In one of the first research studies focused on the impact of weight stigma in pregnant and postpartum women, a team led by a Worcester Polytechnic Institute professor found that women who experience weight stigma during pregnancy and early postpartum often show increased depressive symptoms, greater weight gain during pregnancy, and weight retention after their baby is born.
During pregnancy, women endure myriad physical and psychological changes, many of which can be affected by social factors. One of these factors is weight stigma, defined as bias of discrimination toward individuals who are perceived by others to be overweight or obese. According to research by Angela C. Incollingo Rodriguez, assistant professor of psychology in the Department of Social Science and Policy Studies at WPI, pregnant women and women who are up to one year postpartum face weight stigma, which has negative effects on maternal health.
“Weight stigma is a growing field of study, but very little work has focused on weight stigma in the context of pregnancy,” Rodriguez says. “We found some of the first evidence that when pregnant women experience weight stigma, it might be associated with more postpartum depression and even difficulty losing their ‘baby weight.’”
Rodriguez and her team reviewed questionnaires from 214 women, a smaller subset of a group of 2,510 women ages 18 to 40 of African American, Latina, and White descent who delivered a live infant at 20 weeks or more of gestation. The women, who were from Maryland, California, Washington, D.C., Illinois, and North Carolina, were asked to report instances of weight stigma from the previous year when they were one month postpartum. Additional data, such as symptoms of postpartum depression and weight retention, were collected from the women at one month, six months, and one year postpartum.