Why You Shouldn't Be Striving For a Belly Only Pregnancy
Pregnancy is a time like no other. You go through so many changes, both physically and emotionally, as you create a new little life. With all of the rapid body changes, hormones, and inevitable comments from strangers, it’s understandable that many women are hyper-aware of their bodies, and sometimes a little self-conscious, during pregnancy.
But lately I’ve been seeing a trend going around the internet that’s quite alarming - the promotion of a ‘Belly Only Pregnancy.’
As a registered dietitian and advocate for body acceptance and self-love, I’m sickened by the numerous fitness bloggers, trainers, and ‘health experts’ promoting programs and giving advice that promise expecting moms a ‘Belly Only Pregnancy’ - a pregnancy where they only gain weight in their bellies, and nowhere else. This trend is a reflection of today’s diet culture where weight gain, even when it’s totally natural and healthy, is feared and shamed. Not only is this kind of thinking unhealthy for mom, but it’s also unhealthy for that little baby.
Here’s why you absolutely should NOT aim for a belly only pregnancy:
It’s unhealthy for baby.
Of course, the goal of all pregnancies is a healthy baby at the end of those 9 months. I think I can speak for all moms when I say we will do anything to give our little ones the absolute best chance at a happy, healthy life. And that means giving them the proper nutrition when we are are their only source. Plans for a pregnancy where women only gain weight in their bellies are basically diet plans - restricting intake to prevent weight gain. But that is the complete opposite of what’s healthiest for baby. You and baby need extra calories and nutrients to make sure baby grows and develops normally. Making sure baby receives proper nutrition not only prevents birth defects and low birth weight, but it could also prevent health problems later in life. In fact, undernutrition en utero can trigger genetic changes that predispose the fetus to health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome later in life.
It’s unhealthy for mom.
If you’ve ever been on a diet, you don’t need me to tell you that it makes you cranky and tired - the last thing you need during those 9 exhausting months. But restricting intake during pregnancy can have even longer term consequences on mom’s health. Your body is extremely smart and resourceful, and it wants to do everything it can to help that little fetus grow. If you don’t get enough nutrients in your diet, your body will pull from your own stores to get baby the nutrition she needs. That leaves you depleted of nutrients like calcium, iron, and protein, and can result in muscle loss, anemia, and even osteoporosis later on. It also leaves you drained of energy.
Gaining weight only in your belly during pregnancy is just as impossible as losing weight only in your belly - your body just doesn’t work that way. Weight comes on the same way it comes off - distributed across multiple places on your body. The truth is, gaining weight all over your body is normal and healthy during pregnancy, and trying to stop it will only lead to anxiety and emotional distress. Try to remind yourself of the reason for all of those body changes - a beautiful baby coming soon, and that pregnancy is a beautiful process that shouldn’t be shamed.
I know it’s hard to feel confident in your body all of the time, so if you are feeling self conscious about putting on extra pounds in certain areas, getting in a little exercise can help - not to burn calories, but to build muscle. Try adding in a little strengthening exercise where you can, such as yoga, light hand weights, or a barre class. Even if it doesn’t do anything for your body, it will likely make you feel better and more energetic. And it can help you with labor and delivery later on!
It’s out of your control.
At the end of the day, where you put on weight is completely out of your control. People have different body types and their weight is naturally distributed differently based on genetics. So like it or not, your genes will largely control how extra weight is distributed on your body. Some women naturally don’t gain a lot of weight in pregnancy and happen to have the ‘belly only’ pregnancy even when consuming a healthy amount of extra calories for baby, and that’s great. Some women gain more than others when consuming the same amount of extra nutrition, and that’s great too. Trying to change that will make you crazy. As long as you’re eating a nutritious, plentiful diet, taking your prenatal vitamin and getting in a little enjoyable, light exercise throughout pregnancy, you’re doing just fine and your body will reflect that. Keeping the end goal in mind - a healthy baby - and letting your body change the way nature intended is the best way to keep your sanity and health around your body during this wonderful time. So relax, take a breath, and enjoy this beautiful period of your life while you wait for your little one to arrive!