What we might NOT need to hear when we’re pregnant.

There are lots of things that aren’t helpful to hear when you’re pregnant, but I want to touch on pregnancy and weight gain from my own experience and learning! People’s comments over a few pregnancies and recoveries have really affected and shaped me (literally) in a way I can now see and want to really move away from for the sake of others. I’ll start by acknowledging two things. (1) I’m not writing this from a medical perspective – while I do think this conversation is an issue within healthcare in some places I’m not going to cover that here and (2) in som I’ve never gained a huge amount of weight during either phase, and I’ve never been what people would widely look at as “overweight” in those phases and start judging me differently for – the way that does happen, and would change this experience and blog post. However, what we say to anyone regardless of size, solidifies a reality and belief that affects EVERYONE which is why I wanted to bring my own experience here and talk about it!

Most people know…

Everyone knows (ok, most people know and remember) not to comment on weight gain during pregnancy.  I know in reality it still happens to a lot of people but from talking to more and more people – this is the aspect that is at least more acknowledged and more worked on. But in that idea that we shouldn’t talk about weight gain because weight gain might be bad or hurt people, we’ve maybe come to think that a lack of weight gain is the gold standard… and so we talk about that instead. And we celebrate it. Over and over again. 

Hands up if you’ve ever heard one of these said in celebration of someone:

  • “You’re all bump!”
  • “You’ve put it on in all the right places!”
  • “Wow, you can’t tell you’re pregnant from behind!”
  • “Ah you don’t even look pregnant!”
  • “You don’t look like you just had a baby!”
  • “Wow they look good for 2 months post partum!”
  • “They’re one of those lucky people who doesn’t gain weight.”
  • “How old are they [the baby]?! Wow you’re looking so good! (gesture to the body)”
  • “You’ve bounced right back!”
  • “Where’s your bump?!” (said post partum at the lack of post partum bump)
  • “Ah, they do not look like that had a baby 4 months ago!”

I think we pretty much all do this or have said these things in the past – we mean them well. If you’ve said these things, I’m sure I have too! There’s a widely accepted approach to pregnancy weight that I believe we need to turn around. The celebration of a lack of weight gain. 

But wait, I was being NICE!

Yes! You were. Or whoever said it was trying to be nice – but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t explore whats’ behind why we think these comments are nice, and explore the other side of them.  All of these are said as compliments and I think that’s why I wanted to write this post, because they all convey another truth.

Whenever we celebrate something, we communicate that it’s better than something else.

When I compliment my son for staying inside the lines with colouring and being so careful, I don’t ever have to tell him that it’s better than colouring outside the lines, or that that would be a lack of care. I’ve already communicated the bad thing, within the repeated compliment. If we celebrate that someone has “put it on in all the right places” we’re conveying that there are “wrong places” to gain weight in pregnancy to them, ourselves and anyone else who’s listening.  We’re establishing and continuing an idea that people are less worthy of celebration if it goes on in those “wrong places.”

This continues the idea that weight gain during pregnancy in bad is something we need to turn around and we CAN with how we compliment people.

My own stories on pregnancy and weight:

In my first pregnancy I didn’t gain weight much beyond boobs and bump. That was my reality from a mix of genetics, and because I could control it! No children, self employed schedule, gym membership. It was easy and natural for me- but I also paid a lot of attention to it, fuelled by comments and constant check ups from my midwife and what I believed to be best and most culturally impressive. Note: being healthy didn’t come into it for me. It wasn’t about a desire to be healthier – I knew I was eating well, but the desire was just not to gain weight. And I really prided myself on not gaining much weight – I thought it was the goal. I’m shamed to admit it, but I did. I walked out of the hospital about 10lb up from my normal weight and in the midst of birth, new motherhood and so many things that should have been all that mattered, I really felt a sense of achievement about that lack of weight gain. It’s also the last time I weighed myself. 

In my second pregnancy I chose not to look when I was weighed almost weekly. I knew I didn’t want to be bound to the same feelings and push to achieve anything in that pregnancy. I was scolded once for gaining 5lb in one week, but knowing my body I know that between my eating and drinking and bathroom trips I could fluctuate 5lb in a day – especially as these were clothed readings. I let myself not be so bound to the idea of not gaining weight, but still paid attention to it, and was happy that I wasn’t. I could still work out, and I didn’t gain a lot during pregnancy. People celebrated me with the array of comments above – I think every one of them came my way during pregnancy. Then after birth when everyone says the weight will fall off breastfeeding, I actually put on more and more weight for 2-3 months. Was I unhealthy? No! I was fueling my body well, resting and recovering then gently starting to work out again but I was ganging weight. And the earlier celebrations of “you don’t look like you’ve just had a baby” disappeared and no one commented on my body at all. I then lost the weight (too much) very fast from about 4 months post partum as we went through a traumatic, months long, colic experience…

This is when I stopped complimenting people on their bodies during pregnancy or post partum. At. All. 

