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Body Image Lies We Tell Pregnant Women

Early during my pregnancy, I criticized my body in the mirror. “Oh God, I look so fat.” I thought to myself one day as I was getting dressed. It took me a moment to catch this automatic thought, and remind my self that during pregnancy, my belly is meant to expand and that I am in fact, pregnant, not fat.

This got me thinking about the impact that body image has on pregnancy and emotional health and wellbeing.

Entire industries are built on telling women that they need to be prettier, skinnier, fitter, sexier. We are constantly bombarded with messages about how imperfect and unworthy we are. Women are given two societal roles. The Mother or the Whore. And as June Diane Raphael says, “we are both”.

When it comes to pregnancy, it is expected that women will gain weight. It is normal. And encouraged. Suddenly it is OK to indulge in food as women are “eating for two”.

However, women are still bombarded with perfect, soft bumps, glowing and perfect skin and bodies.  Instagram posts show the perfect baby bumps, with elaborately decorated nurseries and well-behaved children. Leaving women feeling inadequate and ill=prepared for their own parenting journey.

So, what does the research say?

An American study by Mehta et al (2011) 1192 pregnant women participated in a study which used the Body Image Assessment for Obesity tool to assess their ideal body size versus their actual body size. The study found that women who stated pregnancy with a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) had an increased risk of excess weight gain if they preferred to be thinner and that women with a lower income had an increased risk of inadequate wight gain, while women with lower education were at risk of excessive weight gain. Mehta et al (2011) suggests that body image and weight perception is not just limited to a desire to be thin but linked to socioeconomic factors such as income and education.

But what about mental health?

A systemic review conducted by Hodgkinson et al (2014) found that women protected their body image by differentiating between “fatness” and pregnancy and utilizing this difference and an excuse to not conform to socially constructed ideals of body image. However, these findings were not consistent during the postpartum period, where studies recognized a strong belief that being fat is not socially acceptable, but pregnancy is.  Furthermore, women were forced to re-negotiate their identity due to pregnancy related changes, changing their identity from a sexually attractive woman to a mother identity. Hodgkinson et al (2014) suggests a need to support women to adopt healthy lifestyles with a focus on desired body image, rather that desired weight.

How do we tie this together?

Body images impacts many women during their pregnancy. Monitoring attitudes to physical appearance is especially important during this time.

Women can engage in nurturing practices to support positive body image attitude during pregnancy:

  • Maintaining a balanced diet, including a variety fresh fruit and vegetables, and limiting processed food.
  • Exercising regularly to support a healthy lifestyle.
  • Drinking plenty of water to keep the body hydrated.
  • Practicing meditation or mindfulness with a focus on accepting the physical changes of pregnancy.
  • Creating positive affirmations to shift mindset, such as “I am Enough”, “I am Beautiful” “I am Worthy of Love”
  • Seeking support from a counselor or psychologist to address mental health and body image issues.

There are some days that I look at my now 28-week bump and think “It kind of looks like I just ate a big lunch.” And other times where I feel like I look the way a pregnant woman should. Soft, round, feminine. I know that my body image will continue to change throughout my pregnancy and into motherhood. Awareness of the impact that body image plays on my own health and wellbeing is the first step that I can take to making positive changes and improving my overall perception and identity of who I am as I transition into this new role.

 

 

References:

Mehta UJ, Siega-Riz AM, and Herring AH, Effect of Body Image on Pregnancy Weight Gain. Maternal and Child Health Journal. 2011 Apr; 15(3): 324–332. Viewed 12-5-2020

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3665282/

 

Hodgkinson EL, Smith DM, and Wittkowski A, Women’s experiences of their pregnancy and postpartum body image: a systematic review and meta-synthesis. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2014; 14: 330.

Viewed 12-5-2020

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4261580/

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The 5 Reasons Why Massage Must Be Part of Your Postpartum Recovery

Early postpartum recovery is a time of healing and adjustment. The recovery period is the 6-week period post-birth however, but the body continues to have metabolic and hormonal changes that can last longer.

I often remind my clients that it has taken them 9 months, or in some cases 10, to allow their baby to develop. A woman’s body changes almost instantly post-birth, and it takes time to return balance to the body, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.

And of course, we must acknowledge the biggest challenge that new mums face – how they can look after themselves when they are trying to keep a little human alive. Keep reading to find out why massage forms a vital part of post-partum recovery.

 

The Benefits Of Postnatal Massage

Massage is important for early postnatal recovery. Massage during the postpartum period can even enable a quicker recovery from pregnancy and childbirth and improve the health and wellbeing of mum. Massage forms a vital part of the journey into motherhood.

Some of the benefits of postpartum massage include:

  • Labour recovery, physical and mental exhaustion
  • Alleviating stress, anxiety and depression
  • Rebalancing postural changes and reducing pain
  • Aiding the repair of scar tissue from surgery due to cesarean birth
  • Providing relief from breastfeeding posture and mammary changes

 

Labour Recovery

Let’s face it, whether you have a quick 1-hour labour, or whether your labour went on for days, there is no denying that it has an impact on your body. From the first stages, to the active pushing and expulsion of the placenta, your body had worked hard to endure these phases. Massage in the postpartum period can help the new mother to alleviate feelings of physical and mental exhaustion. Massage is a wonderful way to reduce pregnancy discomforts hat often linger postnatally. Receiving massage is early postpartum can enhance recovery and reduce pelvic ligament and joint strain and pain.

 

Mental Health of Mum and Dad

Massage at any stage of life can reduce stress hormones and increase feelings of relaxation. Postpartum massage shares these benefits. More than 1 in 7 new mums and up to 1 in 10 new dads experience postnatal depression. Postnatal anxiety is just as common, and many parents experience both anxiety and depression at the same time.

