demonstrates strength, resourcefulness, and a desire to be healthy.

Parents may have family or friends they can be open and honest with – they can be a good source of support. It is also useful for parents to avoid unhealthy media and online spaces that often present unrealistic portrayals of pregnancy and parenthood.

For information about body image and eating disorders after birth, please visit our website here


Other Resources:

Butterfly Foundation 

National Eating Disorders Association

The Royal Women’s Hospital 

National Eating Disorders Association 

Jean Hailes for Women’s Health 

Date of Last Review: August 2021