Pregnancy: Here's Lookin' at You, Baby (cont.)

"What's difficult about pregnancy is that your body is changing extremely quickly," says Ann Kearney-Cooke, PhD, director of the Cincinnati Psychotherapy Institute and a scholar at Columbia University's Partnership for Women's Health, who specializes in body image, eating disorders and self-esteem. "You probably haven't had that kind of change since puberty. It's hard to have a stable body image when it's changing so quickly, especially in the second and third trimesters."

But if you do maintain a positive image, asserts Kearney-Cooke, "You're going to enjoy the pregnancy more. You're going to see this as more of a focus on how your body functions and what it can do. This is a unique thing. Only women can do this ... so far."

Body Image Trouble Signs

A pregnant woman might need help if she shows some of the signs listed here.

  • Social functioning: All the pregnant woman thinks about is her appearance, to the point where it keeps her from going out.
  • Dieting: She drastically cuts back on what she eats, without a doctor's OK, or makes poor food choices.
  • Dressing inappropriately: She wears clothing as if she weren't pregnant, or to hide the pregnancy.
  • Denial: She's not talking about the baby or making plans for it, or she talks about it as if it isn't real.
  • Little or no support system: She has few or no family and friends to help her through the pregnancy.

Lucy Living in Sin?

Even at the beginning of the 21st century, developing a good body image involves shedding Victorian Era modesties and strictures.

"From around the 1870s until the 1940s, a woman wasn't supposed to show 'her condition,' " relates Lana Thompson, author of "The Wandering Womb: A Cultural History of Outrageous Beliefs about Women." "That's why they called it confinement. She didn't go out in public because that brought to mind the act that caused the pregnancy, and that was the sinful part. There was this whole cult of pure womanhood -- they had pure thoughts and they would elevate a man. You didn't want to cause anyone to think any impure thoughts, so pregnancy was concealed."

Think Lucy Ricardo. This was not a woman having relations with her handsome Cuban husband. How could she? They had separate beds. And so the "pregnant" Lucy hid the forming Little Ricky behind shapeless tent dresses.

Also contributing to pregnant women's confusion about their changing bodies were, paradoxically, medical breakthroughs and advances in prenatal care. The whole process acquired a medicinal smell. Again, consider Lucy. When Little Ricky was born, it wasn't in an episode called "The Birth" or "Here Comes Little Ricky." It was called "Lucy Goes to the Hospital."

Diagnosis: Pregnant

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