Body positivity during and after pregnancy could benefit health of mother and child, study says

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A recent study found a significant percentage of pregnant individuals experience body dissatisfaction, which can lead to long-term consequences for both a mother and child, and suggested intervention programs that encourage body positivity as a solution.

The study, published in the journal, Archives of Women’s Mental Health, was led by Rachel Vanderkruik, PhD, MSc, of the Department of Psychiatry, Ammon-Pinizzotto Center for Women’s Mental Health at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston, Massachusetts. According to the study, body dissatisfaction can lead to an increased risk of postpartum depression and eating disorders, which can negatively impact a baby’s health. For this study, Vanderkruik and her team sought to better understand the prevalence of body dissatisfaction among pregnant and postpartum individuals, the reasons for their body dissatisfaction, and interventions that they would find helpful.

The study involved 161 pregnant and postpartum individuals between the ages of 18 and 45. Each participant completed a body dissatisfaction survey. The results showed that 50 percent of respondents reported having body dissatisfaction. In addition, researchers found that 40 percent of participants felt self-conscious about their appearance during or after pregnancy. Over 60 percent of respondents said they believed they should be thin or thinner than their current size and half of participants said comments from others about their body impacted their body image.

 Respondents said negative aspects of pursuing an ideal body image included poor mental health, disordered eating and exercise habits, loss of time and money, and negative self-talk. The study showed that 82 percent of respondents expressed interest in a program focused on body acceptance during and after pregnancy.

According to the study’s authors, these results show that body dissatisfaction is a widespread issue among pregnant and postpartum individuals. Vanderkruik explained more programs that encourage body positivity would be helpful, however more research is needed to address ways to encourage acceptance for one’s body while also encouraging a healthy lifestyle.

“I think there can be some shame and discomfort talking about issues of body image in pregnancy and postpartum,” Vanderkruik said. “There is still a culture that emphasizes being so happy to be pregnant and such. But women’s experience with their bodies changing is significant, and there is not always a lot of honest conversations about the impact of that.”