More than 60% of respondents believed they should be slimmer or thinner than their current size, and more than half said that others’ comments about their body or shape had an impact on their body image.
Respondents said the disadvantages of chasing an ideal body image included poor mental health, disordered eating and exercise habits, loss of time and money, and negative self-talk.
However, not all respondents reported negative feelings about their bodies. Some said that pregnancy and childbirth led to a greater appreciation for their bodies’ potential and helped them focus more on their health and nutrition.
One respondent said, “During pregnancy I began to accept my appearance more and learn to appreciate my body for what it can do, not how it may look.”
When it comes to potential solutions, 82% of respondents said they would be interested in a program that focused on body acceptance during pregnancy and postpartum. Most would prefer the interventions to be virtual, facilitated by professionals and conducted in a group setting.
“I would like to talk with other women about how to have a healthy postpartum, but also [how to be] Accepting the body’s changes and we won’t look like we were before pregnancy.”
Next steps and future research
There is currently a lack of intervention programs specifically targeted to pregnant and postpartum individuals, says Vanderkruik.
However, there are existing evidence-based programs for body acceptance, such as The Body Project, that can be adapted to meet the unique needs of pregnant and postpartum individuals.
Another existing intervention, Project Health, could be adapted to address the issue of excessive gestational weight in a way that is also sensitive to feelings of body dissatisfaction.
Specifically, nearly half of survey respondents reported pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI) in the overweight or obese categories.
While weight gain during pregnancy is normal, being overweight or obese before pregnancy or gaining excess weight while pregnant can also increase health risks for mother and baby.
“There’s a tension—we want to prevent any body-shaming or unrealistic expectations from returning to a certain body shape or size as soon as we’re done,” Vanderkruik explains. “At the same time, we also want to support healthy behaviors and healthy lifestyles.”
More research will be needed to overcome the limitations of the survey and to further dissect the complex relationships between weight, body image and healthy behavior in pregnancy and postpartum.
“We will need to do more research on these issues; our survey study had limitations, in that the assessment participants’ BMI and mental health were self-reported, and it was cross-sectional (it only looked at data from a single point of view). was captured time),” Vanderkruik says.
“But given the response to survey studies, issues with body image and eating seem to be something that many pregnant and postpartum individuals care about and without compensation for taking the time to complete surveys and provide thoughtful information.” interested enough.”
The results were recently published in the Archives of Women’s Mental Health.
Vanderkruik, a staff psychologist and associate director of research and cognitive behavioral science at the Ammon-Pinizzotto Center for Women’s Mental Health at Massachusetts General Hospital, has heard individual reports of body dissatisfaction from clients in her clinical practice.
With the survey, she wanted to gain a better understanding of the scope of the problem and raise awareness of the challenges it poses.
“I think there can be some shame and discomfort in talking about body image issues in pregnancy and postpartum,” Vanderkruik says. “There’s still a culture that emphasizes being pregnant and being happy that way.”
“But the experience of women changing bodies is important, and I think there isn’t always a very honest conversation about the impact of this.”