Women go through several changes during pregnancy, both physical and emotional, but new research has found that negative attitude towards body changes could lead to anxiety and depression after childbirth.
For the study, published in Psychological Assessment journal, researchers quizzed more than 600 pregnant women about their satisfaction with appearing pregnant, weight gain concerns, and the physical burdens of pregnancy.
The findings revealed that women who felt more positively about their body changes in pregnancy were more likely to have lower depression and anxiety.
They were also more likely to have better relationships with their partners and show a more positive attachment to their unborn child.
Women who obtained low scores, may need additional emotional support during pregnancy and monitoring after birth for signs of postnatal depression, study authors suggested.
“Our previous research has demonstrated that there is a relationship between how we perceive our bodies and our emotional state, but bodily experience is not systematically considered during pregnancy even though it is a time when dramatic bodily changes occur,” explained Catherine Preston, a psychology expert in body image at University of York.
"Women are under constant pressure about their appearance during pregnancy and after birth.
"It is important therefore that pregnancy care is not just about the physical health of the mother and the health of the unborn child, but also about women's emotional wellbeing, which can give us a lot of important information about how they might react to being a new mum in the longer-term."
Researchers now believe that introducing a standardised method of assessing women’s feelings towards their changing bodies during antenatal care could provide important information on their emotional wellbeing once they have given birth.
"There is growing evidence that women's experience of their body during pregnancy can have a positive or negative impact on both maternal and infant wellbeing, so more should be done within our care systems to protect women against the more negative effects," Preston says.
“There are many midwives who independently do a fantastic job of offering this support, but currently there is no standardised method or criteria for measuring this to inform the level of care required.
“Our next step in this work is define those boundaries – what does a pregnant woman need to score in our scale in order to prompt further investigation or support? We are also interested to investigate whether we see variations in attitudes to body image in pregnancies of women from different cultural backgrounds and what impact this might have in post-natal care.”
The team also plan to assess more women post-pregnancy to understand the longer-term impacts of negative and positive body image on both mother and child.
The research follows a previous study last year that suggested women suffering from depression and anxiety during pregnancy might be more likely to have babies with ‘altered brain development’.
A further band of research revealed, last year, that women who give birth in the winter months are at greater risk of postnatal depression.
If you are suffering – pregnant or not – there are many ways to seek help.