What were we thinking! promote confidence and reduce distress in parents with a first baby

The sudden interest in you body and baby bump

By Heather Rowe

The sudden interest in you body and baby bump

Ever felt that you were on show while you were pregnant? That your body suddenly belonged to everyone else as people patted your tummy, asked about the baby‘s sex, your due date, or whether you were ‘looking after yourself’? It’s a common experience. Combined with the multiple examinations, tests and pieces of advice that are all part of modern pregnancy health care, women can indeed feel that their bodies and behaviours are very closely monitored.

Acceptable ways of acting for a woman who is pregnant or caring for a baby are shaped by health professionals and reinforced by the media, where celebrity mothers can create an unrealistic ideal. This is all connected to the idea of the ‘good mother’, who is endlessly selfless, always puts others’ needs before her own, and is totally responsible for protecting her baby from harm.

Women sometimes find themselves preoccupied with looking and acting the part and worried about what others think of them. Sometimes social media, with its endless images of other mothers’ bodies, houses and holidays can make women feel inadequate if they don’t live up to the image. The same is often said of mothers’ groups, where everyone seems to be doing well but you and your baby.

My research that looked into the impact of social and health messages on the anxiety of new mothers revealed that many mother’s worry about how they are perceived by society and their health practitioners. Many mothers felt the social pressures to be a ‘good mother’ which often led to a lack of confidence.

The truth of course is that mothering a baby is messy, unpredictable and tiring. And everyone is different: every baby is different and so is every mother. So let’s stop comparing ourselves with others and be ourselves. Keep practising some of those crushing responses to have at hand when someone makes an unwelcome comment, and celebrate the great job you are doing.

Heather is Senior Research Fellow with expertise in women's health research and health promotion practice. She translates expert knowledge into mental health promotion programs for women and their families. She has a special research interest in using technologies to reach diverse groups of women and their families during the childbearing year and at other phases of life.

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