The physiological changes that occur during pregnancy heighten body image dissatisfaction among women, as they often conflict with socially defined ideals of female body appearance. Qualitative research suggests pregnant women often perceive their bodies negatively and feel distressed. Thus, it is critical to understand the impact of body image dissatisfaction on a woman’s mental and overall health.
In a recent study published in BMC Pregnancy Childbirth, researchers evaluate how pregnancy affects body image dissatisfaction.
Study: Comparing body image dissatisfaction between pregnant women and non-pregnant women: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Image Credit: YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV / Shutterstock.com
About the study
In the present study, researchers screened six online databases, including Scopus, Web of Science, Pubmed, Psychinfo, Embase, and Cochrane Library, from inception to March 2022.
Studies measuring body image dissatisfaction before, during, or between pregnancies were included in the analysis. Additionally, all included studies used quantitative, validated self-reported measures of body image dissatisfaction among pregnant and non-pregnant women to enable effect size calculation.
Studies measuring body image dissatisfaction in the postnatal period were not included in the analysis. Any studies collecting qualitative data or reporting on patient cases were also excluded.
Two reviewers screened all non-duplicate studies independently to extract titles and abstracts. This led to 89 studies for the review, which, after applying additional exclusions, led to a total of 17 studies that met all inclusion criteria. These studies were subjected to a methodological quality assessment based on the Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) Critical Appraisal Checklist, which rated studies in high, moderate, and low-quality categories.
The data points for the analysis included bibliographic and demographic data, study design and moderators, body image dissatisfaction measure and results, points of assessment, and gravidity, such as whether the current pregnancy was the woman’s first pregnancy.
In case of no attrition, the researchers calculated a simple mean body dissatisfaction score, which considered a weighted mean of the data points gathered during pregnancy. As data for each study were continuous, standardized mean differences were also determined.
A total of 17 studies published between 1979 and 2022 with data from 7,630 independent women were included in the final analysis. More specifically, these studies comprised 3,586 and 2,430 pregnant and non-pregnant women, respectively, with an average age of about 30 years.
Although different scales were used in the studies, all studies reported a greater level of body image dissatisfaction among pregnant women as compared to non-pregnant women. Importantly, other contributing factors such as age, body mass index (BMI) gravidity, mental health, and gestation were not provided in all the studies; therefore, these results should be interpreted with caution.
In the three studies that considered the effect of gravidity on body image dissatisfaction, two studies found that women in their first pregnancy experienced lower body dissatisfaction than those in their subsequent pregnancies. However, the third study reported slightly higher body dissatisfaction among primigravidae than multigravidae women.
Only five of the reviewed studies analyzed how mental health status may have impacted body image dissatisfaction, with a correlation observed between depression and more substantial body dissatisfaction during pregnancy reported in several studies.
Individuality of experience appeared to be paramount rather than time frame of pregnancy, highlighting genuine differences in perinatal experience.”
Although the primary statistical analysis of the reviewed studies indicated that body image dissatisfaction was not significantly altered during pregnancy compared to when women were not pregnant, considerable variations in the results were observed. More specifically, some studies reported lower body image dissatisfaction during pregnancy, whereas others reported greater body image dissatisfaction or no change. Thus, despite the lack of a clear conclusion of how pregnancy might contribute to reducing body image dissatisfaction, the only consistent feature of this review was the heterogeneity of the results.
The wide range of results reported in this review indicates that each woman experiences pregnancy differently and that the impact of pregnancy on their body image satisfaction may be directly related to how the woman internalizes social pressures. Moreover, some pregnant women may be more aware of thin ideals than others and thus not internalize them, whereas others may be more focused on supporting a healthy pregnancy than dwelling on how they or others may perceive their changing physical appearance.
- Crossland, A.E., Munns, L., Kirk, E. (2023). Comparing body image dissatisfaction between pregnant women and non-pregnant women: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth 23;709. doi:10.1186/s12884-023-05930-w