Pregnancy and the Pressure Associated with Weight Gain
Why you should support a pregnant woman during and after pregnancy
‘Your baby bump is cute, how much do you weigh now, Peyton?’ Peyton’s cousin, Paige asked.
Peyton has been asked this same question by different people and she wonders why they were so interested in her weight while pregnant. “Isn’t it normal to add weight during the gestation period?” Before pregnancy, she weighed between 70 and 75 pounds, which according to National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute is a normal weight.
“I checked yesterday, and I currently weigh 120 pounds”, replied Peyton. “What! That’s too much! What are you eating? Would you bounce back after you have your baby? You should watch your weight Peyton!” exclaimed Paige
This is a typical example of the interrogations pregnant women face irrespective of weight during their period of pregnancy. Other questions could be ‘Why is your belly so big?’, Are you sure there’s only one in there? Are you still pregnant? Do you want it to be a boy or a girl? etc. So, was Paige right in asking such questions? Even if she is interested in her cousin’s current weight, is that the best approach?
Research reveals that weight bias is prevalent in people who are trying to conceive, are pregnant, or postpartum phase. Combined with the stress of being pregnant, there is the societal pressure to look fit and thin during pregnancy.
This pressure comes from the internet, social media, celebrity news, family, and other interpersonal relationships, etc. There are also diverse weight loss programs for pregnant women to maintain a ‘good shape’ while pregnant and lose weight ‘quickly’ in the postpartum period. The consequence of these are undue stress, body dissatisfaction, and unhealthy eating habits which can impact pregnancy outcomes.
This article is aimed at acknowledging the pressures that pregnant women irrespective of size withstand during pregnancy. Understanding these pressures would help us know how to treat and show them concern.
The Challenge of Thinness
Due to the stigma associated with fatness, pregnant women are overly conscious of what they eat. The slim ones would be too careful to “eat for two” which should be normal, leading to reported eating disorders (Anorexia nervosa) since they find it difficult to know how to “eat right.”
This is particularly prevalent in adolescents and young women who already have a history of eating disorders.
A study in 2006 suggests a correlation between women (especially women of childbearing age) with eating disorders and obstetric complications such as postnatal depression, stress, preterm delivery, hypertension, and miscarriage. They call this type of eating disorder Bulimia nervosa.
Additionally, there are diverse online and onsite programs for pregnant women to lose weight ‘quickly,’ an observed conflict of information on the internet about weight gain; while some websites recommend gaining weight, some strongly advise that it is dangerous for a woman and her baby leaving pregnant women in a dilemma on what to do.
Since it has been established that communicating within families can influence a member’s bodily image and perception of self, it is important that individuals (family members and health providers) show support to pregnant women in terms of encouraging them to eat healthily, reminding them that weight-gain is normal during pregnancy hence should never get worked up over it.
The Challenge of Fatness
Women who are fat before pregnancy are even more affected by this body-related stigma. Basinger and her colleagues highlight that fat women are treated with biases and labeled as high-risk patients.
The consequences of these are avoidance of healthcare due to their “punitive or even traumatizing” experiences such as denial of competent treatment, perceived lack of compassion, and redundant comments about their weight. This has adversely impacted their perception of their fat bodies, triggering nothing but guilt and shame!
Even though being overweight during pregnancy has been associated with risks of pregnancy complications such as diabetes and high blood pressure, overweight pregnant women can work with their healthcare provider to stay healthy during and after their pregnancy period.
And factually, there are other factors that could cause pregnancy complications other than being overweight.
Hence, these women desire to be treated as ‘normal patients,’ provided the care they deserve (which should not be predicated on their weight), and supplied social support to help them navigate or make sense of these stressful periods because a study during the COVID-19 pandemic discovered that pregnant women who emphasized social support in their stories tended to share more positive stories about their gestation period than those who did not.
After pregnancy, women are pressured to ‘immediately’ bounce back to their normal weight. This can be stressful combined with the pressure associated with nurturing a new baby and other non-parental responsibilities.
To compound this challenge, there are numerous weight loss programs for women after having their babies to get back on track scattered across the media and we are prone to hailing women who can get back to their normal weight than women who are unable to. Fat women are obvious victims of these circumstances.
CDC (Center for Disease Control) provides a recommendation for physical activity after pregnancy, but while this is beneficial to their health, we should shun the act of stereotyping women who don’t fall into this narrow expectation for health.
In summary, the pregnancy period is an exciting and sometimes ‘stressful’ time for women and their families, so we should allow them to thrive, encourage them to celebrate their bodies, and show concern instead of asking stress-induced questions.
I wrote this article for a class project in Fall 2022