The Psychological Effects of Weight Gain in Pregnancy

I’m so excited to have Psychologist Dr. Arielle Buch-Frohlich as a guest writer on the blog today.

How do you feel about weight gain during pregnancy? 

For some, it might feel natural, or even “good”, to put on weight as we go through pregnancy. For others, it can be a cause of stress, anxiety, or even fear to watch the number on the scale go up. 

Prior to becoming pregnant, women may already experience challenges with body image and healthy eating patterns, which can cause mild to significant distress for some individuals.  Then, suddenly, we become pregnant, and all of these behavioural patterns and thoughts associated with food and body image become much more anxiety provoking and confusing. There is suddenly so much attention on our bodies, we get unsolicited advice and questions about our weight and nutrition, and we are constantly having to step on the scale at the doctor’s office to see how much weight we’ve gained. 

How do we deal with this sudden change? What if we don’t put on weight? Or gain “too much”?

Who do we look to for guidance on how to eat healthy and how to feel good?

What about our mental health as we deal with all of our body’s physical changes? 

Many also report feeling a lack of control associated with pregnancy. Particularly with a first pregnancy, we may not know what to expect, and our body may feel different from what we’ve envisioned pregnancy should look like.

This can feel very scary, can be especially challenging to accept, and may lead to feelings of anxiety or depression. Examples of this lack of control might be the nausea that kicks in and prevents us from eating at all, or feeling a need torely on “emotional eating” with our favourite comfort foods to soothe our worries.

This could lead to feelings of guilt or shame, particularly with so much emphasis from health care professionals, family, and friends asking about what we’re doing to take care of our babies, and not ourselves. We don’t always put enough thought towards how mom is doing, which can make us feel like we’re no longer important or seen. 

Well mama, we want to shift the focus back to YOU! Here are some actionable steps you can take to help you feel better about your body and emotional well being during pregnancy and postpartum.

1) Establish a support system.

Whether it is other moms who have been through this before, or a trusted friend or partner, establish a support system where you can openly share your thoughts and feelings. For too long, the world has been silent about the realities of going through pregnancy and the postpartum period. We need to normalize that even if you feel excited about the new life that’s about to begin, you may also have feelings of doubt, guilt, fear, anxiety, depression, etc., and these feelings are all normal! The more we allow for self-expression and validation, and the more we give ourselves permission to have these feelings, the better capable we become of dealing with them. This ultimately leads to improved health and feelings of well-being.

2) Find out more information.

The more information you have at your disposal, the better you will feel. There is extensive research done on pregnancy, a healthy lifestyle, and weight gain. To ensure that you’re feeling good about your body, and about the food that you’re eating, it can help to have a reputable resource to look to, such as this page through Canada’s Food Guide. A dietician may also be a helpful resource to guide you on healthy food choices and to see where a change in diet may be helpful, and you can visit Dieticians of Canada to find one in your area. With more education on proper nutrition, you are then better able to make decisions about your health and can see where you might be able to “relax” or “let go” of some of these rules and expectations. 


3) Exercise during your pregnancy, unless you’re advised not to.

Exercise is associated with promoting healthy weight gain during pregnancy, and it can increase feelings of confidence and decrease anxiety. It is recommended that all women begin an exercise program during pregnancy, even if you have never exercised in the past, unless your primary care provider has told you to avoid exercise for specific medical reasons. Pregnant women should aim for 150 minutes/week of moderate-intensity exercise. You can find more information on how to exercise safely during pregnancy here.


4) Seek psychological counseling or support.

If you have the resources, working with a psychologist or mental health professional can improve your mood and decrease stressors during this time of significant physical and psychological change. It’s important to take a moment to reflect on this new stage of life, and to acknowledge all the changes that are happening to your body and in your environment. It may be helpful to examine what you may be feeling about the new transition in your life and your new identity as a “mom”.

You can reach out to Arielle through her website if you would like more information on her services, or visit www.psychologytoday.com to find a psychologist in your area. Alternatively, meditation apps such as Insight Timer or Headspace are a great place to start for free psychological tools. Arielle also recommends the book Mind and Emotions (McKay, Ona, & Fanning) and the app Tracknshare to help with your mood. For more pregnancy and mental health resources, check out the books Bumpin’ by Leslie Schrock and What No One Tells You by Alexandra Sacks. For some fun and liberating pregnancy and parenting content, check out the @themomroompodcast by Renee Reina and the @momtruthspodcast by Cat & Nat. 

5) Talk to your primary care provider about your concerns.

Physicians and other health care providers are trained not just in physical health, but also mental health. It’s important to have open conversations with your primary care provider about how you are feeling so that they can best support you. Note, if you ever feeling like you are a danger to yourself or to others, you must view this as a medical emergency (just as you would with chest pain!) and get yourself to the Emergency Department or call 911 immediately.

Weight gain during pregnancy is something that so many women think about and experience stress over. We hope these educational tips provide a source of support for you. If you have any further questions on this topic, feel free to reach out to Jenni or Arielle directly!

Note: This post is for educational purposes only and does not replace medical advice or treatment from your healthcare provider. Always follow the advice of your primary care provider when making decisions about your health and well-being.

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