Whether it’s swollen feet, bigger breasts, or a rapidly expanding belly, lots of expectant mothers don’t love the way being pregnant changes the way their body looks and feels.
But while many moms-to-be deal with the physical shifts of pregnancy by venting to friends or talking to their doctor, sometimes these changes affect a woman in a more emotional way, leaving her struggling with body image insecurities.
That’s what Kylie Jenner is reportedly going through right now. “Her body is changing and she’s very self-conscious about it,” a source told PEOPLE about Jenner’s first pregnancy. “She’s always been insecure that she’s not as curvy or pretty as her sisters.”
Many women can relate to Jenner’s pregnancy-related body insecurity, especially when it’s brought on by the normal weight gain that happens as the pregnancy moves through each trimester.
“It’s not unusual for women — even if they are very excited about and empowered by pregnancy — to be frustrated by a shift in weight,” says Colorado-based psychologist Helen L. Coons, PhD, president and clinical director of Women’s Mental Health Associates & Healthy Psychology Solutions, where she specializes in improving body image and sexual health in women. “Some women who go into pregnancy already having negative body image may feel even more negative toward themselves.”
That negativity might make you feel like you’ve gone up several sizes when you’ve really only gained a few pounds, says Coons. Or a woman might be frustrated by new varicose veins, self-conscious of growing breasts, or embarrassed about swollen feet and ankles. “Even when their bodies respond healthily, for women who are very body-conscious, they can feel a little out of control,” Coons says.
To regain some control and put a positive spin on things, Coons reminds women struggling with self-consciousness during pregnancy to focus on what they can control: “Improve self-care, like nutrition, exercise, skin care, sleep — things that help you feel better,” she says.
Perhaps most importantly, cultivate a greater sense of self-acceptance. “Focus on what you’re doing to contribute to a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby,” Coons says. “Affirm that your body is responding resiliently and healthily.”
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Of course, that might be easier said than done, especially if you have a history of body image struggles or eating disorders. Many women, pregnant or not, hold themselves up to “perfectionistic notions of what bodies should look like,” Coons says. To many, the Kardashian-Jenner clan epitomize that perfection — and that might be making Kylie’s reported body image issues even more pronounced.
If you’re having a hard time “celebrating and honoring” a pregnancy, as Coons says, consider reaching out to a mental health professional. A pro may be able to help coach you through these normal body changes so you see them in a more positive light. “Rather than being in a negative, anxious panic about gaining weight,” Coons says, experts can help women “see their bodies responding in healthy ways.” Pregnancy might even kick-start a more accepting, compassionate outlook, “and that can be a very empowering shift.”