February 20, 2019

WPI study highlights harm of stigma against pregnant women

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“These findings are really troubling, especially because postpartum depression affects not only the mother's well-being, but also her child's,” said Angela Incollingo Rodriguez, an assistant professor of psychology at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Women who experience stigma during pregnancy and just after giving birth often show increased depressive symptoms, greater weight gain during pregnancy, and weight retention after their baby is born, according to research from Worcester Polytechnic Institute professor Angela Incollingo Rodriguez.

Bias or discrimination against women who are perceived as overweight has until now received little focus, said Rodriguez, an assistant professor of psychology in the Department of Social Science and Policy Studies at WPI.

"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,'" she said.

Rodriguez and her team of researchers reviewed questionnaires from 214 women who were asked to report instances of weight stigma from the when they were one month postpartum. That and other information, including postpartum depression and weight retention, were collected at one month, six months and one year after giving birth.

The researchers found weight stigma was associated with increased weight retention and depressive symptoms at one year postpartum.

Their work was published by the journal Health Psychology.

"These findings are really troubling, especially because postpartum depression affects not only the mother's well-being, but also her child's," Rodriguez said. "These are meaningful outcomes, and we really need to be thinking about how family members, friends, doctors, and even society treat pregnant women regarding their weight, because these weight-stigmatizing experiences could have long-term deleterious consequences."

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