Pregnancy makes many women feel negative about their body image, new Mental Health Foundation survey reveals

Pregnancy leaves many women feeling more negative about their body image, compared to before they were pregnant, according to a new online survey about body image from the Mental Health Foundation. The survey has been published today to mark the start of Mental Health Awareness Week.

Just over four in 10 (41 per cent) of women who had been pregnant (66 per cent of the women surveyed) said they felt more negative about their bodies afterwards, compared to just over one in 10 (12 per cent) who said they felt more positive. Eighteen per cent felt ‘much more negative’, while 23 per cent felt ‘slightly more negative’ about their post-pregnancy bodies.

More than half (54 per cent) of the women aged 25-34 who had been pregnant felt more negative about their body image after pregnancy compared to before they were pregnant. One in seven (14 per cent) said they felt more positive.

Across all regions of the UK, women in London are the most likely to say they feel more positive about their body image after being pregnant compared to before they were pregnant (16 per cent said they felt more positive, 33 per cent said they felt more negative). Nearly four in ten women (38 per cent) in London said pregnancy had made no difference to their body image.

Jane Caro, Families, Children and Young People’s Lead at the Mental Health Foundation said: “The first weeks and months after childbirth are incredibly special and important for both mother and baby. This should be a time to celebrate the amazing achievement of bringing new life into the world. Any additional pressure to conform to unrealistic expectations of how a woman’s body should look after pregnancy is entirely unwelcome and potentially damaging to a woman’s mental health, at a time when her main focus should be her developing bond with her baby.

“The main picture from our survey was one in which commercial, social media and advertising pressures on body image are contributing to mental health problems for millions of people. It is particularly distressing that this includes feelings connected to one of the most natural human processes, pregnancy.

“This social harm has been allowed to develop largely unchecked. While there have been some positive initiatives, social media companies, for example, have frequently been unwilling to take the necessary steps to protect their users from harmful content.

“This is why one of our key asks is for Government to include preventing the promotion of unhealthy or idealised body image images in its forthcoming Online Harms regulation strategy”.

The Foundation believes that new codes of practice should include an expectation that social media companies must take practical steps to ensure that the content they promote does note exacerbate body image concerns.

It is also calling for more collaboration between advertisers, broadcasters, media editors and body image experts and campaigners to achieve greater exposure to diversity in media and advertising.

The Foundation has also published an accompanying report – “Body Image: How we think and feel about our bodies” – (downloadable link) which gives advice and tips on how people can take individual action to address this urgent problem.

ENDS

Notes to Editors: The survey was published as part of a report - Body Image: How we think and feel about our bodies. Total sample size was 4,505 adults, of which 1,572 were women who had been pregnant. Fieldwork was between 25th - 26th March 2019. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

Since 1949, the Mental Health Foundation has been the UK’s leading charity for everyone’s mental health. With prevention at the heart of what we do, we aim to find and address the sources of mental health problems so that people and communities can thrive. Our mission is to help people understand, protect and sustain their mental health.