Whether you have body image issues, disordered eating or are in recovery from an eating disorder, it’s important to recognize your problems and work to resolve them prior to pregnancy or motherhood.

As authors Claire Mysko and Magali Amadei write in their excellent book, Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat? The Essential Guide to Loving Your Body Before and After Baby*:

If you know you have food and weight issues and you want to go into motherhood prepared to deal with them, that doesn’t mean you’re selfish. It means you’re smart, savvy and self-aware – and we think your kids will thank you for it.

In their book, Mysko and Amadei, who both struggled with and recovered from eating disorders, include a valuable checklist with healthy tips for before and during pregnancy and after your baby’s birth.

Here are their suggestions:

Before & During Pregnancy

  • Talk with your doctor or therapist about wanting to start a family. (Remember, though, that many family physicians and gynecologists and obstetricians just aren’t well-versed in eating disorders or body image issues. If they seem insensitive or not knowledgable, find someone else.) Taking medication? Mysko and Amadei suggest “develop[ing] a plan that will best address your own psychological well-being and your baby’s health through pregnancy and beyond.”
  • Accept that your body will go through changes and you’ll gain weight. As the authors also underscore, avoid assuming that your food or weight issues will go away without getting treatment. Seek help.
  • Pick an OB or midwife you’re comfortable with and who has a good understanding of eating disorders. And tell them about your history. This way, they can better meet your needs.
  • Have a support system. This might include a therapist who specializes in eating disorders and body image issues, who, according to the authors, “can help you navigate the emotional ups and downs of pregnancy and new motherhood.”
  • “Set boundaries with your friends, relatives and coworkers to minimize the talk about weight gain and other topics that could be triggers for you.” You can simply say “I’m not comfortable talking about that,” as Mysko and Amadei suggest.
  • Don’t keep to yourself. As the authors write: “Remember that there is nothing shameful about asking for help. It’s the most courageous thing you can do for yourself and your baby.”

After Birth

  • Don’t ignore your own mental and physical health needs. According to Mysko and Amadei, women with a history of eating disorders are more vulnerable to postpartum depression. So if you find yourself feeling depressed or anxious, seek help. (By the way, this website is an incredible resource for postpartum depression and related info.)
  • Work toward becoming at peace with gaining weight and possibly not losing it. Instead of trying furiously to count calories, shed pounds and engage in painful exercise, see a therapist “who can help you get to a healthier place with your body issues.”
  • “Look at your recovery as an ongoing process that will help you reach your full potential as an individual and as a mother.” Your disordered eating struggles or body image issues might’ve taken a respite during pregnancy but they can return. If that’s the case, again don’t hesitate to seek help.

I love what Mysko and Amadei say at the end of this chapter, which I think will resonate with you, too:

For all the minutes, hours, days women spend talking about food and weight, it is our silences that really hold us back. The size 2 jeans are not the key to our happiness. And deep down, we know it. So instead of discussing diet resolutions we’ve broken and ruminating over workout routines that aren’t giving us the results we want, let’s finally start getting real about what’s holding us back. Let’s get help if we need it and let’s trade in the shame for a reality check. For our sake and the sake of our children, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and support each other in finding true health and confidence.

“I have a feeling that if many women are really honest about how they see themselves, there is much room for improvement,” says Sari, a forty-two-year-old mother of three daughters. The improvement she speaks of does not come in the form of pounds shed and calories cut – it is what happens when we open up and start those deeper conversations with ourselves and with each other.

If you’ve struggled with disordered eating and had kids, what helped you get better? What advice do you have for others? Or what would you like to know about pregnancy, body image or eating disorders?

* I received a free copy.