For mums, hormonal changes can be a contributing factor for changes in mental health. While adjusting to new responsibilities and feelings of frustration, stress and overwhelm can impact both parents. Massage can help the new mum and dad alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety.

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health postnatally, please contact PANDA’s National Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Helpline on 1300 726 306 or  Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Pregnancy Birth Baby Helpline on 1800 882 436.

 

Postural Rebalance and Reducing Pain

Post-birth, a woman’s posture changes dramatically. Their center of gravity is no longer being thrust forward with the weight of baby. But this does not mean that the body automatically rebalances itself. Massage can assist in realigning and rebalancing postural changes in the glutes, hips and shoulders. Thus, providing relieve form muscular strain and reducing tension headaches, and generalized lower back pain.  Postnatal massage is relaxing and eases muscular strain not only form labour and birth, but also assists in rebalancing the body as it adjusts to new physical demands, such as breastfeeding.

 

Scar Tissue Repair

One of the main focuses of postpartum massage is scar tissue repair and rebalancing the abdominal muscles. After a caesarian birth, some mothers report a loss of feeling and sensation in their abdomen. Postnatal massage focuses on bringing awareness to the abdomen and allowing mum to connect into her body.

Postpartum treatment also works on reducing adhesions surrounding the scar tissue, which can help mum feel freer and reduce abdomen pain. Massage on the caesarian scar tissue can help to heal the deeper layers of the wound and can prevent tissues from sticking together.

If you have had a caesarian, it is recommended to obtain consent and approval from your primary health care professional prior to attending treatment. This ensure that massage is safe, and the journey to healing and rebalancing can begin.

 

Breastfeeding posture

Motherhood brings with it new physical demands. Lifting, carrying and holding a new baby puts strain on the back, while breastfeeding strains the neck, upper back. It can feel like your whole body is a ball of pain and tension.

I often remind my new mums that breastfeeding is a skill that you need to learn, much like how your baby is learning the ways of the world too. Take it easy, take it slow and most of all be kind to yourself. It may take a while to hone this skill. At the end of the day, there is no right way to breast feed. If you choose to do it, or not do it, it doesn’t matter. But your posture is vital whether you are using breast or bottle.

I love this video from What To Expect. It goes through three breastfeeding postures for optimal comfort of mum and baby. What I love most about this video is that mum has supported her feet on a stool and throughout her shoulders are relaxed and she isn’t slouched or hunched over.

Watch It Here

 

Postnatal Massage Recommendations

As with pregnancy massage, postnatal treatment considers the comfort of mum, first and foremost. Prior to treatment, I recommend that mum’s feed or express to increase comfort.

Treatment can be performed side lying, if lying on the stomach causes pain in the abdomen or breasts.

Mum can also bring baby into the treatment if child care is not available. Baby can either be in the pram or on the table with mum if it is suitable.

Appointments can be arranged around feeding and sleep times to make this easier for baby to settle and for mum to relax.

Need an appointment? Book Now!

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Feel the Love with Massage

Can Massage Make You Fall in Love?

You don’t have to be a neuroscientist to know that massage helps us to feel good, boosting our mood and allowing feelings of anxiety and stress to disappear. But can massage increase our feelings of love – towards our partners, ourselves and our new born babies? In this month’s blog, I explore the connection between massage and the hormone called Oxytocin.

 

So, what is Oxytocin?

Oxytocin is a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter and plays a part in our social interactions. Commonly known at the “love hormone”, oxytocin is increased when we hug or kiss a loved one. It increases our ability to show empathy and build trust. What’s even more amazing, is that oxytocin plays a role in maternal-infant bonding and breastmilk production.

 

What does this mean for Pregnancy an Postnatal Massage?

Author of The Oxytocin Factor, Dr. Kerstin Unvas Moberg states that massage is one of the most effective ways to increase levels of oxytocin, not only in the person receiving the massage, but the massage therapist as well! (This really explains my HIGH level of job satisfaction!)

Oxytocin can counteract the effects of the stress hormone cortisol, which can lead to high blood pressure, reduced immune function and depression over extended periods of time.  Even those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have been able to reduce their levels of stress and increase oxytocin levels with massage.

A study by Morhenn et al (2012) found that massage increased the levels of oxytocin and suggest that there may be a connection between social interactions and reduced morbidity and mortality rates. So massage can make you feel good, more connected to your loved ones and the community as well as boosting your health!

A study by Azriani et al (2016) found that there was an increase of breastmilk production when “oxytocin massage” is performed in the days following birth. So this is great news for my mamma’s that want to breastfeed their little ones!

That’s why we feel so good after a massage and why massage should be a part of your health and wellbeing routine as your journey through the stages of pregnancy and into motherhood!

For more information on how to take better care of yourself with massage, head to our blog archive.

If you want to feel the love – book a massage now!

 

 

Resources:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/oxytocin

 

Oxytocin: The Hormone of Peace and Trust

 

Morhenn V1, Beavin LE, Zak PJ. (2012) Massage increases oxytocin and reduces adrenocorticotropin hormone in humans. Altern Ther Health Med.  Nov-Dec;18(6):11-8.

(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23251939)

 

Devi Azriani, & Sri Handayani, Politeknik Kesehatan Kemenkes Jakarta I (2016) The Effect of Oxytocin Massage on Breast Milk Production Dam Vol 1, Issue 8, Page 47-50,

(http://www.damaacademia.com/issue/volume1/issue8/DIJR-A-005.pdf)