New report into body image during pregnancy and after birth

Jenny Willott: “Women should focus on the joys of being a mother not losing weight.”

Becoming a mother is a time of transition and transformation, yet women face cultural messages about the importance of getting their bodies back to shape after having a baby, Minister for Women and Equalities Jenny Willott said today as she welcomes a new report by Susie Orbach and Holli Rubin.

The report, Two for the Price of One: The impact of body image during pregnancy and after birth, looks at the myriad of health and psychological effects that body image can have on pregnant women and new mothers, and shows how preoccupation with body image problems can be unconsciously transmitted down to their children. That’s why the role of midwives and health visitors is important in supporting women’s body image during this time.

Jenny Willott, today visited the Royal Free Hospital, where she discussed the research with midwives.

Jenny Willott said:

There is a relentless pressure on all women, celebrities or not, to be thin all the time and research shows mothers who are preoccupied with body image problems are not only damaging their bodies but these negative attitudes can be passed onto their children.

It’s sad that women feel pressured to lose weight so quickly after pregnancy, and it isn’t healthy. That’s why midwives and health visitors are vital players here. Pregnancy and the early months after having a baby should be a time when a women’s focus is on her health and wellbeing, and that of her child, not losing weight.

A group of midwives, health visitors, health psychologists and psychotherapists have been meeting for the last year to discuss possible solutions, and agree that the best way forward is to raise awareness within the professions, helping each midwife and health visitor to reflect on the implications for their own practice and to be alert to the issue when it arises. The Royal College of Midwives, the National Childbirth Trust and the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association, have all expressed support and we will be working with them to spread the message within their memberships.

Cathy Warwick, Chief Executive of Royal College of Midwives said:

This report is very welcome, and midwives will recognise its core messages.  New mothers often feel under great pressure, and this can surface in feelings that their bodies are a source of failure or shame. Midwives are there to help, and will want to reflect on the implications of this report for their own clinical practice. The RCM is committed to helping that process and has offered its help to the Government Equalities Office to help raise awareness and understanding within the midwifery profession.

Susie Orbach said:

The NHS has the most incredible provision of health visitors and midwives helping new mothers to welcome their babies into the world. Concerns about eating problems and obesity impact on the precious bond between mothers and their babies, and so we look to our professionals to help mothers navigate these unwelcome pressures and feel confident as they feed themselves and their babies.

We learn about love, food, attachment and how to be in our bodies from our relationship with our mothers. Helping new mothers feel more confident in their own bodies is the best anti-viral agent we have for helping babies to grow up feeling good in theirs. Health visitors and midwives meet women as they enter the most exciting and yet vulnerable time of their lives and are hugely influential in supporting them during this time.

Holli Ruben said:

New mothers shouldn’t feel pressured to think, ‘How do I fit back into my skinny jeans’. Health visitors and midwives are in a prime position to help with this, and should be supported to do so.

Notes to editors

  1. The government’s Body Confidence Campaign continues to work with the media, advertising, retail and fashion industries to encourage more diverse and realistic representation of body shapes, sizes, ages and skin colour.
  2. Susie Orbach is a psychotherapist, psychoanalyst, writer and social critic.
  3. Holli Ruben, Msw, MBPsS, specialising in body image and is a Member of Anybody UK, Endangered Bodies.
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