WPI study looks at impact of weight-shaming pregnant women

Having a baby can be one of life's greatest joys for a woman, but it's also hard on her body.

A new study out of Worcester Polytechnic Institute has found that society can make that part even tougher by focusing too much on weight.

New mom and CNN anchor Pamela Brown got a harsh tweet from one viewer when she returned to work last month."OMG your fat body is disgusting. Had a baby, yay. Get rid of that fat before coming back on-air cause you look horrible from the side." That might sound incredibly rude, but it's the kind of thing many pregnant and postpartum women say they hear all the time.

"It's so amazing how in normal everyday life, it would never be acceptable to tell somebody, ‘Wow, it looks like you've gained a lot of weight', or 'Wow, you're getting really big,'” said Angela Incollingo Rodriguez, an assistant professor at WPI.

Those types of comments prompted Rodriguez to research how weight stigma or fat shaming impacted pregnant and postpartum women in a first of its kind study.

"We think about pregnancy as the bump that's right in front of the body and from the back you can't even tell a woman is pregnant and that's the societal idea, that's the Giselle pregnancy," said Rodriguez.
The study found weight stigma during pregnancy causes greater weight gain, longer retention of that weight, and a high likelihood of postpartum depression symptoms.

The research found that women who experienced weight stigma gained an additional 10 pounds on average.

Jenny Eden Berk, an eating psychology coach in Needham, said she felt weight stigma during her three pregnancies."It's discouraging because your focus as a new mom and while you are growing a baby should be doing everything that you can to have a balanced relationship with food and eat in a way that is going to feed the baby and grow the baby.”

Berk is also the author of "The Body Image Blueprint” and believes this judgment comes at the worst time."I think it's very prevalent no matter what your size is, no matter whether you've dieted or not.  I think that it's very jarring, to all of a sudden feel like you have no control over what's happening."

The biggest concern is how a new mother's sense of self-worth might impact her child. The researchers at WPI hope to tackle that issue next, and Berk thinks that's a good idea."I feel that's a time when a lot of women start obsessing, ‘OK, I've given birth, now I've got to diet, now I've got to exercise', and the fact is, that's the time you should be bonding with your baby,” she said.

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