As I got more and more stressed in a time that ultimately landed me very gratefully in therapy, admitting I didn’t love my child, and later diagnosed with PTSD everyone started commenting on my weight again. “Wow you look amazing”, “you’re looking so good” the comments were frequent. I was actually falling apart. That’s some of why I was losing weight. At nine months post partum, in the worst stage with my daughter, we were running out the door and I had Jared take a picture of us – I threw her up in the air and we both SMILED. I scrolled through the shots he’d taken and it felt like such a precious picture, the awful journey of the first few months made a smile very very precious, a moment looking at each other. I posted it to Instagram as we drove with a swipe for the photo of being 9 months pregnant with her. “9 months in, 9 months out.” Feeling so happy about that moment with my daughter, I captioned it and put my phone away.

I pulled out my phone again to a LOT of messages about my body. Both massively celebratory ones all about how I looked amazing, and some ones that really hurt about how I shouldn’t post my body having lost the baby weight. That shouldn’t be something I celebrated. It threw me. In a really stressed place I hadn’t even known how thin I was – and it wasn’t even healthy. I wasn’t celebrating it. I saw the photo and knew I needed to put ON weight. Yet those comments ALL told me it was a good thing. Even the ones that were angry that I’d posted it were in a way telling me my weight loss was ‘lucky’ or an achievement and not everyone could do that, so I shouldn’t show it.

But they reinforced it as a good thing.

This third pregnancy I’ve gained the most, but still not an amount to cross into a place of culturally people thinking I should watch what I’m doing. And in the most weight gain I’ve been the most healthy in my mind about my weight. I’m going into the post partum period the most relaxed about letting my body heal over losing the weight. I don’t just want to be free from the idea we need to bounce back but to really challenge it as a destructive normal. I feel so aware of the lure of society to not gain weight, to celebrate bouncing back and not only having a bump not a changed body. And as I see how it’s so prevalent in our comments and compliments, it makes me so determined not to buy into it but hold my mind on the opposite place. Are there still thoughts I have to put back on the right track? Yes. 100%. But I know what the right track is. 

“But weight gain is a marker of health in pregnancy!”

Maybe it is, for some people, in an array of markers of health. Some people need to gain more, some people need to gain less. There may be a place for this conversation about weight between a healthcare provider and a patient, or maybe between close friends if you’re concerned and it’s done right, or if you ask if you can speak about it first. But here I’m more touching on the social comments we make that can have SO much impact.  

And one thing we know is: lack of weight gain is not one of the markers of a healthy pregnancy – yet we make it the one thing to comment on above all else. I’m not writing this from a medical perspective, but more of a cultural one. That said, I chatted it through with my midwife who said for most pregnancies in the UK they don’t weigh you because it’s not an important measurement. But in that vein of “health” – when we comment on someone’s weight are we really commenting on their health? Or are we commenting on what we think looks best? I was thin from NOT being healthy, and gained weight from BEING healthy. No one knew or asked how I got to each place, they assumed and commented…wrongly. Because it’s so deeply ingrained in us that thinner is good, and less thin is bad. 

Undoing what we’ve learned

We have a LOT to undo in this culture in terms of the stigma of weight, and it’s not a topic I’ll be an educator on as I’m really on my own journey here! It’s also a something that varies with different cultures – with different groups having different norms and different directions of commenting that I’ve heard from others can be equally harmful in many different directions and moments. It’s a conversation that can make many of us really dig in our heels and not want to change – ideal body size is something we hold dear in society and I’d encourage you to go on a journey of diving in that I’m SO glad I’ve done as I’ve unpacked my own assumptions and strongly held beliefs I didn’t even know I had! This pregnancy for me has felt like a process of really shaking off comments and what I’ve held as important in the past, while actually pregnant myself. It was during my last pregnancy that I really realised the damage we can do with this obsession with not gaining weight and holding that as the most important thing – and since then people’s comments and commentary on it have really stood out to me. Not that I judge people for what they say but more I’ve become hyper aware that we are building something here, and it can really damage people and I want to see that change!

There’s always more to say

This could be an ongoing conversation, and there’s always more to say on a big topic like this. My hope is that it adds to a conversation or starts some thoughts, maybe makes you more able to let go of people’s comments, or makes you realise the impact of the ones you could make and think more deeply on the topic in a new way.