Weight stigma affects maternal health

#Weight stigma is increasingly prevalent, highly distressing, and associated with an array of negative health and psychological outcomes. Many of the known correlates are depression, stress, and weight gain. These have the potential to be particularly harmful in the context of #pregnancy and the #postpartum, a life phase in which women's social roles, body weights, and body meanings are in particular flux.

Studies demonstrate, especially for women that weight stigma is associated with depression and depressive symptomatology. Experiences of weight stigma, in general, are also associated with increased eating, decreased exercise motivation, and more unhealthy and maladaptive eating behaviour.

The period of pregnancy through postpartum is one in which many women gain excess weight, often permanently. A recent population-based study in the United States estimated that 47% of women gain excess weight during pregnancy. Excess weight gain is defined as weight gain beyond 35 pounds for underweight and normal-weight body mass index (BMI), 25 pounds for overweight BMI, and 20 pounds for obese BMI. This weight gain carries negative short- and long-term consequences. For instance, in one study of first-time mothers, excess weight gain was associated with increased risk of cesarean delivery, macrosomia, and maternal hypertension.

A Danish longitudinal study showed that women, who retained more additional weight and were classified as overweight or obese after pregnancy, were more likely to qualify for diagnosed depression up to six years postpartum compared to those who maintained “normal” weights. Depression during pregnancy has been associated with delayed fetal growth, low birth weight and prematurity.

Postpartum depression, in turn, is associated with impaired quality of mother-infant bonding and can undermine healthy weight gain, sleep, and physical health in infancy. Recent meta-analytic evidence also suggests that having a mother who experienced postpartum depression, is a risk factor for lower child intelligence quotient.

Messages in the public media can portray new mothers who gain and keep weight postpartum as lazy or as having “let themselves go”. During pregnancy, friends, family, and medical professionals alike can admonish heavy pregnant women for their weight and suggest that the weight is harming their babies. Indeed, pregnancy and the postpartum are times when body dissatisfaction is reportedly common and weight becomes highly salient.

Overall, studies have estimated that everyday discrimination attributed to weight during pregnancy was associated with postpartum depression and weight retention in the first year postpartum.

Source: The psychological burden of baby weight: Pregnancy, weight stigma, and maternal health
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