Navigating Plus Size Pregnancy
When you’re plus size and pregnant, your experience in becoming a parent may look and feel very different than others who aren’t living in a bigger body.
As a fat mom of five, I’ve been there, done that and learned along the way. Below are three unique aspects of plus size pregnancy and how I navigated them.
Sadly we know that plus size people may be treated differently by medical providers solely based on their size. There is plenty of research backing up the existence of fat bias, or sizeism, within the medical system. What does fat bias look like in maternity care? For example, a medical provider may assume a fat person doesn’t eat a balanced diet or they need more exercise. They might also assume any prior pregnancies were complicated by weight, there is a history of gestational diabetes or high blood pressure. Some providers class all those with a higher BMI as “high risk,” even if there is no prior or current medical issue! Many other fatphobic assumptions may be made, none of which can be determined by simply looking at someone!
As a birth and postpartum doula, I’ve heard other shocking stories of plus size mums being told early in pregnancy that their only birth option was a caesarean. Others described appointments being laced with fat shaming and experiences of potential risks being described more like guarantees. They were painted a rather grim picture of what fat birth can be.
The TRUTH is plus size pregnancy can be a wonderful, positive experience. You also have choices in who you want to support you. I highly recommend finding yourself a size friendly provider who mirrors your philosophy on birth. They will support you on an individual level and see you as more than a BMI or number on a scale.
Many plus size mums-to-be wonder if they will ever “look pregnant” or namely, have a pregnancy bump like what is often shown in the media. First off, fat pregnancy is highly underrepresented in all forms of media. The bumps we do often see fit within a very narrow window of what is a large range of normal.
People who are plus size may not have a visible bump as early. They may also not have what is often called a “D bump.” Theirs may look more like a B or V. Stretch marks are also a common occurrence across all body types.
The Woe of Maternity Clothes
One of the biggest plus size pregnancy disasters is finding size inclusive clothing. So many brands, both in Europe, The United States and the world over have limited sizes or seem to think size 24 UK/20 US is large enough- it isn’t. It is near impossible for plus size folks to find a shop they can actually walk in for maternity gear, which can be frustrating.
The little clothing that is available is often super limited with far fewer prints and clothing styles. Many parents of size feel like they are asking too much for clothes that are comfortable, stylish AND affordable. They deserve better.
Three of my pregnancies took place in the United States where I found there are far more clothing options versus Europe. While in Ireland I had no choice but to get my maternity clothes online or size up in one local non-maternity shop. I also went on holiday to the United States in my first trimester and stocked up on my favourite maternity brands there. Obviously this is not an option for everyone, but it worked for me. I bought some core pieces (leggings, cardigan, nursing tops, etc.) that I could mix and match with other clothes I already owned or could purchase in Europe. Another option I explored was buying second hand maternity clothes from other plus size moms!
My most recent birth was only three months ago. I navigated my fifth plus size pregnancy with more knowledge and experience than ever! As soon as I saw those double pink lines I sought a size friendly midwife who would support me through my home birth. I went through provider options even before pregnancy (which is much easier to do when your pregnancy is planned!) and I asked other parents in my area about their experiences. All along I was sussing out which option was best for me. I opted for midwife lead care and I’m so happy I did! This resource may help you in finding a size friendly provider in your area.
My last pregnancy was the first time I didn’t worry about my size or my changing body. Between my fourth and fifth pregnancies, I discovered body positivity. It was a HUGE shift for me and an end to my history of disordered eating.
In short, it also helped me stop caring so much about how my body looks. This meant I found it easier to accept whatever changes happened to my pregnant body. Instead of thinking about whether I would look visibly pregnant, I spent more time focusing on my experience of being pregnant. I accepted that no matter how my body changed, it was okay and I could choose to treat my body with kindness. I also decided early on that no matter how my bump looked, I was getting maternity photos taken!
While being plus size and pregnant came with its challenges, I still experienced the amazing side of pregnancy and giving birth just like all parents. I prepared my home, opened my heart and welcomed my babies into the world with love.
Michelle Mayefske is a birth and postpartum doula, placenta specialist based in Ireland and the author/editor of her first book, Fat Birth. She is an advocate for plus size birth and you can find more size friendly resources at her website – Fat and Pregnant
Placenta Remedies Profile: Michelle Mayefske